Lenovo’s Data Center Solutions Exec Says IT Should Help Business Drive Innovation

The role of the modern IT department should go beyond making sure internal company systems keep running.

Yevgeniy Sverdlik

March 5, 2018

9 Min Read
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Inside the CERN data centerDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

A company’s business executives should know what the IT department brings to the table, and it’s the IT heads’ job to make them aware. Not only that, the IT department should use its insight to help business leaders come up with innovative products.

That’s according to Kim Stevenson, senior VP and general manager of Solutions Segments for Lenovo’s Data Center Group. “Ultimately, if senior executives in the business are not aware of the value delivered by BT/IT, the project was not entirely successful,” Stevenson, who served as Intel’s CIO from 2012 to 2016, said. “The awareness comes with ideas for how to leverage new capabilities across our diverse businesses.”

BT stands for Business Transformation. The Business Transformation and IT are one team at Lenovo, the name reflecting its function beyond making sure internal company systems keep running.

Stevenson is one of the keynote speakers at Data Center World Global, the Data Center Knowledge sister conference that will kick off one week from today in San Antonio, Texas. As a preview, we conducted a Q&A with Stevenson over email to get her thoughts on the biggest data center market trends, Lenovo’s strategy in the data center market, IT’s role in the modern enterprise, advice for young women entering the IT industry, and more.

Related:Hear from Google’s Joe Kava and Heather Dooley at Data Center World

Read the Q&A below and sign up to attend the conference.

Data Center Knowledge: While Lenovo is one of the five biggest server vendors, it’s market share is well below at least three of the others. Market share has been essentially flat since the end of 2016. What are the biggest bets your group has made recently or is planning to make in the near future to grow market share?

Kim Stevenson: As we shared in our 3Q earnings, Lenovo’s Data Center Group posted its highest revenue in two years, creating momentum in infrastructure and cloud technologies. Progress continues across all segments and geographies. We extended our number-one ranking in x86 customer satisfaction for the eighth consecutive quarter and added 88 new world-record performance benchmarks. We transformed our Hyperscale business and drove success in High Performance Computing and Software Defined Infrastructure segments.

As we continue our transformation, we’ve announced an expansion plan in our data center business segments to include telecom and Internet of Things. The telecom business will focus on creating joint innovation platforms to deliver customer-centric solutions. The IoT division will turn customers’ traditional endpoints into smart and connected devices, transforming them into analytical engines that drive greater productivity and efficiency.

Related:Why the Data Center Industry Urgently Needs More Women

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DCK: Which products drive the bulk of Lenovo’s data center revenue today?

KS: A key contributor of our overall business is server platforms. We deliver a variety of solutions that provide the innovation, quality, and reliability on our ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile portfolios. The solutions span delivering semi to full custom server designs for the top cloud service providers in the world, large enterprises, and SMB customers.

ThinkSystem is a foundational platform, with the technology power of our ThinkAgile software-defined and hyper-converged set of solutions. Today, we are the fastest growing OEM partner of Nutanix with our ThinkAgile HX offering. Along with such competitive solutions, we are addressing challenges of humanity, such as using Lenovo technology to improve healthcare research efforts via our HPC and AI set of offerings that are built on our ThinkSystem server technology.

DCK: What trends in computing today will be the most transformational for the enterprise IT ecosystem over the next five years?

KS: Technology is moving forward at a rapid rate. The mega trends today are cloud (including hybrid cloud), AI, digitization, and IoT. These trends continue to offer exciting advancements that impact business and consumer behavior around the world.

In a digital economy, businesses demand reliable, flexible, and secure data center systems with purpose-driven innovation to drive the greatest business value. Companies that exploit these new capabilities will be the ones to transform their business models, drive growth, and improve revenue.

DCK: What has Lenovo done to address the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities?

KS: Lenovo continues to work with processor and operating system partners, including Intel, to test and incorporate fixes as we receive them. Lenovo’s advisory is updated regularly and continues to have the latest information. In addition, we are working closely with customers to have solutions in place as quickly as possible. Lenovo will provide frequent updates as new fixes become available and pass testing, so continue to check the advisory for updates.

DCK: How do you define “edge computing”?  

KS: Edge computing means performing processing and storage close to the endpoints of things, outside of the core IT data center and cloud. Factors such as data volume explosion, data transmission cost, latency, redundancy, and regulatory pressures will cause a need for distributed edge computing outside of the core. Edge computing can take place in the telco network, on-premises in the form of servers and gateways, in regional data centers, or embedded in things that we see in cars or wind turbines. We see growth in both traditional workloads as well as new IoT and AI workloads for data preprocessing, filtering, local analytics, collection, automation, AI inference, and secured forwarding. 

IoT shows the diversity of computing and analysis, where capturing key information will require endpoint computing at the edge and some processing in the backend. In Lenovo’s newly created IoT division, we will help customers turn traditional endpoints into smart and connected devices for improved productivity and efficiency.

DCK: What is Lenovo’s long-term strategy in the edge computing market?

KS: Lenovo is investing in key areas to help our customers succeed in the edge computing aspect of their digital transformation.

We are making it easier and faster for our customers to add intelligence to their systems and things with Lenovo embedded, semi-custom, and OEM solutions.

We are bringing together leaders in IT and IoT to deliver new solutions that simplify edge management, deployment, and virtualization. We will be delivering these new solutions on top of existing and new hardware purpose-designed for edge computing. 

DCK: How do you define “hyper-converged infrastructure”?  

KS: An HCI architecture combines infrastructure components (compute, storage, and, in our case, network) natively to give customers an IT building block approach with scale-out capabilities. Lenovo ThinkAgile HX series is a great example of such native combination. We engineered it from the ground up, delivering an integrated design and automation that results in a flexible, modern architecture to support future application demands. HCI solutions break down silos, minimize expensive upgrades, and avoid unpredictable performance while also helping to manage the footprint in the data center more effectively.  

DCK: Hyper-converged infrastructure may be headed in the direction of becoming purely a software play. Does Lenovo have any plans to develop its own HCI software as opposed to partnering with HCI vendors as a hardware supplier?

KS: We understand the market shift and continue to believe that deep integration between hardware and software provides operational simplicity and agility for customer.  Thus, we will continue to invest in both hardware and software solutions across our data center portfolio. We currently partner with a variety of companies in order to provide the breadth of capabilities that our customers require.

DCK: In 2014-2015 your team at Intel helped generate more revenue using analytics and machine learning to make sales more efficient and to improve pricing and inventory management decisions. Is anything similar taking place at Lenovo? If not, do you think Lenovo would benefit if it did?

KS: Lenovo has had a world-class supply chain for over a decade, recognized as number 24 in the world by Gartner (2017). We got there by using tools like analytics and big data to continually improve what we do. We are constantly evaluating how new technologies, such as AI and machine learning, can help us gain greater insights into our business and give us a competitive edge in a very competitive market.    

DCK: Intel used to put out an annual report on how its internal IT department is doing. Does Lenovo’s IT do anything similar?

KS: Yes, in fact the Lenovo Business Transformation (BT)/IT team just issued its first Annual Performance Report for 2017. The team’s mission is more than just keeping the data center, network, and communication links running. As the Business Transformation part of the organization’s name implies, they also partner with the business teams to drive innovation and identify new ways that technology can improve Lenovo’s competitive abilities. The Annual Performance Report highlights how BT/IT is leveraging emerging technology, including big data and AI, to advance current technology solutions, optimize business processes, deliver new solutions, and reduce Lenovo’s operational costs, and ultimately, improve our customers’ experience.

It’s critical that senior leaders in the business understand the value of the team’s projects and to measure that value/ROI in more strategic ways that go beyond financial measures to include customer experience and satisfaction. Ultimately, if senior executives in the business are not aware of the value delivered by BT/IT, the project was not entirely successful. The awareness comes with ideas for how to leverage new capabilities across our diverse businesses.

DCK: What would be your top advice to young women starting careers in the tech industry?

KS: The tech industry needs a diverse employee base to continue to thrive. There are great careers available for smart women who want to change the world. The possibilities are endless: from designing cool technology that makes our lives easier to solving complex challenges facing humanity today. 

DCK: Which three books have had the biggest impact on you as a technologist?

KS: There have been a couple of books I’ve read that sparked new ideas and ways of managing the business. These included:

  • Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing by Harry Beckwith, published in 1999. In IT we deliver services that are often invisible. This book helped me learn how to articulate the value of something that you cannot always see before the output is delivered.

  • Changing the IT Leader’s Mindset by Robina Chatham, published in 2010. This book helped me reframe expectations with my team and my customers, so we could raise the level of our performance.

  • Legacy by John Kerr, published in 2013. Its 15 lessons on business and leadership are applicable across all industries.

DCK: Which three people in business and technology have been the most important role models since the beginning of your career?

KS: I cannot limit it to three. The common traits of all the people who have been important role models for me are:  integrity, visionary, coach to others, and passion and courage to solve big problems.

DCK: What was the hardest thing you’ve done throughout your career?

KS: Changing companies. I have had the fortune of working for outstanding companies with wonderful people.  Each time I have changed, it has been to pursue my passion, but you leave behind work you love and great friends, so it’s hard.

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