IT IS what IT IS - Internal Corporate Communications Interview with Michael Cortino

November 25, 2020 / Posted By: InterDigital Comms

On this edition of Getting To Know You InterDigital, Corporate Communications interviews Mike Cortino, InterDigital’s Head of Information Services, to learn more about the department, exciting new projects, and some of the questions keeping Mike busy as we all work from home.

Corporate Comms: Mike, you joined InterDigital this year as the Head of Information Services, at a time when our company, and the rest of the world, was making the transition to work from home. Throughout the journey, we have faced a plethora of challenges as people shifted to make their homes into working offices. Looking back on this year, what word or phrase would you use to describe your first couple of months with InterDigital?

Michael Cortino: I think unique is a great word to describe it. To add to that, I would say exciting because it was something new. Coming in to lead a function that really has the responsibility for enabling the work from home activity made it exciting and made it challenging. I think that's extremely unique, and I will say I was pretty fortunate to join a team that had already started working on the work from home environment. They started laying the foundation before I joined InterDigital so we are well underway, which was great.

CorpComm:  During our recent All Hands you outlined many projects that IS has begun and completed this year. It's clear that your team has been incredibly busy 😊. Could you offer us an overview of the main projects your team has been leading, and the success you've had so far?

Michael Cortino: Within the application space, there's a few key initiatives for us as a team. One is our data warehouse initiative, which is part of the digital transformation program we kicked off earlier this year. That' project’s really important for us as we move forward with analytics in the future and more robust reporting to support all of the functions. We have the application design in place, an environment stood up, and now we're just building out that environment so that we can flip the switch and move it into production, which will happen early next year.

Another initiative is one where we’re moving all of our policies and procedures to a new tool called ConvergePoint, which sits on top of SharePoint. We also made numerous improvements and enhancements in Microsoft D365 to support Finance.

In infrastructure, we migrated to a new data center in France, and implemented a new hyper-converged environment, both large scale initiatives. And we did all of that during COVID, which was pretty challenging, but the team stayed on it and got it done.

We also migrated from Skype to Teams, which was a big move as well. We upgraded many of our conference rooms to support Teams, and even though people weren't really going into offices, we were able to get approval to upgrade a number of those conference rooms throughout our facilities footprint.

Last, but certainly not least, we made some really big strides in the information security space. That's one thing I take a pretty keen interest in because if there's anything that's really going to impact us from a systems perspective as a company, it's bad actors armed with ransomware or phishing campaigns that bring down critical systems. So, we've been focused there and put together a pretty robust plan, inclusive of offense and defense initiatives.

We brought on a vendor to help us with brand protection. Anywhere InterDigital is mentioned in the ether, we get notified and have a vendor who watches over to prevent domain squatting and the like. We also have a number of tools to monitor the dark web and different areas for user IDs, so usernames and password combinations, which in conjunction with the password policy change to encourage a more sophisticated password, helps prevent hacking. And we of course have multifactor authentication, utilizing Duo for a second authentication to log in.

These are all things I think are big wins for us across the various domains of applications, infrastructure and information security – just to name a few.

CorpComm: This year has been one for the history books, without any year like it. Despite that, we were able to accomplish a lot of really wonderful things, given the headwinds that we faced. What would you say is the accomplishment you’re most proud of this year, perhaps something the company at large isn’t aware of?

Mike Cortino: I'm going to start with a broader answer and then hopefully narrow it down a bit. But one thing I would say helps in this unique environment that we're in is that InterDigital is a unique business. Because of that, and because our staff has a professional user base – all experts in their field, many highly educated people in the company – we were all able to migrate to this new way of working pretty seamlessly. That's not the experience that many companies faced, because there are a lot of companies whose user base has a wide spectrum of educational backgrounds, as well as the challenge of manufacturing environments. So, a lot of those companies struggled to make the transition.

We have a highly skilled user base across the company, and that put us in a pretty good position to make the transition. I'm most proud of that, and I'll add extremely fortunate. I joined right at the point where we began working remote, so, I didn't interact with anyone face to face. And thankfully, I did not have anyone in the company or executive team calling me saying, ‘Mike, we have a major issue’, or ‘My team isn’t able to do XYZ’.

I was pretty fortunate. My predecessor put in place a strategy of cloud first, and my hats off to them for doing that. I think that really positioned us well. Again, I was fortunate to land here and have a smooth transition and focus on the team, learn the business and just kind of get acclimated. So, I'm most proud of the work the team did leading up to this unique environment and the way they managed through it as the entire company transitioned to working remote.

CorpComm: Coming on the heels of this year and the variety of ways 2020, and the COVID pandemic, have influenced and reshaped our lives, what should we look for in 2021?

Mike Cortino: I mentioned at the All Hands the work we're doing around the Future of the Desktop. I think that's going to be pretty interesting for us at InterDigital. What we mean by that is, today we issue employees a laptop when they join the organization, and we have a phone policy where people bring their own phone. So, we are looking at what is it going to take for us to go to an environment that is completely “bring your own device”.

This would bring us to a position where we inform employees how to access all of the necessary applications through devices they purchase. We will develop, maintain, and support the access points. We will be working through the details in 2021 and look forward to rolling out the new program in 2022.

That's going to be a big game changer for us as a company. In our industry, research and innovation is so important, and a lot of engineers are accustomed to working on machines that are special or customized to the work they're doing. This would give our employees the flexibility to use a device of their choice and it allows us (IS) the ability to focus on what we do best, which is developing, maintaining, and supporting our InterDigital landscape.

Every company I've been with has talked about a BYOD, “Bring Your Own Device” strategy, but they never prioritized the effort and committed the resources. But now we are truly going to take it to the next level. And when we think about this from a recruitment perspective – the flexibility of our work policy and the flexibility to use a device you are comfortable with – packaged all together makes InterDigital even more of an attractive company.

CorpComm: Following the rebranding of Information Services as “IS”, we often use the phrase “IT IS what IT IS” to hearken to its IT origins. Today you’ve outlined the many possibilities for IS, so to continue in that spirit, we wanted to ask you a few fun “Either Or” questions. There is no wrong answer, only an honest one. 😊 So, first question is, Mac or PC?

Michael Cortino: I'm going to go PC because I don't own a Mac. Both my kids have Macs, but I don't own one. I don't have a preference, but I'm going to go PC.

CorpComm: Netflix or Xbox?

Michael Cortino: Netflix. I'm not a gamer, so Netflix.

CorpComm: Cooking at home or ordering in from your favorite restaurant?

Michael Cortino: Ordering in, which happens just about every day. We don't cook.

CorpComm: Favorite cuisine?

Michael Cortino: Oh, that's so tough. I just love food. Favorite, if I could only have one, I'm going to go with lobster ravioli in a vodka blush sauce.

CorpComm: Michael Jordan or Tom Brady?

Michael Cortino: Jordan. Yeah. Jordan.

CorpComm: And our last question, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, mashed potatoes or stuffing?

Michael Cortino: Mashed potatoes. But that's a trick question, because I like to mix them both. I like to take them and kind of slam them together. But mashed potatoes was the first thing that ran into my head, so, I'm going to go with that.

CorpComm: Thank you Mike and thank you for letting us get to know you and IS better. We are so looking forward to these new IS features and initiatives, stay tuned for updates on all the exciting happenings discussed within.