“We must be storytellers to stay ahead in business”: Ann Sung, CMO - Unisys
The world of information technology is now being driven by data and business outcomes and Unisys is reinventing itself to serve the era of big data, security, and IoT.
When it comes to marketing, Ann Sung Ruckstuhl has the final word, almost. Apart from being the Chief Marketing Officer of the $3 billion IT Services and technology corporation, Unisys, she sits on the boards of the Wall Street Journal CMO network and Mayfield Ventures CMO Advisory Board.
Ann is a technology-industry veteran who has led numerous Silicon Valley companies including HP, eBay, Sybase (now owned by SAP), Symantec, LiveOps and SOASTA (now Akamai).
For over 25 years, Ann has successfully transformed companies by leading marketing, product management, and engineering roles. In her current role she has been helping Unisys transform itself in the era of IoT and cloud based services.
Earlier, Unisys was part of S&P 500, but like every global company that is more than 30 years old, the company is going through a transformation in its approach to business in the digital era.
Ann says that Unisys has been growing very well and aligned itself with Microsoft, AWS, Dell EMC by enabling them to transform their clients.
She talks about how she is part of the reinvention story in Unisys, about why failing is good and more in this interview with YourStory.
Here are some edited excerpts:
YourStory: Unisys has taken a product-based approach, very different from its services route. Is there any specific reason for this?
Ann Sung Ruckstuhl: We have taken that approach in addition to digital transformation. While modernising the workforce, the narrative for our clients is digital transformation. The emphasis is also on security where you to deliver services in a highly heterogeneous open collection of applications, systems, and networks.
The company is growing and with a legacy of 145 years, I believe we are poised for growth in the new era. But when people ask me to look at the top brands in the world, and where we stand in comparison, I tell them that not many of them have survived so many years.
I believe it lies in the ability to reinvent yourself right. Look at the way Coca-Cola reinvented itself, the types of drinks - they are in water, they are in fruit flavours, and they are in traditional as well modern consumer, items, right? You have to be agile. It is no different at Unisys, our strategy is to look at where we are in the current scheme of things, and align ourselves with the future.
When you have the combination of both, it’s what Unisys is all about. So we double down as a company of four industry sectors; namely government, which includes the national government (US), cities and states (public sector part). We support 300 government agencies and some key countries across the globe.
The announcement that we made is of a product called Line Sight, the border security product, and in addition, we have a product called Digital Investigator. One is for border security and the other for law enforcement. We are working with the Department of Defense to defend borders and are also working on a national identification system. For any vehicle or pedestrian passing through the border, an agent has about two seconds to make a call; do you let the person/car/truck through or do you pull them aside to investigate? This is a data-led approach. That window requires a lot of data, it is not just about listing or black listing, it is about metrics, verification, and contextual relevance so that an agent can be empowered to say, “you in this line have to be picked out and the other goes in the other line”.
YS: That’s the first pillar of your product story, what are the others?
ASR: The second is travel and transportation that is embedded into passenger as well as cargo and airport logistics. We manage the loyalty customer experience while you are on site as well as through the mobile and other omni-channel experiences.
Today, we have about top 21 or 25 airlines that use Unisys to manage their customers. We have over a hundred airports using Unisys and lot of cargo logistics is going through us. If you go through our website, there are really some lovely case studies for mass cargo applications.
If you look at the APAC region, for some of our clients, we manage mission critical cargo like live animals, race horses, and seafood.
One of our clients is a multi-billion dollar logistics firm that uses our products to manage cargo. We also do a lot of inter/intra countries border security solution as well. So that is where the services part comes in. We build everything from biometrics, analytics, data integration and mobility. The third pillar for us is financial services, which is retail financial services and core banking that we are strong in. We process over a trillion dollars in a day, in clearing, and over 500 financial institutions are running on Unisys. From Wall Street to the larger exchanges all over the world Unisys manages their systems. We have this new industry banking application called Elevate, an omni-channel solution, which allows the bank’s customers to pay their bills, apply for loans on the go, check their balance, take a picture of their cheque and pass the cheque digitally. So we give banks these services in a box. It runs on cloud and on a mainframe. It also works on hybrid clouds and depends on the environment that a company wants to operate in. Banking and life sciences are some of the best businesses for us. We also work in healthcare. If you look at a hospital today, it is a wonderful call to action to look at how people live and the jobs they do. Combine their health records with data gathered from machines such as ultrasound, MRI machines and help better care outcomes.
YourStory: Are all devices connected to the cloud and how are corporations waking up to this opportunity?
ASR: Yes, there will be more devices connected to the network. Let us talk about medical devices. We work within a private network to secure, to encrypt, to cloak, so that you can’t see the patients’ personal records other than just the details of care provided. Most importantly, we are only taking all the operational performance data from these devices and then we also overlap these with the service records coming from the hospital and personal health devices. We can literally have analytics predicting machine failure in hospitals. This is the power of algorithms, working with data-provided machines to predict the rate of failure and improving the quality of care. Everyone from e-commerce to global corporates are using IoT and mobile to drive their core business.
YourStory: What are the key things that reinvented the company and your personal reinvention, moving from Fortune 500 companies and startups?
ASR: It is a combination of factors. What do prospective clients want to buy from a certain service provider or a technology provider is the question I always look at answering. So we looked at what they were interested in and went after it. I also believe management discipline, and strategic focus is important for any company reinventing itself.
Vision is one thing, strategy is another - but the ability and agility to execute is even harder. Our company, from an organisation and structural perspective, is set up to better execute it is a journey that we embarked upon under Peter Altabef, our CEO.
I joined almost a year-and-a half ago after working in four Fortune 500 companies and seven startups. This gives you a completely different perspective. The Fortune 500 companies I worked at are HP and eBay that dealt with personal payments. EBay ended up buying PayPal when I was there. These were the early days of ecommerce and e-wealth (wealth created by digital boom). I was there from 1998 to 2003. At Sybase, we reinvented from a traditional database company to a mobility powerhouse. After that, I worked at Symantec. My last stint was at SOASTA where I managed digital performance management.
Your Story: Why do you think 90 percent of the startups in India fail while building their products?
ASR: What’s the alternative? That’s why heterogeneity and diversity is a good thing, and you can have a tab on things the democratic way, to ensure innovation that is sustainable.
It also depends on luck and timing. Being in the valley for over 25 years now, I have been through several startups, my first one gave me a lot of learning, although it failed. I learned about technology, managing the team, and I had to ask several questions.
Some of them were whether the market is ready for the product, will I be able to sustain myself while building the company for the future, what is the competitive environment, and what kind of ecosystem we are in. You can’t build the market on your own, you have to work with people who know more than you. The 90 percent failure rate is a good thing. It is those little ideas that become great businesses. There is a lot of talk about India’s technological capabilities for the world and I believe that is completely true.
YourStory: So what interested you in Unisys, did you join because it works like a startup?
ASR: The industry applications are amazing, and these solutions are what will get me out of the bed and make me go, “Oh my god, you are protecting the border.” I wanted to work in a company that manages all the traffic in the world, in an airport, a water crossing, ports, pedestrians, not counting vehicles and the amount of analytics that we run at Unisys is pretty serious.
We are storytellers, there is the brand, and the technical story too where you visualise the benefits of working with our products. I would advise any businessperson out there to be a good storyteller for every stakeholder and back it up with value through products and services.