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Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Jay Leader CIO, Of iRobot (Part 1)

Posted on Thursday, Jul 7th 2011

By Sramana Mitra and guest authors Siddharth Garg and Rahul Nagpal

About iRobot
iRobot designs and builds robots that make a difference. iRobot was founded in 1990 when Massachusetts Institute of Technology roboticists Colin Angle and Helen Greiner teamed up with their professor Dr. Rodney Brooks with the vision of making practical robots a reality.

In 2010, iRobot generated more than $400 million in revenue and employed more than 600 of the robot industry’s top professionals, including mechanical, electrical, and software engineers and related support staff. iRobot trades on the NASDAQ stock market under the ticker symbol IRBT.

About Jay Leader
Jay Leader has nearly 25 years of international IT management experience. His areas of expertise include IT management, strategic planning and financial management, and infrastructure and security management. Prior to joining iRobot, Leader was CIO at Nypro Inc., a $1.2 billion injection molding and contract manufacturing firm with 66 locations in 18 countries. He was responsible for worldwide IT operations, managing support and development organizations in the U.S., Latin America, Europe, and China. Earlier in his career, Leader served in IT management positions at Coopers & Lybrand LLP, Groundwater Technology Inc. and Data General Corporation. He holds a bachelor’s degree in government and international relations and a master’s degree in business administration, both from Clark University.

Sramana Mitra: Hi, Jay. Welcome to the Thought Leaders in Cloud Computing series. If you would just give us some context about iRobot and your perspective about cloud computing and describe a bit the business that you are supporting. What are some of the key business issues you are dealing with, and what is the role of the cloud in that environment?

Jay Leader: We are not using the cloud, and we probably won’t. Our is actually two distinct businesses; one is a home robot business best known for the Roomba and Scooba, which are cleaning and vacuuming products, and the other is the defense-oriented business where we provide robots to the government and military for tasks like improvised explosive device (IED) detection, route clearance, surveillance, reconnaissance, those kinds of things. We are the forefront of robotics and in those two areas, and our IT challenges are just like anybody else’s. We have a rapidly growing company that is engineering focused. We outsource most of the work. We don’t manufacture anything, so all of our manufacturing is contracted for. That way, we really focus on research and on engineering and product ideation and productization, and those are the challenges. Supporting a highly technical and highly capable diverse computing environment to support people doing that work is our principal challenge.

SM: You made a very bold and blunt statement that you are not using the cloud; would you elaborate on this?

JL: Well, we are not. We are not using cloud services right now, and we don’t have a need for them; I don’t think it is economically viable for us. We have significant security concerns because we are a defense business, and we don’t have a burst requirement. I have a data center now [that we own], and it is in my building. I am not looking to rationalize that down because it is a fixed cost that I already have anyway. I wouldn’t be cutting my IT staff if I were to outsource or to move things into the cloud. So, there is no economic driver for us that justifies it, and again we don’t see a functional requirement, so we don’t have burst requirements. We don’t have highly volatile needs for capacity to turn on and turn off. And so for us, there is no compelling economic or functional argument that would drive me to put things in the cloud.

SM:  OK, fair enough! Interesting! Now talk to me a little about your … obviously you described two businesses, the consumer business and the defense business. Now, on the consumer side, I assume that you sell mostly through retailers?

JL: In the U.S. we sell primarily through retailers. In Europe as well in other countries we sell to distribution networks that sell to retailers, but we also have a significant e-commerce component to our business. We outsource this so that I am not running my e-commerce service myself.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Jay Leader CIO, Of iRobot
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