Que Tran, Vice President of Technology and Transformation at Emirati logistics company DP World, ponders career journeys, translating technology into business requirements and the future of AI in this exclusive CIO interview.
Que Tran's career has set him on a journey that has taken him through every layer of the technology stack, from software development to cybersecurity strategy, and across multiple industries, too.
In this exclusive CIO interview with HotTopics, we dive deeper into Que Tran's career, how to translate business requirements into technology decisions, why there's no AI without data and his approach to tackling diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
A CIO's career starts with gaming
Starting his career as an accountant, Tran's love of gaming would later see him develop into software development, program management and cybersecurity strategy roles. This ultimately led him to become the CIO for Europe (in January 2017) and then Vice President of Technology and Transformation (in 2023) at DP World, the global supply chain organisation handling around 10 percent of the world’s cargo, and approximately $20 billion in global revenue.
Today, as DP World looks to pivot from being a traditional ports and terminal business to a logistics and supply chain organisation, Tran reports into the COO for ports and terminals in Europe, as well as the group technology lead, and has direct reports including country CIOs and managers responsible for transformation, digital platforms, applications, data and AI.
After over twenty years in senior technology roles, he attributes his career journey to a sustained curiosity and love for technology, first fostered through gaming in the early 1980s.
“That gave me a good understanding of actually having the curiosity and capability to see how powerful technology could become," he told HotTopics, adding that he once programmed his own computer games.
"I kept my hobby and life studies and career quite separate...which is why I ventured more into the academic side of finance and economics...and kept technology as a hobby.
"But, at the time, it was also difficult to have real careers in technology either. In the late 1970s to early 1980s, that's probably when technology only started to come into businesses - with spreadsheets but also finance systems."
Translating business requirements into technology choices
Tran believes this grounding in finance, even through an initial lack of technology qualifications, helped him to become a better CIO.
"It gives you more understanding of what is business....what we're trying to achieve....and what will make this business successful. But, also, communicating in a language already that wasn't solely IT," he said in the interview.
Given this, Tran believes CIOs and other technology leaders must ask themselves: 'What is my organisation about? What is my organisation's position in the industry? And what do they want to achieve within the industry?'
Having done so, technologists must ask themselves what challenges and obstacles are stopping their organisations from achieving their goals...before they get to the technology conversation.
“That's where you then look at the technology, solutions and products which will help take care of your organisation on that journey to where they want to be," said Tran.
Technology and transformation—introducing AI
As a global organisation with a huge amount of data, Tran explains that DP World has invested in AI for a number of years. In interview with HotTopics, he said that the firm is leveraging AI for data cleansing, optimising product packing and yard space, predicting the best next mode of transport, improving safety at automated terminals, and enhancing trading routes across the globe.
Listing the benefits of using AI, Tran explains that AI is also being used to carry out predictive analytics for vessel movements, including pinpointing the location and estimating arrival times.
Despite this, Tran warns that getting started with AI is not a straightforward endeavour.
“The assumption is with AI, you can get started straight away. But actually, you need good data," he said, in a CIO interview taking place at The Studio.
This means acquiring clean, qualitative data first and foremost. Translating this data into meaningful outcomes requires significant groundwork of ensuring data quality, reinforcing the idea that good data forms the base of successful AI integration projects.
Extracurricular diversity and inclusion initiatives
Tran accepts that the technology industry is “not so diverse”, to the point where there remains a risk "we lose a lot of good knowledge and capability.”
He keeps up-to-date with diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives aiming to help move the diversity within an organisation forward in the right direction.
“Technology is still about people, and having good people to create change within technology," he says.
Tran has been involved in a selection of diversity and inclusion initiatives both inside and outside of DP World. He mentions DP World’s initiative ‘Mentor Her’, which involves helping mentor colleagues in different areas of technology.
“There was a lady I mentored who was a financial controller, understanding how to quickly become a finance director, and that was hopefully hugely impactful for her -- as well as for me -- in doing that.”
In his spare time, Tran is involved in helping a young women's trust review different CVs across a myriad of industries. He spends around an hour reviewing and giving feedback, “hoping to improve the opportunities of those to get a foothold into the various kinds of career journeys they were embarking on.”
A day in the life of a CIO
As Tran looks ahead to a busy 2024, his immediate attention turns to the ongoing transformation of DP World to become end-to-end logistics business, continuing the firm's global growth and, interestingly - in his new role, having "less technology conversations and more business outcome conversations."
Achieving some semblance of work-life balance, he says, is challenging given such a schedule. “The time is finite. But at the same time, if you are passionate and committed about something, you'll find the time to do it," he says.
Tran emphasised the importance of prioritising family and creating a separation between personal life and work, which became challenging due to remote working conditions during the pandemic. Maintaining a clear boundary is essential in Tran's daily routine.
Throughout the workday, he spoke of the value of setting aside thinking and reflection time, as well as personal development; Tran uses opportunities like his commute to further expand his own knowledge, such as listening to podcasts, and reading books—preferring physical copies, which represent a tangible commitment.
“A day in the life [of a CIO] is sometimes very uneventful, sometimes fairly eventful, like today. But I think it's just keeping an open mind that every day could be different," says Tran.
with additional reporting from Doug Drinkwater
Quick fire questions 🔥
- Dream job growing up? Professional sports person
- What keeps you up at night? Too much coffee
- What excites you about the next 12 months? Extra 24 hours in the year to make a difference
- What do you do outside of work? Reading, learning and sports
- Best advice you’ve ever received? You’ll spend a lot of time interacting with people – enjoy it
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