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Digital transformation is critical for modern enterprises. However, it has also made the CIO role incredibly challenging. They have to deal with data sprawl, SaaS apps all over the place, purchases and expenses not being well tracked and usage not being easy to pin down.
In this complicated environment, “the CIO is caught surprised,” Sundari Mitra, CEO and co-founder of startup Asato, told VentureBeat. “All of a sudden they have assets they were not responsible for.”
Mitra’s company aims to tackle this problem with the launch today of what it calls a first-of-its-kind AI-powered copilot specifically for CIOs. The platform discovers, connects and contextualizes apps and data across an organization to provide insights and track progress.
The startup is launching with a $7.5 million seed financing round led by Walden Catalyst Ventures’ Lip-Bu Tan. Intel Capital, Shah Capital Partners and several angel investors are also participating.
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“Asato” is a word with different meanings in different languages: In Japanese it is “dawn or new beginning;” in Italian, “connecting all the assets together;” and in Sanskrit it represents “shedding light, shining the light, going from darkness to light,” Mitra explained.
“That is what Asato is trying to do,” she said. “We really want to make the CIO a superhero.”
The cloud was supposed to reduce cost (but didn’t)
Between 2016 and 2022, the enterprise has seen 11X growth in the number of applications in use — up from an average of eight to a staggering 130.
The last few years have been “all about topline growth,” said Mitra. “All anyone was thinking about was grow, grow, grow. They weren’t really focusing on ‘are we building our profit?’”
This has ultimately resulted in tech debt and an unwieldy assets base, and the CIO is now held accountable for SaaS and other apps initially purchased by different departments and through different methods. Additionally, from a cybersecurity perspective, they don’t always have visibility to identify gaps or vulnerabilities in infrastructure.
“How do you know where something has happened, where something has not happened?” Mitra posited. “CIOs don’t know what data they are replicating across all these different segments.”
Ultimately, the hope with the movement to the cloud was that cost would come down — but in reality, the opposite has occurred, she said. CIOs don’t know how to effectively manage the hybrid compute environment and have generally focused on the most obvious, highest-expense tools (such as Salesforce or Oracle).
As a result, “there has been a constant churn in the CIOs of large companies,” said Mitra. Their durations are short and they are “always under a budget squeeze.”
“With the surge in IT intricacies, including cloud computing, diverse applications and IoT solutions, CIOs face unprecedented challenges, particularly now during a period of spending rationalization,” David Johnson, managing director at Asato backer Intel Capital, told VentureBeat.
Surfacing assets, insights
Asato’s platform fits into the tech stack and uses AI and knowledge graphs to automate the searching, linking, contextualizing and analyzing of IT assets and to orchestrate decisions and track results.
“We have generative AI that helps close loops so that you can learn and track outcomes,” Mitra explained.
The platform is built on technology developed at Mitra’s previous company NetSpeed Systems, which specializes in system-on-chip (SoC) design tools and interconnect fabric intellectual property (IP). The company was acquired in 2018 by Intel, one of Asato’s chief backers.
The NetSpeed team created a knowledge graph to understand traffic flow across chips, Mitra explained. After linking pieces together, they then ran prescriptive rules and filters and AI models to focus on the right architecture for the chip.
“Once you have a network graph, it becomes very easy to query it,” said Mitra. “You link first, then you start thinking.”
For example, CIOs can ask the decision orchestration platform’s ChatGPT interface questions like: “Which of my apps is up for renewal this quarter?”
The platform might then say, for example, that the company has five impending renewals, the fifth of which has 1,000 licenses, but only 500 of those were used in the last 90 days. Or, it might reveal that another app cost $2 million but was only used for 10 days out of the fiscal year.
The platform’s ability to track decisions and outcomes provides for deeper and deeper insights, said Mitra. She noted that, while there are existing tools that can do one function or another, Asato’s technology and platform approach rolls together FinOps, SaaS management and analytics.
“It is surfacing what you really own, the dependencies among them, which is your super node, what is in the fringes that very few people use,” Mitra explained.
The company’s technology can “empower” CIOs to navigate and optimize the complexities of their IT infrastructure, according to Johnson. “In this dynamic environment where adaptability and efficiency are paramount, Asato’s platform plays a pivotal role in enhancing the effectiveness of CIOs in managing hyper-complex infrastructures,” he said.
Born of a critical need
The idea for Asato was born out of Mitra’s past tenures at large organizations.
She had what she called “enriching” experiences at Intel, serving as chief incubation officer, corporate VP and GM of both the Emerging Growth and Incubation (EGI) Group and the IP Engineering Group.
But she faced an ongoing challenge in that she was overseeing teams of thousands and data was coming in from all directions.
“It was difficult for me to make decisions fast and track the outcomes of my decisions,” said Mitra. “I did not have a system of connecting all assets and gaining insights by connecting information present inside the company infrastructure.”
Mitra and cofounder Anush Mohandass saw “just how difficult it was to manage both complex system-on-chip products and enterprise IT first-hand,” said Johnson.
The Asato team ultimately “brings a very unique set of skills, experience and track record to the challenges facing the enterprise and CIOs today,” he said, pointing out that Intel Capital was an early investor in NetSpeed and has worked hand-in-hand with the Asato team.
“Asato is a true game changer for CIOs,” said Johnson. “By leveraging AI techniques and insights, it offers a distinctive approach to searching, linking and contextualizing all IT assets and users within an enterprise.”
The company’s “first sliver” is the CIO, Mitra emphasized. The platform is scalable enough to expand to other roles, so the company can eventually “land and expand.”
She noted that, while some startups first develop a novel technology, then determine where it might be best used, Asato first identified the CIO visibility challenge, then built their technology to help solve it.
“The CIO needs to understand the business of running their IT operations,” Mitra said. At the end of the day, “a CIO will win if they save money.”
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