A Conversation with Sudip Datta, Blackbaud’s Chief Product Officer
In April, Blackbaud announced the appointment of Sudip Datta as chief product officer. In this role, he oversees Blackbaud’s global product portfolio—including product lifecycles, roadmaps and strategy—contributing to Blackbaud’s growth and innovation, and he’s already been making a big impact. We recently got Sudip to take a quick break from talking with customers and innovating with his team to talk to us about his background, vision and priorities, and his deep personal connections to social good.
Q: What drew you to Blackbaud?
A: I have always tried finding purpose in what I do. In my previous roles, I worked on delivering infrastructure software that powered the internet. Blackbaud’s higher purpose to help good take over really drew me in. Millions of users in 100+ countries raise billions of dollars every year with Blackbaud solutions, and employees here at Blackbaud log more than 70,000 volunteer hours annually. The employees truly live the mission. Finding a company that seeks to empower social good organizations to do more good was very inspirational to me
In addition to that purpose, Blackbaud is also a great technology company—it is the most comprehensive SaaS provider focused on social good. It has a rich legacy spanning decades, unlike newer companies that were “born in the cloud,” but is not just resting on that legacy – it’s continually transforming itself as a modern and agile cloud software company.
It’s an opportunity that I could not help but take.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background and your career journey.
A: Let me start by saying that I am a San Francisco Bay Area resident, having a family of four—my wife and two sons. I came to the Bay Area from India at the start of the millennium as an internal transfer with Oracle.
I am an engineer and have an MBA. After graduating university, I started my career in Fujitsu-ICL working on database and operating systems. After that, I spent almost two decades at Oracle and then five years at Broadcom, working primarily in infrastructure and system software and driving double digit growth in each of these businesses. I ultimately became the general manager of artificial intelligence for IT Operations and Observability at Broadcom before accepting the role of chief product officer at Blackbaud.
The biggest thing that these roles equipped me with is empathy—the ability to understand the needs and perspectives of customers and internal stakeholders—customer success, sales, marketing, engineering and others.
Q: What is your software/tech vision for Blackbaud?
A: My vision for our software is to build for – and prove that we deliver – the outcomes most important to our customers across key verticals—K-12 schools, higher education institutions, healthcare organizations, arts and cultural organizations, companies, foundations, and nonprofits. Our software portfolio is comprehensive and vertically integrated, focused on helping customers manage all their data, make smart choices for their organizations, work more efficiently, and move people to action. Our software is also designed for flexibility, allowing partners and developers to leverage our open APIs to create custom solutions and connect our products to third-party systems. We’re also expanding our capabilities to empower low-code developers, too, so more customers can benefit from this increasing flexibility. Our last Developers’ Conference witnessed a 47% increase in developer registrations, and many of these were low-code developers wanting to learn what the excitement was all about. Overall, we are committed to providing comprehensive out-of-box solutions across verticals while being open and flexible for customization and extension.
Q: You’ve had a long career in technology and product development. What are some guiding principles that you’ve learned throughout your career that you are bringing forward to Blackbaud?
A: I started my career in the field working directly with customers. The most important thing that I learned pretty early on and still carry with me today is valuing the voice of the customers and the community. Good products always have loyal user communities invested both commercially and psychologically in them. Having said that, it is also important to blend customer requirements with targeted innovations that differentiate our solution from that of competitors. You will soon see these innovations manifesting in our online giving, payments and analytics solutions.
One other important principle is being strategic about how investments in product development are budgeted. While we want to do everything, it’s critical to be methodical in our approach so we can sustainably continue to innovate for customers long into the future. Of course, it’s important to be transparent about our decisions with customers, which is why we’ve implemented regular product update briefings, and we’ll continue to find opportunities to communicate about our plans.
Q: What are the initial priorities you are focusing on with your teams?
A: I spent the first 90 days talking to customers, partners and internal stakeholders, getting their feedback on our products. Based on those conversations, I have felt the need to focus on key capabilities and execute on those extremely well as opposed to spreading ourselves too thin. Monitoring and analyzing product data at the aggregate level – what’s called product telemetry – will play a crucial role in helping our team prioritize.
Second, we serve customers from many different types and sizes of organizations from around the world. We’re focused making it easier for customers to find the right solutions for their needs, no matter if they are a large health system in New York City or a small nonprofit in Sydney, Australia. We’re doing this by internally organizing our products under product pillars, enabling us to be able to serve each of those markets well. This allows teams to focus on specialized needs for donor management, digital giving, financial management, grantmaking, education, and more. These product pillars will better align our teams around common customer needs to speed our progress and enable more product best practices and innovations to be identified and adopted across our portfolio.
Last but not least, it is not only about technology and products; it is also about the people. My priority is to foster a dynamic culture of innovation that retains the best and attracts the best talent to Blackbaud—so we have the best team to serve our customers’ needs now and in the future.
Q: What does innovation mean to you? And how do you determine how to prioritize innovation – what are the guiding principles for how you decide to make product investments?
A: Innovation to me is the pursuit of excellence through continuous improvement that can express itself in both small things and big blue-sky ideas. Innovation can be disruptive or non-disruptive, in technology or in business models, but what’s common to any of these is the inclination to challenge the status quo.
For a software provider like Blackbaud, which has tens of thousands of customers, innovation has to be grounded in reality. That’s why we prioritize in a similar style to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Just like Maslow established “food, clothing and shelter” as fundamentals, security and reliability of our systems are foundational for Blackbaud products. But, as we move forward, we are putting more and more investment into the innovation bucket to help you achieve your full potential. You’ll see this innovation especially in the area of payments and analytics. For instance, with the right blend of donor cover and Complete Cover™, we are helping our customers raise more online. And with real-time insights, we are enabling customers to convert casual donors into passionate supporters.
We’re also increasing our investments in innovation by building an ecosystem of partners who can grow with us. Blackbaud’s Social Good Startup Program is a great example and has been attracting some of the best minds out there to innovate in this space.
Finally, we also innovate through acquisitions and are always looking to bring targeted innovations from our partner ecosystem into Blackbaud. We have acquired Kilter to extend our solution to activity-based fundraising, which is a great example.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: Sports, music and gardening are some of my hobbies. I am a soccer lover and a passionate fan of the Real Madrid Football Club. Music and gardening help me relax and express my creative self. Gardening also teaches me good product design because nature herself is a great designer. For example, it teaches perseverance while waiting for germination and also how to strike the optimal balance in watering – these attributes of perseverance and balance make a great product manager.
Q: What is your favorite productivity tool/hack?
A: YouTube has been of great help. It has made a paver, plumber, electrician, and other things out of me that I otherwise would not be. I am a visual learner, and it is amazing how much you can do simply by following the tutorials and videos. We are entering an era where not only regular videos, but also immersive learning, will become more and more prevalent, especially with the new generation of learners. This lesson extends to how we can educate the users of Blackbaud products.
Q: Being an active participant in the Ecosystem of Good®has been an important part of your life – for example, you were a founding member of Uddyom, an NGO devoted to improving healthcare and education in rural and semi-urban areas of India, and you’ve been involved in various other charities and organizations. Tell us more about why “doing good” in your personal life is important to you.
A: We live in a connected world where doing good for others actually does good for oneself. My passion for doing good stems from my humble middle-class upbringing in India and my education in a missionary school. Uddyom was a brainchild of a few of our classmates who are now established in various walks of life. Based out of West Bengal in India, it seeks to support underprivileged students with their education and the semi-rural population with free primary healthcare. During the COVID-19 outbreak, our volunteers risked their lives to provide essential commodities to those who needed them the most.
My personal story also includes surviving Lymphoma 16 years back, during which I got involved with support groups in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) and Lymphoma Research Foundation (LRF). Even now, I visit the support forums to help the current patients in any way I can. With whatever little I have accomplished as a long-term survivor, I hope to inspire patients who are fighting the disease.