The Impact of the Pandemic: Changes in Leadership Styles and Technology Approaches – Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series

On this episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast – Interview Series, host Daniel Newman welcomes Tim Tully, CTO and Senior Vice President of Splunk to discuss leadership through the crisis, how companies have changed in the last three months and new approaches to cloud, AI and ML technologies. Tim also gave a quick overview of .conf20, Splunk’s upcoming virtual tech conference this October.

In our conversation, Tim and I explored how businesses have changed in the last few months. Digital transformation has been pushed forward faster than ever before with more technology adoption and better communication systems being utilized. It’s apparent now that the working remotely can be successful, which ultimately removes hiring barriers that might have once been in place. Companies like Splunk can hire the best person for the job regardless of location.

Confronting problems with more empathy and EQ. Tim shared that the pandemic has forced Splunk executives to look at the problems the company is facing with a sense of empathy. They’re more focused on understand how the situation has impacted employees and customers and their livelihoods. This has been an awakening for a lot of companies to really concentrate on employees and individuals over the bottom line.

Turning toward technology and data. Tim and I discussed the technology Splunk has set up to help themselves and customers understand their data through the pandemic. The first piece of technology — the Remote Work Insights app, which is free on GitHub — is a dashboard that allows people to see how their resources are being used by employees at home. For example, customers can see how their VPN is being used and if they’re going to need more bandwidth. They’re able to make decisions based on data without ever slowing down the business. Tim also shared that Splunk has seen an uptick in their app usage. More clients are using the dashboards to quickly view KPIs wherever they might be. It’s clear the way people work and how they approach technology are changing.

A change in architecture. We also discussed how many companies are adopting more hybrid architecture. Tim shared that he has been encouraging Splunk customers to move to a hyperconverged data plane. It’s the idea that data can live both on-prem and in the cloud but be in one data pipeline. Customers want the ability to process data where it is, reduce costs, and then route the data to products in different clouds. This is not a surprising move given Splunk’s “Data to Everything” motto.

A different approach to machine learning. Tim shared his thoughts on the new direction Splunk is taking with machine learning (ML). When you think of ML, you most likely think about a hypothesis and plugging in data that’s at rest to help a system learn. Splunk is taking a different approach with their stream processing which is a low latency level of processing that enables real-time machine learning continuously. Many tech experts and analysts have long surmised that ML would move this direction eventually. Splunk is making it happen.

A teaser to .conf20. Lastly, Tim and I talked a little bit about Splunk’s annual conference .conf20 which will be taking place virtually this year on October 20-21. There will be keynotes and exciting new product releases — definitely something you don’t want to miss. Sign up now to be notified when registration is open.

Be sure to listen to our full episode here:

Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Podcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this podcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.


Daniel Newman: Welcome to the Futurum Tech Podcast. I’m your host today, Daniel Newman, Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. And I am super excited about this Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series edition with Tim Tully, CTO and Senior Vice President at Splunk.

Tim Tully: I don’t worry about title too much. Yeah, that all sounds good to me, man. But thanks for having me on.

Daniel Newman: Well, as I always say, and I love it because we have so many great executives come on the show. We’ve had your CEO, Doug Merritt, but we’ve had CEOs and presidents from across the industry and they all say that. And by the way, anyone that’s studied leadership, done an MBA, or really actually done the leadership, kind of knows titles are a little bit overrated. However, when you have thousands of listeners out there, it’s like the instant credibility whether it’s I wrote a book, I publish here, here’s my title. So I throw out the titles, but I totally agree with you, Tim, and I love that perspective.

But anyways, welcome to the show. It’s been a crazy couple of months. For everyone out there that’s listening, Tim and I are catching this late June 2020. It’s been probably one of the most crazy three month windows in anyone that’s alive’s memory. And not to say you haven’t had crazier moments in your life, but just as a society, we’ve been through a ton. Starting with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve had some tremendous progress being made in discussions around equality. And there’s just a lot to be both encouraged by, but certainly we’ve seen a lot of change needed and faced. And this has gone to the way we work, the way we live, the way we engage, and the way we socialize. So I’m excited to have this show, Tim, welcome to the podcast. How are you doing these days now that we’ve got the backdrop and the title out of the way?

Tim Tully: I’m doing, I’m doing great. From a personal standpoint, I’m at home here in the Bay Area and I’ve got my office all sort of maxed out on the tech front as much as possible. I actually just switched back to a desktop computer for the first time in like 15 years I want to say. So it’s really great to have that horsepower. I sort of forgot what it’s like to have a desktop and how powerful it can be compared to a laptop. So I’m really excited about that.

Daniel Newman: That’s awesome. The last time we saw each other, it was at the event in San Francisco where you were launching some products. You had Barack Obama onstage with Doug. That was a great event. And I laughed because you were … we’re on video and people don’t get to see the video of our podcasts. We use it for queuing and for the conversation and for engagement, but you were super dressed up from a standpoint of a Silicon Valley CTO. And when I saw you this morning jump on, I’m like, “Wow, you look much more casual. Like you got off the surf board.” You got to be kind of enjoying the work from home life a little bit that way though, right? You’re geeking out with new technology, you’re throwing on a tee shirt like most valley tech execs do, and not having to necessarily deal with the headache of getting dressed and go into the office every day.

Tim Tully: I’m thriving. I’m sort of the classical introverted engineer. I’m not quite misanthropic, but I’m more excited to be in a corner with my headphones on looking at a terminal. So I feel like in a lot of ways I’ve been sort of training for this moment my whole life. And I’m sort of maximizing the opportunity that’s been afforded me here.

But it’s not just me, I think our team as well. I see the performance in the engineering team doing quite well, even arguably better honestly, than we were pre-COVID. And my hypothesis around this, and this is not oriented on any data or anything, but just qualitatively is there’s less distraction and there’s area for focus to start to occur in a much more maximized way. And I think it has to do with there’s less happening around you. You’re not at the office, there’s no birthday cake on the counter. People can just really lock down and focus on the matters at hand. And I honestly think the teams are outperforming now, compared to before.

Daniel Newman: I have no question. The tech industry has really, to some extent thrived and while a lot of the market has been on its heels figuring out how to react, I think you’re more of the business that was born on cloud or a business that was really born to be consumed without a lot of physical interaction. It’s really been an opportunity to thrive, to push forward a decade of transformation initiatives and accelerate them into weeks and months. So it’s been really exciting.

And so first of all, it’s good to hear Tim, and of course, like I said, I’ve had a couple of conversations with your CEO, Doug Merritt, but your perspective versus his, you’re doing different things, you’re focused on different set of conversations, building different parts. And that’s actually why I thought it’d be such a good opportunity to bring you on because Doug’s looking at a certain lens of the business. He’s dealing with a lot of the PR, he’s dealing with the earnings, he’s dealing with the general marketability of the brand.

And you’re, kind of like you said, your head’s in a terminal, your team is probably on some sort of Slack or chat channel. Everybody’s engaging asynchronously, coming together momentarily when it takes two, three, four engineers to solve a problem, and then going back on your own separate ways, which has really sort of redefined the leadership path and maybe proven a new type of leadership that’s really going to spring the future in the tech industry.

Tim Tully: Yeah, for sure. A couple of points I’d make around that, and I think you hit the nail on the head with that. One is it certainly changed the way that I lead. I actually think that the amount of communication that I’m doing with the team has actually increased because I’m forced to do more activity around that than I did before. Previously I could bump into people in the hallway and say, “Hey, how are you doing? What are you working on lately?” And that was a lot of how I like to talk to folks.

Now I’ve turned that into a weekly video series. I’m doing things where I can connect more closely with the engineers on the ground. Like I’m building technical puzzles into the video that are sort of like meta in the sense that the puzzles ask you a question about the content that you just watched as a sort of forcing function to make sure that you watch the content, and then I give away a gift card at the end. And then I also sort of, I’m able to distribute news from across the team and what I’m seeing in the industry, a lot more easily through those videos as opposed to the sort of hand to hand combat in the hallway. So that’s certainly new for me. And I’ve had a lot of fun with that, learning how to edit my own content. And I picked up Premiere Pro and bought all this … I have key lights and all these things going.

But the other thing that really changed for me was I think it opened up my sort of understanding or willingness to have more distributed team. To be honest Spunk historically and culturally was a lot more West Coast oriented, although we did have offices around the world. But for the most part you could say the engineering is mostly concentrated on the West Coast with some offices in some other places. But now I feel like it’s at a point where we sort of figured out after a period of roughly six months, that really we could hire the best and the brightest from around the world, and they could be literally on Mars, as long as we had a internet connection. And as long as they’re sharp, I’d love to have them on the team. And I’m pretty sure we would succeed.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. I love that. And I’ve been saying that for a long time. I’ve been writing that in columns and saying the distributed workforce, the remote workforce, basically empowers businesses to hire the best and the brightest regardless of location. And heck now with the advancements in AI, translation and such, we’re going to even be at a point where language barriers are going to start to get knocked out through instant, on-device translation. But I’m the one geeking out now. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet.

So I had a couple of questions specifically lined up for you. You’ve been working on sort of a new brand of leadership messaging, Tim, and some of your hypothesis, and some of this may be a little bit of what we’ve kind of been talking about here in the beginning, but want to talk a little bit about Splunk and its post-pandemic … the practices, the leadership and what you’re seeing. The company has been focused in helping customers throughout the pandemic and really dealing with not just your own change, but all the customer’s changes and their needs. I mean, if I had to ask you this question about what is leading in this time taught the company about leadership and about handling such a crisis, kind of what’s your view from the leading side of the technology in the company?

Tim Tully: Yeah, I mean I think it’s certainly forced us to sort of approach these problems more from a sense of empathy and higher emotional intelligence than ever before. I’ve always sort of thought about my engineering teams in that way. That, to your point earlier, when I would think about hiring a chief architect or a VP of engineering or a head of engineering, what I was always looking for was not the highest IQ. I mean, obviously you want high IQ folks, but I want high IQ and high EQ.

And I think that approach has actually served us well leading into the pandemic and really understanding how the pandemic is affected people and their livelihoods and allowing people to be able to balance work and home life has been really, really important. So I think we were set up well from that standpoint, just based on our hiring practices. But actually to your point, I actually have seen two, I think inflection points. One is obviously the pandemic, but the other is sort of more recent, which is maybe the sort of cultural change that we’re all seeing due to the protests and the murder around George Floyd. Really I think what’s happening is a little bit of an awakening within a lot of companies, certainly here in the Valley and I know in a lot of other places across the US, but it’s actually been two major events that I think are important for your listeners to know that tech companies are really thinking through.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I like that you mentioned that. And in the buildup, I sort of touch on the discussions around equality. I think it’s been important. It’s been an important opportunity and frankly, Tim, not just for tech, I think for every business, for every business to reevaluate their culture, for every business to reevaluate how they hire, how they market, how they develop products and services. So this has been a time of inflection. The COVID-19 has been an inflection point from a digital transformation, business investment, customer acquisition.

And what’s going on with the discussions of equality is just a fundamental business pivot that’s needed to take place for far too long, and it’s good to see. Again, it’s got to start with conversations. It’s got to start with real, raw, unfiltered discussions that are going to surface behaviors, which by the way, data helps a lot with. And there’s a lot of opportunities because your data will … because a lot of us maybe have unconscious bias towards what we’re doing in our work. It could be anything, whether it’s how we hire or how we make a decision about a new product that we’re going to put into market. And so I got to imagine you’ll support me when I say this, but a lot of times our biases are not identifiable in a room full of executives, but the minute you run it through an algorithm, that bias can be quickly identified.

Tim Tully: Yeah, totally. And I think Splunk has done a really good job training execs to be able to see through unconscious bias. There’s a series of training that a lot of us went through over the past few years that I honestly think has been the best training I’ve ever been through. Typically I’m not super excited to be forced to take some mandatory HR training. I mean, that’s just the engineer in me speaking. But that was by far and away easily, the most sort of eye-opening experience I had from a training perspective. And I’ve learned so much about my own unconscious bias, and it really honestly, I think helped me figure out how to manage this and really do what you just mentioned, which is listen. That honestly is the answer to a lot of these problems. You have to be willing to sit there on your hands and listen, and really start to put yourselves in other people’s shoes and understand what their perspectives and experiences are. And that’s been a huge tool, but I think you’re right on it.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, absolutely. And let’s pivot off that a little bit, unconscious bias, data. From a tech standpoint, you’ve learned a lot. We’re seeing opportunities and this is where you start to really become the leader of the business. How do we take this technology, apply these learnings, make people safer, increase security, and make it work better for companies that are going to try to embrace, whether it’s the work from home, adversity, launching new products, moving to the cloud? These are the transformative activities taking place, but what are you thinking in terms of applying this through the technology?

Tim Tully: Yeah, a couple of things. And again, we’re just super lucky at Splunk to have been set up to do this. But the first I’d mentioned is we put something out there called the RWI, or remote work insights, and it’s sitting there on GitHub and it’s a free app for Splunk. And really it was born out of our own IT organization here at Splunk, as everybody started to shelter in place and work at home. And the idea was how can we build a dashboard that gives not just ourselves, but the customers, insight into how their VPN concentrator is performing or what’s the frequency and amount of Zoom meetings that people are sort of sitting through to understand sort of what people’s experiences are at home. And we have Slack integration, and basically the idea, can we build a tool that helps other customers that are in the same position as us have insight to know that the enterprise and the applications that all of its workforces depend on are up and they’re healthy?

So it’s simply aggregating log data to show you is the VPN going to fall over and do you need to add more bandwidth to it, right? And so that dashboard has actually been really helpful for us to run the business, but it’s been really great for our customers to be able to leverage our tool and have the same value. And it’s actually generated some pipe for us at the same time, despite the fact that we give it away for free. So that’s been awesome.

I think the other thing that I’ve seen that’s fairly interesting is pickup in our mobile app usage. You probably heard me talk about it at our marketing event last year. I’m a huge fan of Dragon mobile in enterprise software because I really think that people want to be connected all the time, that’s almost a truth at this point. But we can do it a lot better. So I think having had all of these iPad, iPhone, Android apps out there for people to be able to access Splunk data has been key. I mean, you can imagine sort of making breakfast for your kids, getting ready for working at home, and being able to pull out an alert on your phone or check the latest KPIs on the dashboard. That’s a really convenient way to balance work and home life.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. I think we’re all finding that a little bit. I don’t know about you Tim, but being at home … so I used to travel 47 weeks a year roughly, give or take a week, servicing relationships with over 50 of the world’s largest tech companies. So that would be between advance advisories, analyst sessions. And I felt like I worked a lot. But I’ll tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever worked more than I’ve worked since I haven’t left my house in three months. Having a well-defined home office with mobile technologies and connectivity is the absolute gateway to gain more productivity and less personal time than ever before. And I say that somewhat … I mean, I’m the business owner. So I can say it sardonically towards myself.

I feel sad a little bit for at-home workers. Are they able to balance that work home life right now? And then maybe you can touch on that in a minute, but we are so easily now pulled back into work. Like I eat dinner and I’m like, “Darn it. I got to send an email real quick.” And then you go into your office and you get back in front of your machine and you’re suddenly in there for an hour or you’re like, “I’m going to go for a walk with the dog.” And then you get a notification or your Apple watch goes off and you see a text and you get into a stream. And you’re like, “I can’t even walk the dog now without being in conversations with clients.” You just made me laugh because you’re right. It’s created this amazing balance and concurrently it’s also created this incredible opportunity for us to work all the time. Which incredible is only a word that an entrepreneur or a CTO or a CEO might say about their teams.

Tim Tully: I mean, I think Splunk has an amazing culture and I don’t think there’s undue pressure to work 24 hours a day at all. In fact, this has probably been the most, I think balanced lifestyle I’ve had at any stop I’ve been at. But I’m like you, I mean in a lot of ways it’s like Stockholm Syndrome in a lot of ways. I actually enjoy working so I almost want to get the notifications and know that everything’s okay or if there’s a problem, right?

So in some ways I’m sort of introducing it to myself, but there are ways I deal with that. And before we started recording, we were talking about how we miss the gym and exercising and solutions for that. One of the things I do is I hop on the treadmill about 45 minutes a day, almost in the middle of the day, just to sort of try to disconnect myself a little bit. So I put the phone down, but what I do is pick up the iPad and put it onto the front of the treadmill. And I just watched YouTube videos of stuff I like while I run and it lets me sort of disconnect and not get Slack push notifications and things like that. And it’s sort of honestly, some of the best thinking that I do throughout the day, because I’m not getting the asynchronous interrupts. And it lets me sort of just think about what I care about.

Daniel Newman: Well, and I’m sure you like CICD, or continuous improvement and development, right? But this is sort of an individual way to continuously improve and continuously deliver to ourselves. And that’s been one of the big opportunities of being locked down in quarantine and having a little bit more time, has been reflection. And people have mixed feelings about all that, you should have improved yourself and learned a language or read a book or got in …

Everyone’s dealing with their own things. But I will say I got a rowing machine. That’s the only piece of fitness equipment I had for this whole thing. And you know why I love the rowing machine? It forced me to put my hands and my feet, and you can’t actually use your phone. So when you’re on a jogging machine or you’re on a elliptical, it’s very easy to just grab your phone and continue. On that thing I have to turn something on. So I would turn on, whether it would be like Power Lunch on CNBC and I’d hear what’s going on, and actually watch and just listen. Or I would watch sports, when sports started coming back on. Soccer, I’d start … I just literally tune out. So I think that’s something that’s much needed.

But I actually totally can feel your pain about, you used Stockholm Syndrome, but about enjoying what I do. So if you enjoy what you do, working more doesn’t feel so bad. But I still have to say, being at home and being so close all the time to our workstations just makes it easy to work all the time. And for all of us out there as leaders, we have to remember that just because we like it, doesn’t mean that we want to push that sort of behavior. And it sounds like you guys have that under control.

And which this actually pivots me nicely to my next question, which you’ve started sort of touching on already, Tim. But people are working differently now, and we just kind of address they’re working differently with technology. But from a Splunk standpoint, you mentioned being able to check stuff in the kitchen using mobile devices. Have you noticed any other kind of opportunities that the technology you’ve been building and developing has really been an enabler for that work from home?

Tim Tully: Yeah, I mean whether it’s the iPhone or Android apps or we also have an Apple TV app out there. I’ll actually run our Apple TV app in my living room so I can look at different dashboards. My wife hates it, but I actually love it. I think the sort of other observation I have around that is that people are starting to become more willing to move to the cloud. And I think it has more to do with that willingness to be at home and have a certain amount of distance between you and the products that you’re using. The sort of ambitions and willingness to move has just accelerated and it’s happening in sectors that I would never have anticipated. So it’s really fascinating to me how it’s not just the way that people work that’s changing, but it’s also their approach to the technology that they use is changing as well.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I could totally see that. I mean, I’ve always been a big purveyor of the cloud. I’ve come to the conclusion that the future from an enterprise standpoint is hybrid, but the future from a user and a consumer standpoint is the cloud experience is very close to where people want to be. Nobody really cares where the application is served from when it comes to a user. If you’re using Facebook or you’re using Salesforce or you’re using any tool, people like though that experience of running out of a browser, being able to quickly extract a data visualization, or to be able to engage in an application. We’re seeing a huge migration toward low code, no code, where people want to see business line leaders and day to day customer service managers being able to figure out what the next tool is going to be that helps improve interactions with customers or employees.

So we’re seeing a lot of that, but I think the biggest misunderstanding in the market is getting to that point where it’s easy is actually really, really complex. And so building tools, leveraging both cloud and on-prem, aggregating all the data that’s available, and bringing all the data into a single plane and a single control and into a single application is really quite complex. But done correctly, it can not only make the work from home world better, it can just make everybody’s job better.

Tim Tully: Yeah. And you touched on something a minute ago that had we had this conversation two or three years ago, I might’ve said, “Hey, this set of customers who are distinctly on-prem and these folks are in the cloud,” and it was very sort of binary. Now, honestly, what I’m seeing is everybody wants to be hybrid and they want to be hybrid or they want to be multi-cloud. Nobody really wants to have this vendor lock-in where they’re just in AWS or just in GCP. They want to be able to hedge a little bit and have a toe in the water in other clouds, albeit with mixed amount of success to be totally honest.

But one of the talk tracks I’m driving with customers right now is I’m talking a little bit more about sort of this notion of a hyperconverged data plane. And I sort of borrowed that term hyperconverged from hyperconverged storage. But the idea is we’re starting to build products, especially with our stream processing products that allow customers to build data pipelines that span both on-prem and cloud as one sort of logical data pipeline, albeit it’s big because it spans both sides, but they really want that. They want to be able to process certain amounts of data that they have on-prem, reduce egress costs, and then route it to one or two products or three products in one public cloud or multiple public clouds. So that’s definitely a huge trend that we’re seeing a lot of success with right now.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, and I think you make a great point. The whole container, open source discussion that’s going on right now is really all about that hybrid, and really more about multi. I’ve been saying, we are going to see almost every large enterprise playing in more than one cloud. It’s not just going to be about hybrid, it’s going to be multiple clouds, it’s going to be similar workloads in many cases, and it’s going to be for different reasons. There’s going to be different tools, there’s going to be different data governance and sovereignty issues, there’s going to be regionalization in terms of replication, duplication, security, compliance. There’s a million reasons.

So we’re seeing a lot of the architecture, Tim, going in a direction to say, “Hey, how do we support a company to roll out one application in three, four, five different clouds?” Now it’s not going to start with four or five, but what we are seeing is, as you mentioned, maybe a shop that’s been all Azure saying, “You know what? We want to run Azure and GCP for certain workloads.” How do we make that as simple as possible and as dynamic and easy, and how do we make the experience for those users completely the same, no matter what cloud it’s being run in. And that kind of goes back to what I was saying before, people don’t care, the users don’t tend to care which cloud it’s running and the user just says, “Is the experience consistent for me, and is it good?”

Tim Tully: Yeah, no, I absolutely agree. The only piece I would just reiterate is I think it’s early on the multi-cloud journey. People know that it’s the right thing to do and they want to do it. When you get down to brass tacks, I’m not seeing that a lot of people have actually been able to do it yet.

And I think it’s because we’re still a little bit early on the containerization of some of these products, because it’s one thing to fully containerize everything and run it on an orchestration layer like Kubernetes. But that’s oftentimes just a lot of the business logic or the web services has been an application. Oftentimes these applications have very direct coupling with specific services in the cloud. If you’re in Amazon, maybe you depend on … very discreetly on something with S3 or Kinesis that you have to have.

So that portability, yeah, you have containerization, but you still have coupling with specific cloud services in that vendor that you’re in. So that portability is not quite there fully yet. And I think it’ll get there, but it’ll be a few more years.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, the whole cloud native narrative is still developing. So I got one last thing I want to touch on with you. And we’ve alluded to this too, and it’s by the way, what a great conversation, Tim Tully, CTO at Splunk. Appreciate you joining me here on the Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series. Always have great conversations with the folks at Splunk.

But AI and ML is another thing Splunk’s been focused on. So yes, data to everything is the big story, but really behind it at everything is how AI and ML can enrich this data. And we’re of course, certainly hearing about how AI and ML are accelerating transformation. Tell me a little bit about your thinking and how Splunk is thinking about the next evolution of ML and how businesses can use it to get more from their data.

Tim Tully: I think I’ll be totally honest. Historically I’m not sure people would think of ML if someone said the word Splunk to you for the past few years, but I think we’ve quickly started to change that over the past, let’s say year. And really that comes from a lot of investment that we’ve made around a more novel approach to machine learning.

So just to set some context, in a way I think most people would think about machine learning from the 50,000 foot standpoint is you have some hypothesis, you do some feature extraction on the dataset, you build a model, and then you deploy the model to those system, right? That’s sort of what we would call the offline learning model, right? Because you’re using data sets that are at rest, they’re part of a system at record and you’re training things in some batch system that’s orthogonal from the actual application. A more sort of novel approach to that would be, how can you start to get closer to what people probably would think of as being AI and more of a sort of sentient living system or in other words online, right?

And that’s really what we’re driving towards, is this idea around online learning. And where we’re putting a lot of that work and research is in the stream. So if you’ve seen me in other venues, I’m talking a lot about this thing called DSP that we have out there, it’s a stream processing engine. And really what it does is really a low latency mobile second level processing of records. But what we’ve done is moved a lot of our R&D around ML into that system. And the idea is can we do things like anomaly detection in logs in real time where the ML is essentially learning continuously, right, record by record. And that’s what we call unbounded learning.

And so that’s a totally different approach to ML in terms of how people think about it, but it’s a much more powerful construct because it’s, again, I like the word sentient or sort of self-aware almost like T2 sort of style, intelligent ML. And that’s where we’re getting to. And there’s a lot of technical advantages aside from the use cases around having a more self-aware ML. You don’t get hit by data volume or cardinality anymore. Instead of iterating over dataset tens or hundreds of thousands of times to be able to fit some kind of model, instead we only have to look at the records once. And we’re actually seeing a lot of wins with this and a lot of customer validation around use cases. And I think we’re at the forefront of this quite honestly in tech.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. And the interesting thing I take out of there is sort of you talk about what a lot of us refer to as real deep learning, real artificial intelligence. I think there’s a lot of implications of using the word AI in a lot of marketing. And there’s a lot of-

Tim Tully: Yeah. Honestly, I hate that phrase, AI. But if you were ever to really start to think about AI and the way I think, if you pull someone on the street, I think we’re starting to get closer to that. Although I would refrain from using AI. I like applied machine learning better, but …

Daniel Newman: Well, so that’s what a lot of it is. I mean, a lot of people think Siri is AI, and I guess you could sort of argue they’re very small abstractions of what would be AI in the experience, but mostly it’s just a natural language processing plugged into an existing algorithm in a search engine that pumps out some information.

But it’s funny because we are going in the direction where, like with autonomous driving for instance, which isn’t really something you’re focused on per se right now, but with what you’re doing with data and everything, certainly what you’re doing could enhance that whole experience. But the point is, is where the vehicle in the ADAS gets smarter as it continues to drive more. And it doesn’t do that through individuals logging data, and then it really does learn, and then it enriches, and then it enhances, and then it learns more, and then it … you know what I’m saying? And seeing that kind of cycle in a lot more of the business applications and tools we use.

I know that Marc Benioff at Salesforce says something about putting AI in every boardroom and basically being able to displace his entire executive team with Einstein. And I think we’re years away from anything even close to that, but we are getting to the point more where what is going to make this ML and AI thing successful is when it becomes more self-driven, when it becomes more self-aware. So you made a great analogy there because as long as there’s humans interacting with it at every level, it’s going to be highly imperfect because it’s really just a bias of our own interpretations of what an algorithm and what a data scientist thinks the algorithm should be.

So it’s a fascinating discussion because we talk about AI like it’s here and it’s every day and it’s in our life. But most of what we’re actually experiencing is things like predictive analytics, natural language processing, and, like you said, enriched ML.

Tim Tully: It’s mostly just statistical modeling right now to be honest. I think we’re many years away from that sort of Einstein, Benioff kind of idea. And I’m not even sure people are ready for that. Though I think it’s much more reasonable to think about ML today as being argumentative towards our lifestyles rather than something that’s going to immediately replace folks in the next few years. There may be that path in the future, but I don’t think it’s next year or right around the corner.

Daniel Newman: I think we got some time. My newest book was called Human Machine and I ended up talking a lot about how it’s not going to be about replacing humans in any area except the most mundane tasks, which by the way, we’ve been doing that for centuries as new technologies have rolled out. So this will up level the needs of the humans to use our deeper skills, our empathic skills more successfully and removing some of the things that we can robotically do, whether that’s a robotic process or an actual physical, repeatable process that could be done by a robot. But yeah, we’ve got a ways to go.

AI is a super fascinating topic. It’s coming so don’t misconstrue anything I think I’m saying, or Tim here is saying. We’re working towards it. It’s just, there’s a lot of marketecture right now around what AI is versus what AI really is.

So hey, I’ve only got a second here, Tim, and by the way, great discussion, love the conversation. But you have a conference coming up, Conf, and it’s going to be the first of its kind for you guys, because you historically bring people together to Conf, you don’t do these as a virtual event. But this time it’s going to be different. What should people be expecting from your big event this year?

Tim Tully: Yeah, I don’t want to give away too much. It’s a real bummer that the conference has to be virtual this year, because one of the things that I’m going to showcase, you would never have expected from a company like Splunk. And it’s one of these things that you actually have to experience in person to basically touch it and maybe even pick it up. So, unfortunately it’s hard to do that virtually. So we’re exploring other ways to be able to convey that message. And I’m thinking about different videos and things that we could make to do big reveals in a virtual way. But big announcements, big roadmap, contents. I’ll be doing a keynote, Doug will be doing a keynote, I’ll do the big reveal around something we’re working on. But I’m hoping it’s a great conference, and so far what we’re seeing is that attendance is a lot higher in these types of virtual events. So I think we’ll have a really exciting show for you.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, you’ll have a great attendance. Now, hopefully you can also have great engagement. That’s the trick. Because everybody shows up, but do they stick around and listen, or are they having coffee, watching TV? Although I would say as someone done a lot of keynote speaking, I don’t know that the physical or virtual has changed that. I mean, you look at any audience nowadays and people are doing a million different things. So you’ve got to figure out how to create that flash bang to keep eyes on what you’re talking about.

Tim Tully: Yeah, totally. But I’ll just say, I watched the WWDC content this week and I hate to say it, but I think Apple did a fantastic job with their marketing content because what they did is it felt like an actual show. It didn’t feel like Tim Cook was just sitting in front of his computer because what they did was full body shots of him in a huge empty auditorium. And it felt like I was actually in the auditorium with him.

Daniel Newman: That was a good event. And it didn’t feel like a four day webinar. It felt like a true digital event. And I’ve seen a lot of them now and I can tell you, some big companies have done really, really good and some have done really, really bad. When you have 300 some odd billion dollars in free cash flow sitting in a war chest somewhere you could expect they could get a camera crew to do a decent launch. And to their credit, they certainly did.

So Tim Tully, CTO at Splunk. Thank you so much for joining me today here on the Futurum Tech Podcast.

Tim Tully: No problem. Thanks for having me on. Appreciate it.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. So for everyone out there having a listen, I hope you enjoyed the show. Please hit that subscribe button. Join us again with other executives that we’ll be having on the show. We’ll have another edition actually with another executive from Splunk. More on that to be determined. Hit the show notes, we’ll get some more information on some of what Tim was talking about throughout the show. But also like we said, we just appreciate your support, we appreciate your shares, comments across Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook. Subscribe, subscribe, subscribe. We love our fans, we love our community. For now I got to go. See you all later. Bye-bye.

Thank you for joining us on this week’s Futurum Tech Podcast, the Interview Series. Please be sure to subscribe to us on iTunes and stay with us each and every week as we bring more interviews and more shows from our weekly Futurum Tech Podcast.

Image Credit: Forbes


Author Information

Daniel is the CEO of The Futurum Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise.

From the leading edge of AI to global technology policy, Daniel makes the connections between business, people and tech that are required for companies to benefit most from their technology investments. Daniel is a top 5 globally ranked industry analyst and his ideas are regularly cited or shared in television appearances by CNBC, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal and hundreds of other sites around the world.

A 7x Best-Selling Author including his most recent book “Human/Machine.” Daniel is also a Forbes and MarketWatch (Dow Jones) contributor.

An MBA and Former Graduate Adjunct Faculty, Daniel is an Austin Texas transplant after 40 years in Chicago. His speaking takes him around the world each year as he shares his vision of the role technology will play in our future.


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