An Interview with Dwayne Emerson
LEAD Magazine: Tell me about yourself and what you do.
Dwayne Emerson: I work at BT (British Telecom). BT brings together business services from all the major equipment, service and cloud providers into one simple, scalable and secure managed service. BT is a key provider in driving efficiency, digital transformation and innovation almost anywhere in the world. For the past six years, I have been the Chief Technology Officer and Head of Engineering at BT Americas for one of our key multinational customers based in the U.S. I am responsible for the technology strategy and have architectural responsibility at BT as it pertains to the client’s network. I also own new service development and innovation, as well as support operating the network on a day-to-day basis.
I spend the majority of my time evaluating new technology, business processes, quality, systems, tools and automation techniques. A lot of the work is technical, but I also work closely with our commercial, finance and operations teams. The job is very demanding and stressful, but I do really enjoy it.
I have lived in the Cincinnati area for 14 years. My wife and I relocated here from North Carolina. I worked for GE and Ericsson for 10 years. A close friend from GE came here to run Cincinnati Bell Business Markets, and he invited me to join the team to help with the wireless business back in 2002. Our two daughters really liked their schools and we made lots of friends, so we decided to stay. We have a nice life here, and really enjoy the community and surrounding area.
LEAD Magazine: What is a technological victory you have experienced?
Dwayne Emerson: I have worked in the communication and technology field for 26 years. At HP, I led the development and coordinated the launch of two smart phones for a European wireless carrier. We started with a concept and put it on the shelf, which was a thrill.
I attended the Consumer Electronics Show a year later and saw the two phones on display at the Microsoft booth. That was cool.
I have had other victories in the networking space and I continue to look for new ones every day. For me, it is all about the journey and excitement that is generated when you have a complex business issue that is in desperate need of a solution. Ironically, there are times when technology does not solve the problem. It is the application of the technology, the people and the process that solves the problem.
At BT we have developed and deployed a number of new solutions. It’s rewarding to have thumbprints on innovations that have made their way into the market. Lately my focus has shifted toward automation, advanced security detection and risk mitigation. I am eager to see how we can reduce human error when it comes to deploying and managing big networks.
LEAD Magazine: Are you rolling out any new technology right now?
Dwayne Emerson: Always. Many of the technologies are all about trying to simplify deployment and make the network(s) more efficient. For example, currently many companies leverage dedicated hardware. In near future, that hardware (and the function it performs) will be virtualized onto a low-cost server where it is easier to manage. There are a lot of people talking about SD WAN, automation, machine learning and security. BT is very much involved in those discussions.
LEAD Magazine, Steve Wanamaker: Tell us about MIT, what you are doing there.
Dwayne Emerson: As you know, MIT houses some amazing talent. BT is a member of the Industrial Liaison Program, which invites the industry to participate in all aspects of MIT’s programs, initiatives and research. Open innovation and inclusion are some of the things that make MIT the top research and development facility in the world.
I was invited there a couple of years ago to take part in a cybersecurity challenge between Cambridge in the U.S. and Cambridge in the U.K. I was asked to evaluate the performance of some of the challenges. I was exposed to the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and the Media Lab while I was there. I became completely captivated with what they are doing there, and since then, I've offered as much of my time as possible to pursuit of developing a better tomorrow while delivering a better today.
I have attended a few events since then and enjoy talking to the professors, faculty and staff about the future of technology. The people at MIT have amazing ideas and it is very exciting to discuss how to bring those ideas to market and deploy them.
LEAD Magazine: What are some of the challenges in a job like yours?
Dwayne Emerson: At BT, our job is to keep these big networks running so the companies that rely on them can deliver their products and services to their customers. When the network experiences an incident or outage, it can easily impact business. We have some sophisticated systems, tools, people and processes to help manage these situations because every minute counts. We continuously have to evolve these networks and are constantly pushing the boundaries of new technology capabilities.
Another major challenge is trying to reduce cost in areas that haven’t seen a lot of investment over the years. One of the ways to deal with the challenge is to revisit the processes and implement automation techniques.
LEAD Magazine: Tell me about your vision for technology in this region.
Dwayne Emerson: I attended comSpark last year as a last-minute decision and what I saw was amazing. There are some impressive companies in the region and I noticed they were collaborating with each other as well as with students from high schools and universities from around the area. Companies of any size need big ideas and I think comSpark is a great event that brings those ideas out into the open.
IT infrastructure and transport is highly commoditized but network bandwidth is increasing about 40% a year. We will see companies continue to invest more in public internet-based solutions, security and automation. Everyone wants a crystal ball that tells them what their network is doing, why it is doing it and rapidly deploy solutions to address it.
Steve Wanamaker: You mentioned a lot your efforts involve a local lab; please tell us more about it.
Dwayne Emerson: Ah, one of my favorite, yet time-consuming parts of the job. Approximately four years ago, I met with several large IT and Telecommunications companies such as Cisco, Dell, HP, Microsoft and Riverbed (including a visit in their labs and showcase centers) and we collaborated on what a customer experience lab here in Cincinnati could look like. We definitely wanted it to be the best compared to what others had done, but more importantly, we wanted functionality and modularity. After 15 months of working with companies who often compete with each other, we delivered an incredible place where people can go think, test ideas, create solutions and solve problems.
We use it to learn about network behavior and test solutions before they are deployed in a production environment. Without the lab, we do our very best to ensure quality execution in the production environment, but with the lab we increase the probability of success significantly and we can often prevent incidents from occurring during implementation.
This lab is similar to what you may see at other labs (including ones at MIT) but the difference is we are not developing anything in here. Instead, we are looking at new technologies, how it would impact network elements and how we would approach deployment and management.
The lab also serves as a training bed. Some of our less experienced engineers use the lab to perfect their designs and skills. Partners use it to enhance their offerings.
Most of the network equipment providers participate in the lab on some level, either by donating equipment and/or resources. We can connect to any facility or resource around the world including BT labs in Adastral Park (UK), Microsoft Azure, AWS, Dell and many new partners emerging in Silicon Valley.
There has been some discussion about how to include regional high school and college students to help evaluate new capabilities and work with us on wicked challenges. I am hopeful that will come to fruition soon, in collaboration with comSpark.
Steve Wanamaker: What did you get out of comSpark last year?
Dwayne Emerson: ComSpark held an amazing event last year. To build on the event, we need to find a way to make what we saw those two days something people practice every day. I think it is critical to the success of the region. Simply having a venue for people to discuss what they do (or what they want to do) is vital to the future of technology growth in our city. Like the lab, there are a lot of resources here. We need to leverage everyone and everything – collaboration and access to resources is key.
Steve Wanamaker: We should discuss how to bring the best thinkers in our region together. Similar to what you see at MIT.
Dwayne Emerson: I think it is a great idea. The challenge is finding the time. Perhaps if we enhance the comSpark website, people can engage at their convenience. We could also look into creating informal roundtable sessions and host them at our comSpark network partner’s offices and classrooms.
LEAD Magazine: Give us a parting thought.
Dwayne Emerson: I spend a lot of time managing networks but I am passionate about strategy, innovation and new technology. I also enjoy helping nonprofits, schools and small businesses in any way I can. I was delighted to receive the CTO of the year award from Softech International for engineering and IT strategy-USA this year. I am thrilled to be a member of the comSpark 2017 Host Committee. Watching and assisting multiple companies bring their technology together and create something new and different is very rewarding.