Soul of a Developer, Mind of a Leader

Iron Mountain’s Abha Dogra embraces new technology while studying it through her MBA lens in order to make the best business case.

During the course of a career, an IT manager compiles a long list of accomplishments in a variety of categories, from infrastructure and security to business applications and customer service systems. For some, a theme emerges from their work history. Such is the case for Abha Dogra, vice president of global technology and enterprise architecture for Iron Mountain Inc. “Creating common central solutions for multiple clients has been a paradigm throughout my career,” she says.

This career thread—weaving technical ability with a sharp sense for business value—surfaced early in her tenure at Iron Mountain, when she proposed creating shared central solutions for global clients of the information management services company. Her plan to create a single identity access management solution, for example, would allow clients to sign in just once per session to use multiple records, data, document storage, and management applications.

On the surface, the proposal appeared to be a no-brainer. It would simplify the technology, making the user experience easier and more time efficient, and do the same for Iron Mountain’s employees. “Access management was being done in every solution distinctly,” she says. “We had multiple, expensive identity management products in-house, which led to a technology sprawl.”

Involving the consolidation of multiple legacy systems into a single new one, however, would create significant work and expenses. Dogra had to add up benefits line item by line item to make the case for change. Savings would come from reduced license and maintenance costs for these legacy systems. To make a strong pitch, she tallied up the projected cost to move to a new system, and the expected long-term savings in another column. The numbers created a persuasive argument—a projected savings of about $2 million over three years while providing “state-of-the-art” technology.

There would be other benefits, as well. “The existing products were limiting regarding security features,” Dogra says. “Iron Mountain operates in multiple geographies, so a single sign-on with inbound and outbound federation was a feature the business and our clients wanted.” This would enable more secure, seamless access to multiple systems in the same user session, thereby enhancing the customer’s experience.

This initiative cut across all aspects of Iron Mountain’s storage services and represented a major change in philosophy regarding system planning and provisioning. Because of the way the company’s systems evolved to serve particular services, there wasn’t much reuse of applications for different services and industries. When areas such as identity access management and exception handling are being done individually in distinct solution sets, there is duplication of labor, money, and resources, Dogra explains. What’s more, it takes longer to add new applications and features. “You lose agility in terms of time to value,” she explains.

Dogra is changing this and wants applications reused as much as possible. This is no small issue. With clients depending on Iron Mountain to safeguard and provide access to billions of information assets, including critical business documents, electronic information, medical data, and cultural and historical artifacts, consistently adding and improving functionality to storage and retrieval is a competitive necessity.

The new approach requires a new mind-set for planning and funding. “This is a shift from a project-specific perspective, driven by a particular P&L approach, to working across multiple P&Ls,” she says.

Dogra is also looking into how new technologies could benefit Iron Mountain. She recently presented new trends highlighting the Internet of Things (IoT),          
natural user interfaces
, and artificial intelligence and analytics for Iron Mountain’s CEO. These three budding areas have the potential to transform systems that the company has relied on for many years, she says.

The seventy-five-year-old Iron Mountain has provided storage of physical objects and paper documents for decades. IoT could be applied to help track movement of these assets in logistics, storage, and transportation by confirming deliveries automatically, for example. However, it may be that this technology would only be used for new materials because adding it for older stored objects is not likely to be cost-effective, she adds.

She is also excited about the possibilities of voice and touch interaction coupled with artificial intelligence for interacting with IRM services. Someday, a client may be able to speak into a device and say, “Give me all of our December invoices for our top ten clients over the past three years,” and use these documents to analyze spending patterns during the holiday season. Such disruptive technologies could alter Iron Mountain’s industry. Dogra strongly believes the company has to have these technologies on its radar and be prepared to adopt them when the time is right. “These are not commercially adopted concepts now,” she notes.

“We are not, per se, a technology company,” Dogra says. “But even non-tech companies have to be prepared for disruptive technologies.” Iron Mountain doesn’t necessarily have to pioneer new technologies, but it must be able to implement new capabilities when (or before) customers expect them, she says.

The current pace of new technology development is unprecedented in her eighteen-year career, Dogra says, and it’s a challenge for IT specialists, let alone non-technology executives, to keep up. In order to generate executive support for going ahead with these technologies when they are ripe, an IT leader needs to first educate other business leaders in the organization about new developments, she believes. This means a need for more presentations to corporate officers. She’s also a big believer in small-scale pilot projects to test new concepts. Being able to show proof of concept through this strategy makes obtaining funding for large-scale adoption much easier, she says.

Tailoring innovative, fast-developing technologies to suit a large enterprise is nowhere near what Dogra expected to be doing when she was mapping her course in her mid-twenties. She had her sights set on investment banking, but a stock market crash in her native India slowed financial services hiring the year she earned her MBA and forced a change of plans. On the advice of her brother, Dogra took on an eleven-month software development training program with IBM.

With little computer experience prior, the course was quite the initial struggle. Most of the other students had more experience with IT, she says. Discouraged, she considered dropping out, but an instructor convinced her to stick with the program and she ended up scoring an A on the final exam. She realized that she enjoyed coding and decided to pursue an IT career. So, it was off to the United States, where she earned an MS in computer science at Boston University.

With her MBA-bolstered business sense, Dogra has consistently pursued applications and systems development with a sharp focus on organizational value ever since. This will no doubt continue to guide her decisions as she aims for the right blend of emerging technologies for Iron Mountain and its customers.

Editor’s Note: At press time, Dogra was no longer with Iron Mountain.