Meet the Member: Carolyn Rogers, Program Director Business Automation, IBM

Member news | January 20, 2021

Carolyn has spent the past 8+ years as an enterprise product and marketing leader at IBM, with a focus on go-to-market, partnerships, strategy and emerging tech. Currently a product manager for IBM's Business Automation portfolio, she previously worked on Enterprise Blockchain, Hybrid Cloud, and AI.

A French-American dual citizen, Carolyn's other interests include economics, international relations, tech policy, fitness, and music. She became a member of the FACC in November 2020, and is co-chair for the Tech, Start-Ups, and Entrepreneurs committee.

Please join us in welcoming Carolyn as our newest member of the FACC-NY Technology, Startups & Entrepreneurs Committee. Keep reading to learn her insights on blockchain technology, tech policy, innovation and more...

FACC-NY: What have been the relevant aspects in your path that led you to your career in Blockchain and Automation? 

I’ve always been fascinated by technological progress and imagining what the world can be like, but didn’t believe I would have a career in technology until I actually ended up there. I majored in the humanities in undergrad (English, Communications, Music) and was fortunate to land a marketing internship with IBM. I found that I was constantly challenged by the changing technology landscape, and motivated by the fact that the world’s most important institutions rely on IBM’s products and expertise. 

After starting my career in marketing roles, I knew I wanted to drive IBM’s strategy and product innovation. This led me to a product management role in the emerging area of enterprise blockchain. Working on the blockchain team was like being at a startup within a big company, and we had the unique opportunity to chart a path into a nascent market. We set the industry standard for an enterprise-grade blockchain platform, which allows clients to build blockchain-based applications that enable new ways of transacting across a business network.

Most recently, I have shifted focus to automation technologies and am now a Program Director for IBM’s Business Automation portfolio. My team is building technologies that help automate any process related to business activities, such as opening customer accounts, processing invoices, or providing better customer service. Now, more than ever, organizations are looking for ways to optimize and automate their processes to cut costs and increase resiliency. Relying on paper-based or manual processes is disastrous in a crisis, as we’ve seen this past year.

FACC-NY: Can you speak to trends in enterprise technology that you think will rise steeply in 2021?

It’s been said many times the past year that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, bringing about radical change in just a few months which some expected to take several years. Now that businesses have seen how vulnerable their processes are to unexpected events, I think we’ll see organizations make outsized investments in technologies that might have otherwise been on the back burner. IBM conducted a survey last year which asked more than 3,800 C-suite executives across the world how they were responding and shifting their priorities as a result of the pandemic. Some of the key themes that emerged were increased prioritization of AI technology, more focus on applying automation across all business functions, and a big surge in concern around cybersecurity. These technologies will all be critical in enhancing resiliency even in the face of disaster, extending competitive advantage in a constantly changing landscape, and protecting the increasingly digital nature of business.

FACC-NY: Women fill nearly half of all jobs in the U.S, but less than a third of technology jobs are occupied by women. In your opinion, is the tech landscape rapidly evolving and trying to bridge this gender gap? 

In my opinion, progress is not happening nearly quickly enough. I’m fortunate to work for a company that was an early advocate for inclusion and diversity, appointing its first female vice president in 1943. In my own experience, I’ve had the chance to work with many extraordinary women, and at one point every person in my reporting chain, up to the CEO, was a woman. It certainly makes a difference to have role models at the very top. But it’s also true, in my experience, that most sales roles, product roles, and technical roles are dominated by men.

There are plenty of studies and theories as to why this is. It is well-documented that women played a crucial role in computing in the early half of the 20th century, and that in the 70s and 80s the number of women studying computer science was growing faster than men. There was a steep and sudden reversal of this trend starting around 1985, and today only about 20% of computer science professionals are women. 

There are a number of programs today that are making great strides in promoting STEM education for women and girls, including Girls Who Code. But while the lack of so-called “pipeline” may be a part of the problem, it’s not the only – or even the biggest – problem. The tech and startup world is still notorious for its “tech bro” or “brogrammer” culture, which results in environments that are exclusionary and even hostile to women. Change needs to happen on so many levels and at so many points in the pipeline. This means not only in education, but hiring practices, equitable pay, access to venture capital, workplace culture, and programs that promote equality in care-giving. As long as women still bear the bulk of the care burden at home, they will continue to drop out of the workforce at higher rates. I support measures many companies are taking to combat this, including extended parental leave for both parents and flexible working approaches. 

FACC-NY: Blockchain is undoubtedly a trustable technology that helps participating parties to share their valuable data in a secure and tamper-proof manner, but the concept still remains very ambiguous to most. Could you share with us a few real-world examples of how blockchain technology is becoming or will become a driver of change in our futures? 

Blockchain has evolved so rapidly over the past few years, we’ve actually reached a point where it’s almost not useful to discuss “blockchain” anymore because the meaning of the word has become distorted and diluted. So instead, I’ll comment on several distinct topics related to blockchain that I think will have an impact on the future.

  • Bitcoin – the original “blockchain.” In spite of its energy-intensive mining process, it remains the most valuable cryptocurrency and I don’t see that changing any time soon. While bitcoin will likely remain highly volatile, we will see even more enthusiasm from mainstream investors and more institutional investors using it as a hedge against inflation. It’s hard to say what the role of bitcoin will be in the long term, but it is emerging as a legitimate financial instrument.  
  • DeFi (Decentralized Finance) – DeFi is an evolving category of financial applications that use cryptocurrency or blockchain-inspired technology to disintermediate traditional finance. This can include loans, insurance, crowdfunding, derivatives, and other types of transactions that are typically managed by central institutions. While it will likely take time before any of these applications sees mass adoption, traditional finance is taking note and making investments to replicate some of the customer experiences that these new models promise.
  • CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currencies) – The rise of cryptocurrencies and the popularity of bitcoin has raised the question: should central banks issue digital currencies of their own? Experimentation is happening in several countries all around the world, including France, China, and Sweden. Proponents of CBDC argue that it has the potential to increase financial inclusion for those who don’t have access to banks, as well as provide greater control and efficiency in setting monetary policy. While the implementation of CBDC is still possibly decades away, its introduction could fundamentally change global financial markets.  
  • Enterprise blockchain – In the enterprise context, blockchain-based solutions are built to create private or permissioned networks amongst members of a business ecosystem, allowing them to transact in a trusted way while limiting the amount of data they need to share with each other. Some of these solutions are already changing the way supply chains operate, the way cross-border trade is financed, and the way banks issue letters of guarantee

FACC: How does your work benefit society?

My work provides organizations with the technology and expertise they need to provide better products and services to the people they serve. I like to think this helps the world run more safely and effectively, and supports better outcomes for people every day. Whether that’s ensuring your airline reservation system works as intended, an insurance claim gets processed quickly, or customer data is secured with the highest standards.  

Interested in connecting with Carolyn? Log into the FACC Member Directory to send her a message.