At Rubrik, an Operational Approach to Innovation

Ajay Sabhlok, Rubrik’s head of IT, doesn’t see innovation as a nice-to-have but as a way of addressing business demands.
Michael Hines
July 17, 2020
Updated: July 9, 2021
Michael Hines
July 17, 2020
Updated: July 9, 2021

The main ingredient in the typical recipe for a tech company’s success is an innovative idea.

But once a startup becomes a globally recognized tech company, a curious thing happens: Their focus shifts from innovation to operations. This isn’t just a problem for companies like Google, Apple or Facebook. According to a 2018 Deloitte report, the average tech company spends 22 percent of its technology budget on building new tech and 48 percent on operations.

Balancing innovation and operations often falls to a company’s CIO or head of IT. These leaders ensure that both day-to-day business operations run smoothly and that their company’s technology architecture and infrastructure continually evolve. The latter is especially important, since companies can’t develop transformational products and technology if they themselves are powered by outdated tech and ideas.

To master this tricky tightrope, Built In is reaching out to CIOs and IT heads across the industry. Kicking off this series is Ajay Sabhlok, VP and Head of IT at Rubrik, a Palo Alto-based cloud data management company founded in 2014 that has raised $553 million in funding. According to Sabhlok, innovation isn’t a “nice-to-have” — it’s the bedrock of all of his team’s projects.

 

Ajay Sabhlok
Vice President and Head of IT

How do you balance a desire to explore and experiment technologically with the need to drive revenue and keep costs in check?

From the outset, I’ve encouraged my team to use innovation to underpin business demand management — without separating it as a “nice-to-have” for when investment becomes available, or during idle times. We handle business demand through channels, including tier-one or tier-two projects, roadmap-based change request sprints and break/fix production support issues. 

Early on, we laid out an enterprise architecture framework that ensured our process, people and technology blueprints always included innovation-based options. We also have an architecture review council that provides early feedback into solution architecture proposals. The net result is continuous evolution across all areas of IT where core business needs are mostly addressed through cutting-edge solutions and cost is absorbed as part of a critical initiative. 
 

“We encourage our engineers to use proof-of-concept initiatives that are short, pointed and help prove an innovative approach.”


How do you encourage innovation within Rubrik?

We’ve conducted internal hackathons to tackle tough application and infrastructure challenges, like our solution to protect SaaS application data by backing it up to a data center and restoring it on demand. We also create competition between IT team members through trainings that enhance knowledge and teach new skills. As part of the day-to-day solutions architecture proposals that address business demand, we encourage our engineers to use proof-of-concept initiatives that are short, pointed and help prove an innovative approach. Engineers are also encouraged to include bleeding-edge technologies and develop associated cost estimates.
 

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What is your companys approach to evaluating and incorporating new technology into your business or products, and what technologies are you currently keeping an eye on and why?

Some of the recent process areas where we are evaluating options, as well as prototyping, are marketing and sales lead flow. This includes lead scoring through machine learning and AI-based technology, lead-to-account matching and lead and contact follow-up collaboration between inside and field sales. 

We’re also looking at implementing electronic data interchange with distributors and appliance suppliers, and using the Rubrik cloud fabric orchestration platform to support a majority of our product proof-of-concept initiatives across virtual, bare metal loads and the public cloud.

In addition, we want to unify our customer and partner portals so customers can have seamless SaaS-based product consumption experience. This will empower our partners by enabling self-service for a specific category of sales and quoting. Rubrik IT protects and governs all of its data through the use of Rubrik products and solutions, allowing us to provide early feedback to the engineering team to improve user experience, performance and features.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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