Game Changer: Shlomo Bielak, Chief Technology Officer, Benchmark Corp
When Shlomo Bielak started out in the industry it was all about networking and connectivity. “I was interested in the foundational components of technology, a perspective that saw the network as the basis for easily connecting everything together,” said Bielak. At that time, the industry was not product- or consumer-centric. It was more about the availability of network connections and having robust architectures. More recently, the industry has become focused on the customer and the product.
Today, Shlomo Bielak is the Chief Technology Officer of Benchmark Corp, a software solutions provider that is focused on open-source technology to optimize operations, boost productivity and support scalable growth. Bielak was selected as a Game Changer for the August/September issue of Vanguard.
What is your role at your organization today?
As CTO, I wear many hats. Primarily, I ensure our engineers design and implement what our clients are looking for. Benchmark Corp is closing the gap between specific solutions and open-source software. Our customer-centric background is derived from many different industries and allows us to quickly recognize customer needs. Our approach requires a different perspective from that of a software vendor. My role is two-fold: one, ensure we provide solutions to the challenges customers have; and two, articulate this to the customer in a clear and understandable manner.
What was your most challenging moment in the framework of a game-changer for Benchmark Corp?
The key challenge for me initially was to explain complex and innovative solutions to clients. I had to recognize the way I understand technical problems and then decide how best to communicate my message for clients to understand. I needed to better articulate my technical analysis in a digestible way from a business or customer viewpoint. My most humbling moment was realizing clients may have understood 20% based on my initial rendition. I was focused on showcasing my understanding of their problem without bringing their perspective into my explanations. So now, when presenting Cloud-based DevSecOps solutions, I start from the basics and refine their knowledge in the same way that we had to learn it ourselves at Benchmark Corp. This is important today because, with so many people working from home during the global pandemic, the government and other organizations must provide digital tools everyone can understand and rely on.
What was your “aha” moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our readers?
The “aha” moment was realizing all customers, from healthcare to banking to the military and the federal government, face the same digital transformation challenges. They may be at different points in their journey to the Cloud, but existing solutions don’t appear to work for them. Most failures in digital transformation are due to practices that don’t deliver expected benefits. We need to focus more on the challenges people are facing and change practices to motivate the people who create and scale the solutions.
What is the one thing that has you most fired up?
I am fired up every single day about my work. I don’t even need to drink coffee! I am excited about the federal government space as the largest provider of services in Canada to all Canadians. By providing a service to them, I provide it to every Canadian. If we can supply practices and solutions that have been successful with other clients, Canada could become a source of global best practices for digital government. Other countries will ask “How did you do that?” I’m fired up about Benchmark Corp having the intellectual property and pioneering engineering practices that can contribute to solving the digital transformation challenge. As more people adopt these open-source practices, the view of Canada within the global market could shift. We are not currently looked at as incubators for innovation and I want to change that.
What is the best advice you received?
It relates to career growth and getting people motivated to transform and innovate. When people think of career growth they think of promotions. Earlier in my career, I felt the same. But I was advised to focus on the value you create for the organization, and the rewards will come based upon your impact. I feel that’s important. When people are motivated to transform rather than aim for the next promotion, the foundation for innovation and digital transformation is laid.
What is a habit that pivots to your success?
I have two habits. One, always treat everyone with respect and with a supportive attitude. Take time to say hello, and see what you can do for them. Second, prioritize your own mental health. You can’t empathize with others unless you are in equilibrium. I walk my daughter through the park every morning and laugh when she finds the mud puddles. Every evening, I go for trail rides to expend energy and clear my head. This helps maintain my own balance and stability and I am better equipped to support others.
What people or organizations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset?
In an organization committed to reinventing systems and offering unique solutions, ironically this works best if no one works a full day. Innovation will occur if people have enough time for self-development and innovation. Very few organizations mandate self-development. I meet with my team to ensure they spend time on innovation and self-development rather than overworking themselves. This is key in innovative companies and is what should be measured.
How has innovation become ingrained in your organization’s culture and how is it being more optimized?
Benchmark Corp has a two-step process. First, leadership advocates for innovation, and second, ensures people have time to do it. The key component is excitement, but excitement must translate into successful action. With supportive leadership, people come up with genuinely creative ideas. Individuals who receive this support work with greater enthusiasm. At Benchmark Corp, we encourage leaders to use their experience to clear the path for innovation and creativity. Leaders advocate for innovation and guide its creation, to reinforce the excitement. It becomes a cycle of innovation and production. Valuing research and development leads directly to new products, services, and outcomes. For example, our R&D team is currently pioneering a framework to orchestrate agility and automation for DevSecOps solutions.
What is your parting piece of advice?
Thinking a ship is so big it can’t change direction needs to be challenged. It is not the ship that needs to change, but some practices in the market. Benchmark Corp is working to change global best practices for DevOps and DevSecOps by shaping the best-engineered solutions for clients and the Government of Canada. It takes years to improve best practices. We can ensure the ship is headed in the right direction and will avoid collisions. Our focus right now is contributing to the knowledge base in the marketplace, so practices are based on engineered methods measured in quantitative terms. When the ship is as large as the federal government, it needs to be stable but sufficiently agile that every Canadian has confidence in their digital interactions with government and government can quickly adapt to the needs of the population.