Gerhard Thomas - BurdaSolutions
02/11/2019

Ask the CTO

Gerhard Thomas - BurdaSolutions
02/11/2019

Ask the CTO

Gerhard Thomas is the managing director and CTO at BurdaSolutions. In this interview, he explains what he believes to be the greatest challenge for the IT sector, why he chose this career and how artificial intelligence is already being used in his field.

Could you please briefly explain your role as CTO? What are your responsibilities and what is the BurdaSolutions vision?

My main tasks are to provide a flawless IT infrastructure for the company, deliver successful IT projects and facilitate efficient collaboration between all colleagues. My colleagues and I want to help drive change within Hubert Burda Media and to pave the way for these changes.

In a broader sense, my role is to assess new technologies and to consider the extent to which they will help us better satisfy the needs of our customers. In addition to a very broad range of IT expertise, it is extremely important to focus on the customer and to have a distinctly business-oriented attitude. One of my main tasks is to ensure, at a strategic level, that Hubert Burda Media is using the right technologies to continuously develop its products and services in line with customer needs.

I also clarify matters within the company, assess specific developments and provide satisfactory answers to key questions. At the moment, the company is considering what artificial intelligence can do for our existing departments and whether it can be used to develop new fields of business for Hubert Burda Media. We apply our IT expertise to the relevant use cases and strive to support our business units during the technical implementation of these types of projects.

Ultimately, our goal is to help our customers solve their problems using every means at our disposal. We focus on standard IT and project support in particular. We are also the first point of contact for configuring different IT systems. We provide project work and operations from a single source to ensure lasting high quality.

The launch of the General Data Protection Regulation in 2018 has turned the spotlight on the classic IT topics of security and compliance. What do you see as the merits and drawbacks of this law?

GDPR is a set of data protection rules that apply to everyone. It gives companies an opportunity to regain customer trust where this has been lost in the past. The new data protection law has the chance to become the international gold standard.

However, it does of course have its drawbacks. Many small and medium-sized companies in particular are finding it very challenging to implement the new requirements. It is not always easy for these companies to ensure the required level of data hygiene and to collect only the data they actually need. Nevertheless, the wave of complaints about GDPR breaches that was initially expected has so far not transpired.

Everyone is talking about artificial intelligence, and it is being used in more and more areas. Can you give us an example of how you use this technology in your company?

We see artificial intelligence (AI) as an opportunity to make work more human and more varied. For example, we are currently looking at natural language processing (NLP) as part of a customer project. In this specific case, we are using machine learning (ML) to automatically check user comments for netiquette breaches. In the past, there was a whole department dedicated to checking every single post for swear words and so on. With machine learning, we have managed to automate large parts of this process. This relieves the employees of a great burden; now they need only intervene in borderline cases to check whether the guidelines have been followed.

What do you like about your job/your industry and what challenges do you face?

Every day, I have new opportunities to be an entrepreneur within the company. I really enjoy evaluating whether an area deserves investment or the benefits of a research and development project.

To continue developing my understanding of technology and above all to keep it up to date, it is essential to always think outside the box. I particularly enjoy tackling new topics and learning new things.

My job frequently brings me into contact with lots of new, interesting people. This gives me the opportunity to discuss the latest developments and best practices with the relevant experts.

One of the key challenges has to be the speed at which the IT sector evolves. I need to know what’s going on at all times. And it’s often tricky to determine which technologies will actually add value to the company. Burda is an extremely diverse company with wide-ranging needs. It is not always immediately obvious which new technologies will help our heterogeneous brands keep their competitive edge in the future.

One final question: why did you choose this career?

I used to be a handball trainer. I loved helping my team to achieve success by employing the right strategy within a constantly changing competitive environment. I had to constantly watch what was happening around me and be ready to learn. I would argue that sport and technology projects have a great deal in common and many of the challenges I faced as a handball coach apply to my current role: watching how things change and leading the team to success. For me, the job I have now is the perfect symbiosis of both worlds.

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