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A conversation with Markus Nispel: “At the Office of the CTO at Extreme Networks, we have more freedom to experiment.”

Markus Nispel Vice President of International Markets, Office of the CTO Published 3 Nov 2021

It’s been more than a year since the Office of the CTO was first formed and later announced at Extreme Networks. Tasked with looking to the inflection points of the future, the department is led on a daily basis by Markus Nispel. In this first of a two-part series, Markus, VP of International Markets at the Office of the CTO, sat down to discuss his thoughts on the past year and what’s to come.

markus headshot

The Office of the CTO at Extreme Networks has two parts: An incubator side and the thought leadership side. How do you see those two working together?

They largely go hand-in-hand. On the thought leadership track, we discuss inflection points that we have identified in the marketplace that have a wider audience, to make our thought processes more accessible. Those inflection points are key for us to identify either risks or opportunities happening in the marketplace due to change. It can be a technology change; it can be society changing (or) it can feature changing behavior.

One of the key inflection points that we’ve seen is at the society level. Certainly, the COVID pandemic has changed a lot — the behavior of employees, customers, and how organizations communicate with people. Those changes drive a lot of our thought leadership.

From an incubator side, we are thinking about a portfolio of activities, so to speak, that we are driving. So there certainly is an optimized portfolio — where you look at our existing portfolio, and we try to identify opportunities to optimize that. Or we’re trying to identify inflection points that might create risk or opportunity for that existing business portfolio.

On the other hand, we are looking out with our search portfolio, where we are trying to find new places, new markets, new opportunities where Extreme can be successful in the future. We are always trying to identify initiatives and activities that enable us to provide innovation, define new markets, and new business models.

We are seeing also larger growth typically in our existing portfolio. So that’s what we are focused on what’s possible. We have those two sides, which is one is more defensive and is meant to protect the core business, but also see opportunities in the core business for optimization and for additional growth. And then, outside of the core portfolio, what are new markets? New technologies? New use cases that have an accelerated role and potentially exponential growth? Additionally, we are also looking inward at Extreme to transform ourselves into more of an software-as-a-service (SaaS) company. All of our new capabilities are designed to fall into SaaS buckets.

Different companies set up their Office of the CTO departments differently. Does the Office of the CTO work in isolation from the rest of Extreme? Or is it more of a collaborative effort?

It’s definitely a collaboration among multiple Extreme teams, who all help us nurture and develop vendor relationships, together with the Office of the CTO itself. We look at the technology itself, the solution, the value proposition, and the markets we also want to go after. So, it’s certainly work developed between these entities and then work to deliver it.

Obviously, we need more (internal support). There’s further integration with the Product Engineering teams. There’s integration with the Product Marketing team to help get things obviously out the door and communicated to the world. And there’s also a tie-in with our User eXperience (UX) teams, which is part of the process. Together, we go through those initiatives from concept to prototype, to minimum viable product (MVP), to production. A lot of different teams are involved! So, we are certainly not working in isolation.

The Customer Journey and Customer Success teams we have created will also be part of the process. There is a concept phase — where we go through an iterative process with partners and customers to identify, define and validate our concepts what we ultimately want to achieve. And once we get out of a concept phase, we are also trying to reduce the risk of innovation by validation, both internally and with external partners, customers and analysts.

The UX team, also helps us to gather our thoughts — where we want to take our initiative — more tangible. Then the Customer Success team defines the customer journey that would come along with such an initiative — if we are go further beyond prototyping into an MVP and productization stage.

So, the Office of the CTO remains a department focused on innovation, but not an isolated one. Where does it work differently than the rest of Extreme? 

It functions similarly. What we wanted to avoid right from the start is the perception that we are sitting on a different island from the rest of the organization. Because that’s what you see in a many CTO offices in other companies, they do stuff and invent stuff in a vacuum, and it never sees the daylight in terms of product realization. So, we didn’t want to go there.

What’s different for us compared to other Extreme teams is that we have more freedom to experiment. And also, we can expand our portfolio to work typically outside of our existing core business. The majority of the teams are focused on the present. Obviously, everybody’s innovating, but the Product teams are innovating in the current space where Extreme has existing products.

What we are more focused on is, “okay, let’s go a little further outside of that and see what we can do?”
That gives us new access to new markets, new technologies, different routes to market, and the ability to experiment a little more, which also means that we need to be able to then manage those initiatives.

And also, at times, stop those initiatives. Stopping or shooting initiatives down is not a bad thing. It’s just a proof point that our approach to innovation is working effectively. We have a couple of stage gates along the way that we are following to ensure that is happening. We want ideas that can work. So, we have a pipeline to show and track that process of concept prototype to MVP to a final product.

This interview was conducted by Jon Filson, Senior Content Producer, Office of the CTO.

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