When I sat down with Mark Jancola earlier this month, he was just transitioning to his new role as VP and GM of Apptio's Digital Fuel business. Mark is well known at Apptio, having built the product engineering team, product offerings, and technical operations necessary to take the company from initial startup to one of the fastest growing enterprise software companies in history.

If you haven't met this engaging leader, here's what you need to know.

Mark, what excites you most about the coming together of these two companies, Apptio and Digital Fuel?

My excitement is really driven by our customers and how much MORE value and leverage they will get from this technology business management superpower. I look forward to the new conversations we can have with them.

What I feel most energized by is the idea that we now have two very smart and experienced teams working to offer powerful costing, planning, benchmarking, and insights solutions that engage and delight our customers. This is a meaningful multiplier of TBM knowledge that will be applied to customers and offered to the market. 

What makes you uniquely qualified to assume the leadership helm at Digital Fuel?

I think it’s a combination of factors. I grew up with the customer as we introduced and evolved TBM so I bring that experience and knowledge to the table. I also helped build the Apptio product portfolio and know it intimately.

But really, though I have a developer’s background, the unique benefit I bring is that I lead by developing people. And when you bring two companies together, especially two companies that have competed in the past, the ability to connect people and teams, to make them feel welcome, and to encourage and support their high-performance capabilities is key to leadership success.

During times of transition, it’s critical to maintain the focus on what really matters—the customer. Over time, as our teams integrate, strong leadership will keep everyone focused on moving the ship forward.

How has your engineering background prepared you for this role?

The bottom line is that engineers have a very organized thought process and are oriented toward preventing problems. When we encounter challenges, we are supremely focused on deconstructing and solving them in a rational way. And we are very clear and direct when we communicate this information.

Candidly, there are so many different facets of the Digital Fuel product line around which Apptio had made assumptions. And the reverse is also true: there are things that the Digital Fuel team perceived about Apptio that will change as we become more transparent with each other. As the leader of this merging team, I will help identify and deconstruct these things so that we leverage our strengths as we move forward.

How do those two sets of skills, the pragmatic system thinker and the people person, come together to benefit this team?

It’s just experience. I’ve been in the industry for almost 30 years, and I’ve been a part of so many teams. Big and small, from five-person teams to very large groups that span the globe. Experience bringing those folks together to meet common objectives and produce customer-worthy solutions has fused those skills together in a very positive way.

How do you define your leadership style?

My style is all about context. We set goals for what we want to do but without an understanding of how that impacts our team, the business, and the customer, it’s difficult to deliver on those goals. I’m here to make sure the context is clear because knowing where you are and where you want to go is a critical foundation for the actions that we take.

I guess you could say my style is transparency. I’m a great listener and I’m willing to invest the time to really understand the strengths of the team. Why? Because in my experience, this always leads to new ideas, inspiration, and product innovation. 

As an organization gets larger, there can be a temptation for the enterprise to tamp down inspiration. How do you keep innovation top of mind?

That’s a true statement. The larger an organization grows, the bigger the chance an “old way/new way” dilemma can develop. Fear of trying something new or doing something differently can limit a team. I have a couple of strategies for minimizing this:

  • Provide as much autonomy as possible at the team level. To develop leaders in each area of the business, you’ve got to support accountability and encourage leaders to own their areas of expertise. The smaller the team, the more nimble and open to new ideas they can be.
  • Create safe spaces for new ideas. It’s important to have an ongoing forum where small teams can contribute their ideas in a flat operating model. In other words, you don’t want ideas that just flow up the management chain and get sifted out. Instead, it’s important to let ideas come out around a table, where everyone can evaluate them.

That’s the crux of it. People need to feel they can experiment and try new things, so that sense of autonomy needs to be embedded in the culture. The teams I’ve led at Apptio are all composed of six people or less—designed to operate independently yet maintain a federation to achieve large-scale outcomes.

We also encourage “hackathon” events to allow people to take time out of their regular schedules to explore new ideas.

What do you think will be the biggest game-changer for technology teams in the next few years?

Self-modifying software. Software technology is evolving fast—so fast that soon it will be common for code to modify itself or generate new code on the fly based on real-time inputs and analysis.  We’re seeing the front end of this with the AI/machine learning phenomena.

Here are the things I believe will enhance our offerings over the next few years:

  • Machine learning. Everyone’s working to understand AI and strategic automation that better leverages data and provides insights to customers. A great (hypothetical) example might be the correlation between dynamic provisioning of cloud compute in a financial services company and a rise in interest rates. Machine learning helps us understand the relationship between IT spend and business impact.
  • Smarter analytics. Establishing a positive feedback loop allows you to continually evaluate what people do with your software and work to provide new levers to improve products and processes. This constantly inspires changes to what you do and how you do it.
  • Agile processes. Agile development has really changed the way products and services are delivered. At its core, agile is about breaking down work into small chunks so that you can prioritize and deliver more nimbly. This change has been profound, and now we’re trying to solve the “transparency” challenge of aligning the delivery of incremental value to long-range goals.  How can you be sure you are on track to meet an annual objective during each two-week sprint cycle?  We want to help customers adapt to these changes and excel at their jobs in this new paradigm.
  • Customer focus. Understanding how customers use products and extract value from them continually shapes the game, providing ongoing pressure to evolve and be better at what you do. The more you know about the customer and the processes that are running their businesses, the better positioned you are to leverage technology advances to provide solutions that really address their goals and objectives.

What is the primary advantage of the Digital Fuel acquisition for the marketplace? 

Whenever you combine two like-minded teams that are considered best in the field, it raises the bar for everyone. That’s what we’ve done here. Think about what outstanding advances a team with this level of depth and skill can bring to the TBM market. What you will see is even more innovation and expanded capabilities for customers.

How do Apptio and Digital Fuel’s product offerings complement each other? 

Digital Fuel brings Service Level Management capability to the Apptio market, which has some natural synergies with Apptio Vendor Insights. We are excited to explore the opportunity to enhance this product offering.

For IT costing, Digital Fuel has innovated some exciting ways to get data into the system and we look forward to bringing that to customers. In turn, Apptio brings unparalleled expertise in data modeling to Digital Fuel customers.

There are many opportunities to leverage each other’s strengths as we unify our functional capabilities and innovate in new directions.

Tell us something about yourself that isn’t on your resume.

You might not know that for many years, I was a competitive road cyclist, participating in races throughout the Pacific NW and even across the U.S. I once trained for a week in Spain with Tour de France winner Stephen Roche. That was a phenomenal experience and something I will never forget.

I still ride but today I’m more into wakeboarding. In the summer, I spend as much time wakeboarding as my schedule will allow. In fact, we have an Apptio club that meets on the dock at 6am in the summertime to do a couple of runs before we head to work. It’s a great way to start the day.

My “not-so-secret” secret is that I am a family guy at heart.  Although two of my three kids (twins!) are about to graduate from college, the “Dad” hat is always the one I’m going to choose first. I’m game for any activity with my kids, anytime, anywhere.

More questions for Mark? Email him here or find him on LinkedIn.