On keeping innovation top of mind for technology teams

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An interview with Bassam Zarkout, CTO of information governance solution provider RSD.

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): Keeping a sense of innovation alive within a technology team can be challenging. How do you get RSD's tech staff to keep innovating and coming up with new ideas?

Zarkout: The subject of innovation never leaves our minds. We continuously encourage the entire RSD team to bring new ideas to the table and offer incentives for them to learn new technologies. For example, we pay for their training courses, which allow them the opportunity to learn new things and then work on the latest projects.

But they don't just do it for the incentives; they do it because they understand that it helps to create a better product for customers. Right from the start, the story of our information governance product has been challenging the status quo and getting the impossible accomplished. Our team is 100% committed to making sure our customers are happy and the product is successful. This can mean working over the weekend or even on vacation.

TEP: Records management is not a sexy topic. How do you make it exciting to the people working on it?

Zarkout: You are correct, records management was never really a sexy topic which is why, in 2007, we began focusing on information governance (and not records governance). Every major company lives and dies by the information they have, whether that's information about a new pharmaceutical product, safety information related to a car or information on the next smartphone. Governing data may not be outright sexy, but it's crucial. The information that you can glean from the data can either help reduce legal risks or increase the opportunity to innovate and make an impact. Our team loves hearing how our technology makes the lives of our customers better.

TEP: Your product is built on risk avoidance and guaranteed security. How do you square that with the need for constant innovation?

Zarkout: The Fortune 500 relies on our software in one or more business-critical applications. We have a very rigorous development lifecycle and QA process and ensure we balance the roll-out of new features or solutions. Our QA process ensures the product is tested for scalability, functionality, integration, connectivity and performance. For example, the latest process we included in our development cycle is testing governing over 100 million documents. We are fortunate to have a set of customers who are early adopters and are eager to provide us with feedback.

TEP: Is there anything you do to keep RSD's engineers excited, engaged, and on board?

Zarkout: Engineers love to learn new technologies, change how things are done and see their ideas be executed in the real world. RSD loves to challenge the engineering team and, in turn, loves when the engineers challenge the organization. The biggest challenge for our development team is time to market and making sure they meet customer demands. The challenge is also ensuring the product is simple to install, simple to administer, and simple to use.

We also like to take the engineering teams on expeditions and road trips. For example, recently the tech team hiked up 15,000 feet at Aiguille du Midi in celebration of a new release.

TEP: Any advice you'd pass along to other technology leaders about fostering innovation and keeping it going?

Zarkout: The 19th Century American Writer and Philosopher Elbert Hubbard was very prophetic about this. He said, "The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it."

You are never done with innovation, and once you think you are done, the competition will beat you. That is the issue that some companies. Have they make the simple mistake of being comfortable? The world around us continues to change and as technology leaders, we help to propel this change forward.

Bassam Zarkout is the CTO of RSD, a pioneer in information governance solutions, and has been leading the innovation, vision, creative strategy and architecture of RSD GLASS™, from its initial inception, through its development and now its deployment with major global corporations. Zarkout is a thought leader in the information governance space (conception, design, development and implementation) and is a frequent speaker at key industry events. He has more than 20 years of experience in information governance solutions, including records management, e-Discovery, regulatory compliance, privacy and audit trail management.

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and columnist for Inc.com. She is co-author of "The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don't Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive," as well as several other books. She lives in Snohomish, Washington.