Coupa CEO Rob Bernshteyn discusses upcoming book Smarter Together

Rob Bernshteyn has spent the last 25 years working in enterprise software, from programming and implementing software to sales and product management, and he says that his upcoming second book, Smarter Together, features ideas from over that time period.

“When I went to business school in Harvard, I would ride my bike over to MIT for a couple of classes,” explained Bernshteyn. “I took a very interesting artificial intelligence class there that really got me thinking about the applicability of some of these ideas in enterprise software.”

Smarter Together delves into the concept of anonymously sharing and collecting data about business practices, from salaries and expenses to thriving geographical locations, with other companies as a tighter community in order to get the best out of it.

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The book, according to Coupa‘s CEO, is written in the same spirit as his previous publication, Value as a Service, which explored the shift in relationships between customers and IT suppliers towards measurable value as the software industry continues to evolve.

“Writing these books helps me to structure my own thinking as we’re building Coupa,” said Bernshteyn. “Secondly, it helps to get thought leadership into the public domain to get a dialog going, and thirdly, more selfishly, it helps to get more awareness of Coupa and our viewpoints, because our value proposition is something that any company can take advantage of.

“The challenge is that many companies haven’t heard of us, and don’t know what options there are.”

Coupa focuses on helping companies get the best out of their investments and optimise its internal operations. A 100% virtual company, Coupa had the advantage of employees across the world being virtually connected before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.

Benefits of data sharing

Bernshteyn went on to expand on his views on data sharing that feature in Smarter Together, and explain the benefits that sharing data with other companies is able to provide.

“The best metaphor to describe this is if you’ve been going to the same general practitioner for 15 years, that practitioner may keep up with information and the news in the evenings, but most of their day is in practice and getting through people in their waiting room, and they hypothesise your condition based on data they’ve collected before giving you their assessment and prescription.

“That’s one way of doing it; it’s not bad, and many forward-thinking doctors are keeping up with the latest developments, but not all of them are, and even if they are, what extent are they doing that in those evenings?

“Can you imagine an experience where you share your symptoms with your doctor, and the basis of information on which that doctor is able to assess your illness is based on the collective knowledge of everybody in the entire world who has experienced your symptoms, before giving you a prescription that is the most optimised it can be?

“What’s prevented doctors from doing that? Information technology. Never before have we had the amount of data that we have now; it’s growing exponentially, the speed at which data is being shared is accelerating, and people are now starting to realise that contributing to a community can help them get more out of it.”

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Keeping data secure

With the amount of data within companies continuing to grow, it’s paramount that the data is kept and shared securely, and Bernshteyn provided three steps to achieving this:

  1. Ensuring anonymity: “You have to be certain and comfortable about the notion that data can be truly anonymised. We’ve been doing that from the ground up, setting ourselves up so that we can architect that, by partitioning the data and pulling it out.”
  2. Sanitising data: “Even though the data is anonymous, you still need to ensure there’s no way to back into who it is. For example, one of our customers’ suppliers is very small and some of the parts it creates have the company name on it, so aren’t named anonymously.
  3. Ensure meaningful usage: “You have to get to a volume of data that’s meaningful enough that not only can you never back into it, but you’ll know that what advice you give based on that data will be from a deep enough pool to have meaning. You won’t be starting this tomorrow from your basement, it takes many years to do this.”

Smarter Together is available from the 9th September.

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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.

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