Published in CONNECT 23
Q&A: Steve Cotter, GÉANT CEO
Less than a year after his appointment as GÉANT CEO Steve Cotter has already won the support of the European Union in the European Science Cloud, increased the interest of the global research and education community in Europe and implemented a new organisational structure to match the challenges of a fast-evolving environment.
When asked about his experience over the last few months he describes it as “one of the most challenging I’ve faced in my career, but the challenge is well worth it compared to the real benefits that we, as GÉANT, can bring to society. ’ In this Q&A Steve Cotter shares
with us his vision for the European network for research and education and talks about his belief in its community.
HOW DOES IT FEEL FROM THE INSIDE?
GÉANT is not new to me. I have been involved with the European R&E community for several years, as chair of the GÉANT External Advisory Committee and multiple times as speaker at TNC. Having the honour of leading one of the most impactful networking organisations in the world is adding to my faith in what we do and stimulates me to create the right environment for all the bright and committed people in this community
WHAT HAS INSPIRED YOU OVER THE LAST FEW MONTHS?
The fact that the EU values the role of NRENs and sees us as a key component of the European Science Cloud is very motivating and makes me want to work that much harder to deliver an outstanding service.
Something which truly inspires me is that in this community, people believe in collaborating to achieve a common good, something which does not happen often in the commercial sector. In the R&E community, people are keen to talk about their successes and failures and learn from each other. This belief goes beyond borders, languages and cultures. And GÉANT is a proud example of that. At the end of the day, knowing that what we do helps researchers find a cure for cancer, allows a student to learn a profession so they can support their family, or enables mankind to understand the universe we live in inspires me to get up every morning and go to work.
WHAT HAS CHALLENGED YOU?
What’s challenged me is also what attracted me to the role in the first place. Figuring out how we can get people to work together. Understanding how we can cater to NRENs with very different profiles and offer them a service that they can all take up. Working to get it right for everyone.
WHAT IS YOUR PLAN?
My plan is to make the most of this collaborative culture to:
Deliver world-class services to our NRENs and their end users
Provide exceptional value for money
Build the community so that we are stronger together
Run an efficient, highly-effective organisation to make the most of the resources we have
How? By building a team of leaders that can translate these concepts into actions that will make the GÉANT community stronger and more adaptable to a very fast-changing environment.
HOW DO YOU SEE THE R&E ENVIRONMENT EVOLVING?
I see a world of opportunities opening up to research and education networking – opportunities which obviously will also challenge our business models, structures and organisations. For example, globalisation offers a wider scope for collaborations but also boosts competition. Global exchanges provide unfettered access to data but also increase security threats and the need for more concerted policies. Governments’ push for greater innovation is another clear trend. This drives a need for broader community access to data, scientific instruments, cloud services, and open science to fuel innovation. And with our users’ expectations for quality increasing, we must learn how to deliver commercial- grade services and get better at
WHAT ARE GÉANT’S STRENGTHS IN THIS ENVIRONMENT?
GÉANT’s strength is its diversity. We really need to embrace it because that is exactly what will enable us to face today’s challenges: by combining the different sets of skills from one side of Europe to the other, together we can tackle the pressures of globalisation, boost innovation and answer the needs of our end users in a way that will make them say: “we couldn’t have done it without the GÉANT community ’. So our first mission is to know our end users better so we can help them be successful – because all our efforts will be for naught if our community doesn’t achieve its goals. I trust my new team to come together and collaborate closely with all the NRENs to leverage the knowledge and skills we have to be successful together.
AS GÉANT’S NEW CAPTAIN WHERE DO YOU WANT TO TAKE THE SHIP?
I believe we need to become an engineering organisation that is willing to go the extra mile to delight our
members. Obviously, it can’t all be about playing with the latest technology – we have to deliver services that are relevant and of high quality. We can only do this if we fully understand our NRENs' business models and their end users' requirements, then develop the innovative solutions they need.
My job is to provide the resources for all this to happen. That’s why we will be putting more effort into those areas that are strategic for our members: security, trust and identity, Software Defined Networking (SDN) and influencing public policy. This is a change from where we were focused in the past. That is why I will also work to create an environment that empowers staff, allowing them to take initiative and make decisions at their own level. If each and every one of us puts in the effort, it’ll happen.
HOW DO YOU THINK BREXIT WILL AFFECT GÉANT’S JOURNEY AND ITS COMMUNITY?
While it is still too early to speculate on the practical consequences and implications of this decision, we, as GÉANT, remain committed to serving all of the European community and to allow cross-border collaboration to happen. The fact that GÉANT is both based in the UK and Netherlands provides us with a more flexible framework for a dialogue. If anything, this decision makes our mission even more important because, rather than allowing collaborations to break down, we are here to ensure that they get stronger.
WHAT IS YOUR TOP PRIORITY FOR THE YEAR AHEAD?
A successful restructuring. As the inaugural CEO, I was appointed to complete the merger between DANTE and TERENA so that GÉANT is better positioned to face today’s challenges. The process is still ongoing and, as with every merger, it will be a while before we fully reinvent our working environment to match our ambitions and deliver a stronger organisation. It is not an easy thing to do and one always wishes it would go faster than it does. But it is important we do this correctly and take care of our people along the way. All restructurings are difficult and I would like to praise GÉANT’s employees for their resilience and professional commitment throughout this process.
SOMETHING MORE PERSONAL YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE?
Many people may not realise that my family is still back in New Zealand. It’s been several months since we’ve seen each other but I was recently able to spend my holiday with them. Going back to essential things like sharing times with loved ones reminded me how important a strong support network is. Here at GÉANT, we are an amazing bunch of people with different backgrounds, skills, opinions, and life journeys, but we all believe in the same thing: the importance of being one community and sharing knowledge for the betterment of humankind. We are all part of a global family and it’s our support of one another that makes us stronger.