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Get to know: Prem Ananthakrishnan, Vice President, Products, Druva

Get to know: Prem Ananthakrishnan, Vice President, Products, Druva

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On the lighter side of things, we ask Prem Ananthakrishnan, Vice President, Products, Druva, what makes him tick.

What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?

My most memorable achievement has been playing a role in helping scale Druva get to where it is today. I joined at a pivotal moment when the company was transitioning its business model to a cloud-based operation on AWS. I was tasked with helping build a compelling product strategy by working closely with the leadership team and customers to understand their needs.

Prem Ananthakrishnan, Vice President, Products, Druva

Since then, we have continued to deliver new and innovative offerings grounded in the simplicity, scalability and security of the public cloud that solves today’s pain points and tomorrow’s data challenges. We work with thousands of organizations, including 60 of the Fortune 500, to ensure their most critical asset remains resilient so they accelerate Digital Transformation initiatives and focus on delivering customer value. It’s taken a lot of long nights, teamwork and perseverance to get to where we are today, but being able to see this all come to life has been an incredibly rewarding experience.

What first made you think of a career in technology?

My passion for technology sparked at a young age. I grew up during the dot-com boom, an era that transformed the way the world received and communicated information. I vividly remember peoples’ excitement around the Internet as well as their grievances with the slow dial-up speeds that came along with it. Realizing the potential the Internet could bring to how people operated businesses, I was committed to solving this emerging pain point.

I went on to earn a Bachelors of Engineering in Computer Systems Networking and Telecommunications at the University of Mumbai as well as a Master of Sciences in Telecommunications and Business at University of Colorado Boulder. Soon after completing my education, Amazon created subsidiary Amazon Web Services and the rest was history: the cloud era was born. Yet as more businesses turned to the cloud, data usage increased exponentially. This created a new demand to manage and protect it in a simplified, less complex way, which sparked my interest in data protection. Data protection and management is still one of the largest pain points for customers today and solving these challenges through a simplified, resilient and innovative approach is what makes me so excited about my work everyday.

What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?

I am a big believer in the Level Five Leadership philosophy. Described by Jim Collins, these leaders are strong team players. They set the goals for their teams, support them along the way, and celebrate their wins without taking any credit. I’ve also learned that different leadership styles are needed throughout various phases of a company’s growth. For instance, when I joined Druva six years ago, we were hard at work building out our strategy and long-term vision. This required a transformational leadership style where I led from the front and inspired others around me to innovate.

As Druva matured, I took a hands-on approach to build out key processes and structures. In the present day, Druva is a well-oiled machine. Processes are in place and my teams execute on projects and initiatives with speed and efficiency. I will run projects when needed, but more than anything else, I am there to guide them in the right direction and support them to achieve their goals.

What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?

Cybersecurity remains one of the most pertinent topics in the industry at the moment. Ransomware attacks are occurring every few seconds, targeting infrastructure, schools and even frontline health workers. As security professionals continue to say, it’s not a matter of if, but when you will get attacked. Adding fuel to the fire, we’re also facing one of the most prominent cybersecurity skills shortages in recent history, with roughly over 3 million unfilled positions, according to ISC2.
In order to improve security on a global scale, we must approach it in a different way. We cannot continue to fall back on the same tactics we did 20 years ago to solve this problem. Leading security experts, white-hat hackers, and academics must come together to establish a new framework on how the industry needs to evolve for today’s new cloud economy and the new tactics needed to fight back from sophisticated attacks. Once a global framework is defined, we need to be diligent about incorporating it into academic curricula so the next generation of security professionals are trained to tackle this criminal scourge.

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?

I am an avid runner and have found that going on daily runs is one of the best ways for me to unwind. Apart from that, spending time with my family on weekends always helps me unplug. Apart from longer vacations with the family throughout the year, I also plan ahead and take one to two days off every few months. These short breaks are a great way to recharge your batteries. It also helps me come back to work feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the next project.

If you could go back and change one career decision what would it be?

If I could change one decision in my career, it would be to move to the Bay Area sooner. Silicon Valley is one of the world’s meccas for technology and it’s an incredible place to learn. It’s where you’ll discover where the wind is blowing as well as find the industry’s most disruptive trends and innovations.

Mentorship is also a core element of the Silicon Valley ecosystem and you’ll have opportunities to learn from some of the world’s best. My mentors have shaped me into the leader I am today and I attribute a lot of my success to the advice they have given me over the years. If I could go back in time, I would have booked a plane ticket the day I received my Masters so I could jump right into everything the Bay has to offer!

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?

In the data protection space, there is a massive opportunity to leverage Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to solve existing and emerging customer pain points. While this technology has been around for years, the question now is if you are using it efficiently and tapping into its fullest potential. AI and ML can help solve the world’s most pressing security challenges by getting more predictive with ransomware attacks and simplifying the recovery process. It can also help lower costs for customers, bring agility to existing processes and deliver new insights that will push a business forward.

At Druva, we have been focused on leveraging applied AI techniques and existing algorithms to our data sets of billions of data points and events to deliver intelligent recommendations, insights and prescriptive analytics to optimize data protection, governance and cyber-resilience at scale. In October, we also launched Druva Curated Recovery, which leverages intelligent automation for accelerated ransomware recovery. AI brings endless opportunities to deliver value to customers, so I expect it will continue to be a key area of investment in data protection over these next three to five years.

What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in North America?

As organizations adopt new technologies and expand their digital footprints, they must maintain compliance and ensure the appropriate security of data. Failing to do so will lead to costly fines, lost business opportunities and a damaged corporate reputation. Yet, maintaining compliance amidst an ever-changing regulatory landscape has become challenging.

For example, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) went into effect in January 2020 and then quickly got amended by the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA). Colorado, Virginia and Nevada have all passed their own privacy laws as well. At the rate we are heading, it’s likely every US state will have their own privacy regulation to adhere to.

However, compliance with the latest legislation shouldn’t hold an organization back from adopting new technologies. It should be a starting point for a discussion around best practices for managing data. While it may not seem immediately intuitive, there are native capabilities and services in the cloud that can ease the burdens and challenges of navigating these new regulations.

What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year? How do you see these developing in the next 12 months?

Over the past year, thousands of organizations have accelerated their Digital Transformation journeys and migration to the cloud. However, the resulting data sprawl has placed new pressure to secure data against rising cyberthreats and maintain compliance against evolving regulatory frameworks. I’ve worked closely with our customers this year in helping them navigate this new environment and ensure their data, cyber and operational resilience needs are met.

In addition, my perspective on work and leadership has shifted. The last 18 months have taught me the importance of leading with empathy, so I’ve spent a lot of time listening to my teams and making sure they feel understood and supported at all times. I’ve also learned to strike a better work life balance and I encourage others on my teams to do the same. Just the simple act of taking a couple days off or unplugging from emails in the evenings to spend time with family will go a long way.

What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain a C-level position in your industry?

First, always follow your customers. This is critical and irrespective of where you are in your career. You need to constantly ask yourself the problem you are solving for, if it is a compelling pain point to customers, and whether or not it has been addressed before. Put your customers and their needs first, and then work backwards. It will never fail you.

For those starting out, embrace your curiosity and remain hungry to learn because nothing in technology is constant. As individuals mature and rise the ranks in their career, it’s important to think beyond technology. These individuals are likely great problem solvers and very strong contributors, but they need to have the people skills to inspire others with a vision and empower them to deliver measurable outcomes. By investing in those soft skills now, you’ll set yourself up to make a long-lasting mark on your company, customers and peers.

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