IT Strategy

Why a CTO’s love for pinball has paid off in emerging tech

When not guiding digital transformations, Deloitte’s CTO fixes pinball machines.
article cover

Steinphoto/Getty Images

· 3 min read

On weekends, you might catch Bill Briggs breaking open his prized The Twilight Zone pinball machine—using a multimeter on its board components to find a burnt bridge rectifier causing the game to reset unexpectedly.

His Monday-to-Friday work rarely requires the soldering tools and solenoids that support pinball-machine investigation surgery. As chief technology officer at Deloitte, he helps Fortune 50 companies and big government agencies through digital transformations—like a factory getting “smarter” with sensors and 5G.

Briggs provides the realistic vision for companies considering quantum computing, industrial metaverse, and advanced physical robotics—technologies that have barely arrived long enough to be broken and troubleshooted. But he doesn’t really have to take apart machinery these days—professionally, at least.

Briggs loves pinball not just for the obvious, fun, flipper-y reasons. A broken pinball machine has satisfying fixes.

“It’s a very well-defined problem with a very clear solution set, which we don’t often get as CTOs and CIOs…the idea that within an hour or two, it can be fixed,” Briggs told IT Brew.

Briggs built his own pinball machine, one designed to play virtual versions of themed games.

Image credit: Briggs

As a youngster, Briggs always loved pinball and got good at the game by understanding the consequences of an arcade loss: “If you ran out of quarters, you had to sit and wait for your mom to pick you up,” he joked.

Briggs owns plenty of free games these days. Right next to a desk where he likely fields questions from clients, and certainly reporters, sits 10-or-so pinball machines: There’s the 1992 table based on The Addams Family. There’s Medieval Madness from 1997, as well as the recently repaired The Twilight Zone machine.

A few of Briggs’s pinball machines, inspired by Scooby-Doo, The Addams Family, and The Godfather.

Image Credit: Briggs

The man who sold Briggs his first pinball machine let him know that more machines might be in his future: “I gotta warn you: They like friends,” the man told Briggs at the time.

Top insights for IT pros

From cybersecurity and big data to cloud computing, IT Brew covers the latest trends shaping business tech in our 4x weekly newsletter, virtual events with industry experts, and digital guides.

Briggs’s newer machines, like the one commemorating the 50th anniversary of the movie The Godfather, have flashy components: a 27” LCD monitor and synced LEDs. That kind of machine has caught Briggs’s interest—how modern tech has been applied to a game that still has physical solenoid coils that pull a piston and activate a flipper.

“Having clips from the movie The Godfather is a lot better than having a dot-matrix display trying to represent a horsehead in a bed on a one-inch screen,” Briggs said.

When Briggs helps a client incorporate generative AI capabilities into company functions, there is similar cohesion between old and new. Decades-old data from an insurance company may be placed into large language models that lead to customer-specific configurations. With other digital redesigns, decades-old factory equipment may connect to more modern infrastructure, to provide real-time analytics.

Once, when two machines being fitted for 5G faced interference, the solution called for a packet sniffer to test point-to-point network traffic; that reminded Briggs of the multimeter checks he made on his 1997 The Twilight Zone machine and the feeling that a problem could be solved.

“We’re going to build things that can be triaged and repaired, and we’re not going to treat that like the sky is falling…Let’s take something that’s broken and get it fixed.”

Top insights for IT pros

From cybersecurity and big data to cloud computing, IT Brew covers the latest trends shaping business tech in our 4x weekly newsletter, virtual events with industry experts, and digital guides.