On Sept.16th, We had a fascinating two-hour-long conversation with Mr.William(Bill) M. Genovese ,the Vice President,Corporate Strategy, Planning and Research-Banking and Financial Markets of Huawei Technologies,talking about his 20+ years C-suite technology& business leadership experience and deep insights on the challenges& opportunities of emerging technologies such as AI,Blockchain and IoT.
Innoverview:How would you describe yourself in three words? What’s your motto?
Bill: Passionate, Driven and Restless
Anyone that gives you a chance to live and work outside your home country, regardless of any potential reservations or concerns, jump in and embrace the opportunity! It will open your mind to additional exponential personal and professional impact and growth, which is what the world needs right now.
Innoverview: Could you please share more about your educational and professional background?
Bill: I am Vice President of Corporate Strategy, Research and Planning – Banking, Financial Markets and IT Services at Huawei Technologies, Shenzhen, China. My responsibilities include the further development of Huawei’s Financial Services Industry Strategy with research and formulation of new solutions encompassing technology and business architectures, emerging technologies centered on AI/Anaytics, Blockchain, Mobile/Digital and IoT, and evolving business models in the FinTech / RegTech era across the financial services sector.
I am also Huawei’s representative and Co-Chair of the China Greater Bay Committee in the FinTech Association of Hong Kong, a CTO and Executive Board Director for Saving Promise, and recently has also joined FinTech4Good on their Advisory Council as a Financial Services and Investment Committee Advisor.
Prior to joining Huawei in 2016, Bill was a CIO and CTO for a Blockchain Strategy and Technology company in the US, and a Principal Advisor for a CIO Advisory Consulting firm. Bill has spent most of his 25 year career with IBM, KPMG, and Wells Fargo Bank, stationed in Europe, Americas, and Asia Pacific regions working holding various senior management roles such as CIO, CTO, Principal Technology Architect and Executive Architect. Bill holds multiple industry and professional certifications focused on full-scale enterprise architecture and technology in the Financial Services Industry. My Bachelors’ undergraduate degree is in Communications, but that’s is from 1987! I’ve constantly completed numerous technical certifications and additional certificate programs (FinTech, Programming courses – C++, Python, JSON, Blockchain, AI, Quantum Computing, Platform Strategies, Disruptive Strategy, Infosec-CISSP, ITIL, and deep IBM, Huawei and Cisco technical education and am also an Open Group Distinguished and Master IT Architect, Master IT Specialist and Senior Technology Consultant). I’ve pretty much have completing very intensive certificate programs for the last 10-15 years from MIT, Harvard, University of Oxford, Harvard, while working full time and growing a family! I’m never really bored!
Innoverview: And we’d love to hear what brought you to Blockchain.
Bill: I joined a startup called Encrypted Labs as their CIO and CTO in Charlotte, NC in the US after I left IBM in 2015. This was a great opportunity and we were the only North American re-seller for BigChain DB, which was the world’s first blockchain database (founders Bruce Pon and Trent McGonaghy also founded Ocean Protocol). I led the team to develop and build a stack based on BigChain DB, Eris Smart Contracts and running on Ethereum. We signed a beta deal with CenturyLink to host and run the stack in their cloud for customers in North America. I was very intrigued and interested in Blockchain from about 2014, as I worked in Enterprise Full stack architecture in banks all over the world, so blockchain looked like an improved solution architecture over existing financial services processing architecture—especially “sub-ledger” architecture and automated processing.
Innoverview: Some of the figures in your resume are particularly prominent. Within one year of hire in Huawei, you yielded 57% increase in revenue (to $1.5B from 2016 to 2017) and 154%(1H YoY 2017 to 2018) across 3 divisions through defining and delivering global corporate strategy for financial services industry. How did you make that happen?
Bill: We have four divisions (Enterprise Business Group- Infrastructure, Carrier – Mobile Money, Consumer – Huawei Pay, Cloud – Big Data, IoT, Blockchain Service) that are contributing to the financial services industry through vertical solutions in their own divisions. However, there is no horizontal or cross Huawei integration of these solutions for the industry. By developing a cross Huawei industry strategy, and driving the teams to collaborate and develop more cross Huawei solutions, this has led to an increase in revenue. In addition, the other key factor has been greater global market awareness of what we offer holistically under our roof for the finance industry. I do most of our CxO briefings for CEO’s, CIO’s and their teams who want to visit us, and hear what we are developing for their banks, insurance companies and investment banks. I provide presentations and workshops where I bring our divisions together, and I present our strategy. I also present this quite a bit in industry conferences globally. I feel this work has led to greater awareness of who we are and what we can provide the industry—beyond just servers, networking, storage, and cloud computing, which has led to an big increase in revenue!
Innoverview: What are the core challenges you face as the VP of Huawei Technologies which is even withstanding US pressure?
Bill : Of course there is some pressure, but the pressure would be there even without the current situation. I am an American in a leadership role in a Chinese company. The biggest challenge is maintaining, keeping and increasing trust. Every company that is international faces scandals and pressure throughout their history. You need to just keep going forward and innovation, delivering, and most importantly adding value for your current and future customers. I overcome these challenges and pressure by sharing with our customers the full capabilities we can bring them to solve their issues—not just by selling them servers, storage, networking or 5G alone!
Innoverview: You have been deeply involved in bringing novel solutions to fruition leveraging expertise in enterprise architecture, solution architecture and engineering as well as software development integration, cloud computing and AI / analytics. From your experience and perspective, why cool technologies sometimes flops?
Bill: In my opinion, Cool technologies flop sometimes for 2 primary reasons: 1) Its not at all clear on what problem, or “job to be done” the technology is trying to solve for the customer! It’s a shiny new toy, but what is it really trying to solve better than existing technology and why is it faster, cheaper, AND better as a new cool technology? 2) It is mis-positioned and hyped too much and fails. It is taken over by marketing and there is very little proof of results and production applications. In addition, cool technologies should not try to solve complex problems on their own by themselves if they cannot do this—they should converge for a better fit to get the job done or solve a unique customer problem. For example—blockchain + AI, or blockchain + IoT, or blockchain + AI + IoT….
Innoverview: You have been involved with FinTech long before the word ‘FinTech’ was coined. Given that perspective, how do you think Financial Services is using Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence now-a-days?
Bill: Yes, I have been involved with “FinTech” for a long time now, and perhaps even more accurately – “TechFin”, primarily through my experiences with IBM, and now Huawei and also as a CIO and CTO for a blockchain startup. The immediate use cases and applications that come to mind with AI and ML as a subset are in the areas of Fraud, and AML, Intelligent Chat Bots in Call Centers, Natural Language Processing and Generation, and most excitingly facial recognition for advanced cybersecurity using biometrics. Other areas of my interest are in investment portfolio optimization as well for forecasting portfolio positions and hedging. I think we are very much in our early stages and infancy and experimenting before AI in this sector becomes more mainstream. It’s still pretty nascent and being explored for the best use cases for the return on it’s investment.
Innoverview: And how do you think Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence will be used in FinTech in the near future - say 2 years or 5 years from now?
Bill: I see ML and AI converging more with other emerging technologies (such as Blockchain, IoT, Quantum Computing) to become more embedded E2E to solve problems we have struggled with for many years as humans –especially in Financial services. Definitely in the area of advanced cybersecurity with facial recognition to provide financial services to more people faster, cheaper, and better—and more secure. I see the bridging and converging of AI and ML with Blockchain to converge the old finance world with the new finance and crypto world as well, while reducing risk.
Innoverview: In 2018, Huawei officially announced to launch a blockchain-as-a-service (BaaS) platform. What inspired that move and what role did you play during the process?
Bill: Huawei had been working on Blockchain in R&D since 2014/2015 prior to me joining the company. It started in R&D sponsored by our Carrier (Telecom industry) division, prior to moving over to our Cloud division to be launched as a cloud service. My role on the core team is the finance industry interest, and to grow our solution and strategy so we can enable more blockchain solutions for the finance industry using Huawei Blockchain. I was instrumental is getting our R3 alliance partnership signed and solution workshops started with our team. Right now, we can offer customer a Hyperledger based solution (which is where we started with blockchain) or also with R3 (ideal for financial services) outside China as well. Huawei is interested in Blockchain and bringing it to our cloud as a technology to make our cloud stronger—as reinforce data integrity from the edge, through the network and into the cloud—in the key areas of supply chain tracing, supply chain finance, digital assets (non-currency. Physical assets to digitalization), and crowd-funding, notarization, and digital rights management. We see blockchain as an embedded improvement to existing technology across multiple industry verticals, which is why we moved into this area.
Innoverview: From your perspective, what’s unique and game-changing about Blockchain technology?
Bill: The best benefit I see from Blockchain is the “codification”, automation, and immutability of contracts between two or more parties so there is a record of the transactions that all agreed to, without having to source this through multiple paper trails and systems that may or may not have the detailed transactions. It also provides audit and record trails for contractual arrangements where there were none before—i.e land registry in emerging markets as an example. It can provide improvements in efficiency over existing systems which has been very burdensome for decades in enterprises.
Innoverview: How do you foresee the trends of Blockchain technology for the next five years?
Bill: In my view, for blockchain to move further beyond the primary enterprise use cases of cross border settlements, remittances, and supply chain and trade finance, it will have to converge further with IoT and AI to move into other use cases for further accelerated adoption. In addition, through the convergence of other technologies, the following obstacles and challenges will be solved which has been holding it back in enterprises today:
1. Performance and Scalability: if it doesn't perform, and it doesn't scale, no one will use it--no consumer will consume it. Goes without saying and this is still an overall weakspot with the technology in general. However, things are definitely improving here with the advent of Lightning Networks and Layer 2 solution improvements, and this is a key focus area.
2. Identity Management and Privacy: From Systems of Engagement (SMARTPHONE), through the network and to Systems of Record- in the Public Cloud in someone else's datacenter or in your own datacenter. If you are going "to do Blockchain", you should use it to secure and manage privacy and identity across the board - not piecemeal (or at least clearly understand the demarcation lines where the Blockchain service and solution ends, and also what's expected of the integrated technology).
3. On-Chain (Public)/Off-Chain (Private) Integration and Processing: Can your Public Blockchain transactions interface with Private Blockchains (or "Sidechains") or existing transaction processing systems behind the firewall in the enterprise?
4. Interoperability/Programmability: How tightly interoperable and programmable is your solution with other technologies? Does it leverage and use common Cloud services, technologies and orchestration, and programming languages for policy management, automation and easier systems management? Does it, and can it take advantage of Flash Storage Technologies? How well does it "play" with existing web services and networking protocols in terms of critical mass scaling? Are you "over-engineering" complexity in your idea or solution without considering interoperability with existing proven technologies, or with convergence of what is coming --IoT and AI. Why Blockchain Technology by itself?
Usability/Usefulness/Application: Saving the best for last. Does your blockchain solution reduce costs only in terms of value proposition? A recent study has shown that nearly 50% of use cases for Blockchain are positioned for “Other”, which is a catch-all for all kinds of ideas. The remaining 50% are focused on Cross Border Remittances, Trade Finance and Settlements (all worthy long time business problems that Blockchain can help to solve, while introducing new standards) Ok, but how about solving for the “other” real business problems with existing business models and technology. Ok, if so--how? Or, if it's opening up new revenue streams or services, how and what are they, and why are they different from what is there today? What is the ROI to develop these? How does your Blockchain solution tangibly and directly help you to improve customer experience?
Innoverview: How prepared is Huawei to play a leading role in Blockchain domain?
Bill: I believe we are very well positioned. We are working through solving the above challenges with the technology, so our blockchain service can be efficiently applied agnostically across as many industries as possible!
Innoverview: It seems that the government (China) still has not given Blockchain full backing. What do you think about it?
Bill: I believe China wants to directly contribute, shape and mature the technology with patents and open standards so it does become further embedded in the financial system, internet and the citizens’ lives to make everything an improvement – faster, cheaper, and better. I feel China has been making outstanding progress with advancing the technology; they are just not entirely satisfied is it complete or ready yet for mainstream usage as the “plumbing” for the financial system.
Innoverview: From your experiences working with the banking sector, which are the biggest hurdles traditional banks have to take when digitizing their business?
Bill: Biggest hurdles based on my experience are mindset, culture, and legacy technology. People and the organizations they work in have to be incentivized to change. If they are making good revenue and profit with older systems, processes, and technologies, why should they change? This is a major challenge. In addition, culture plays an important part too. Peter Drucker once said- “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. I look at this a bit differently by saying: “If culture is eating strategy for breakfast, and you are not addressing culture in your strategy, then you don't have a strategy. Your strategy should not only address culture (and breakfast), but also the organization holistically” I wrote an article on mindset and culture challenges which everyone can read further here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/banking-leaders-learning-digital-transformation-much-bill/
Innoverview: We’ve noticed that you are one of the famous speakers in global Blockchain conferences, what’s your benchmark to select the top-tier industrial conferences?
Bill: I present and speak at many conferences globally. I tend to like the conferences that are covering emerging technology and the convergence of technology focused in the finance sector. Probably my two favorite conferences thus far are Money 20/20 and Sibos. Blockchain is of course well represented in these conferences, but there is also other technology covered as well in conjunction with blockchain. I think the better the conferences can highlight how blockchain is working with other technologies, the faster it will be adopted to “get the job done”!