While many CIOs are grappling with the need to move beyond IT operations and contribute more to improving customer service, it’s a concept that VMware’s global CIO, Tony Scott, understands very well.
Being a CIO at the $5.5 billion virtualization software giant extends the typical role of a tech chief in two directions – one towards customers and the other towards product development, Scott tells CIO.
He describes product development and customer engagement as “added dimensions” to the job on top of managing the organisation’s business applications and systems, which is still 50 per cent of his IT group’s workload.
Unlike many non-IT firms, Scott and his IT group assist in the customer engagement process.
“The role of a CIO in a technology company – particularly one that’s trying to advance the state of the art as we are, is one of being customer number one in terms of “dog fooding” our own products before we ship them to our customers,” he says.
“When our customers come out for briefings or when our salespeople are out on the road [clients] always ask: Which [solutions] does your own IT organisation use?
“While we [vendor CIOs] are not salespeople per se, we assist in the customer engagement process in a peer-to-peer way and say to customers, ‘here’s what we’ve learned, these are our experiences, and these are the kind of use cases’” he says.
Scott says people often think his role focuses squarely on quality assurance for the product teams.
“We don’t actually find that many bugs anymore – occasionally some product features and bugs need fixing, and that’s a unique and specific role that comes with the territory of being a CIO in a technology company.
“What we do work on, in conjunction with our product teams, is every day [product usability]. How easy is a product to install, upgrade and patch if necessary? How easily does a product integrate with other products that we and other IT teams use?”
Scott has 35 years’ experience in IT management. Prior to joining VMware in 2013, he was CIO at Microsoft, overseeing its IT organisation and digital supply chain.
He served as CIO at The Walt Disney Company between 2005 and 2008, taking the organisation through a major SAP upgrade, moving functions to outsourced partners, and delivering a multi-year strategy plan for IT.
Between 2000 and 2005, he was CTO of information systems and services at General Motors Corporation at a time when the company was developing telematics and connected vehicle technology.
“We were really changing out the product development process for the automotive [industry] – it was a very interesting time in the automotive space.”
Scott says he jumped across to CIO roles at technology firms because he had a good working relationship with vendors – he could be a “constructive critic.” Improving the customer experience was important to him.
“We needed a lot of help from all these technology companies and in many ways it helped [because] their products were getting better and were becoming more useful for the needs of whatever business I happened to be in.
“So if you have that kind of conversation over a period of time, at some point, the technology companies say ‘hey smartarse, you come and help us fix these issues’ so that’s kind of what happened,” he says.
The internal customer experience
As CIO at VMware, Scott is also responsible for real estate and improving the workplace experience.
“What’s interesting about that is ... we are starting to think about our employee experience from a productivity and usability standpoint.
“For example, what happens when you go into a conference room or what is your cross-campus wireless experience or identity access management experience in the various places where VMware does business?
“It’s about bringing together the physical and digital in a way that is interesting and compelling,” he says.
VMware is creating virtualization solutions beyond the compute platform, focusing on network virtualization, which involves segmenting available bandwidth into independent channels, which can be assigned to a device or server in real time.
“We can tailor our network environment to literally put a software firewall around anything that we want to - we microsegment the network and just allow the kind of traffic [to flow through] the part of the network that we want it to,” he says.
A new facility in Bangalore will be a software-defined and network virtualized campus, he says.
Network security is a big challenge for IT today, he says, and the traditional model to secure networks has been to create a hard perimeter and place firewalls and intrusion detection around the edge.
“In Bangalore, where we have many different projects going on, we can start to isolate traffic based on project needs or demands or a bunch of different things. The beauty of all this is if something bad happens in a part of the network, you can quickly quarantine that and cleave it off from the rest of the network,” he says.
VMware also last year unveiled VRealize, a tool for managing and understanding - at a granular level – IT costs, service levels, and other things that have been hard to pull out of a traditional ERP system.
“This is the tooling that will allow a CIO to work in an “IT-as-a-service” model, run IT like a business and have the kind of conversation that we have always wanted to have, saying ‘here’s what our IT costs are by critical element and here are the levers that both IT and business can use to drive those costs and more importantly, drive capability,” he says.
That’s been relatively hard to do – this is ERP for IT,” he says. “We are making a huge investment in [VRealize] internally so that we are the showcase in terms of how this could work.”
Getting involved in business strategy
In the new world of IT, there’s a blurring of lines between business and IT. Scott prefers to think of this trend as a mesh or integration of core bits of IT capability with the business and its strategy.
“I think the mistake people and companies can make is to think of business and technology as one and the same – as though we are a blend. The roles are still fairly distinct in that there are some technology pieces that just have to work in a way that a lot of folks in business probably aren’t going to invest the time into understanding how that really works,” he says.
“For example, when you get down to core performance and transaction throughput, you get into really understanding how the underlying systems link together.
“There can be a bunch of technical detail in there that is supportive of the business strategy but probably not an area of interest for a lot of business people beyond ‘does it work and does it do what I expect it to do?’
Still, as new technology becomes available, it opens up potential business opportunities.
“And it really takes somebody who has a strong knowledge of business to validate and “flesh out” the go to market, who the customer is going to be, and how you are going to brand [a product or service] which a lot of technologists don’t have the background for.”
“They may be willing to be a participant and a partner but may not have all of the skills. This is where working together in one motion as a part of one fabric is pretty exciting,” he says.
So are CIOs succeeding or failing on this front? Scott says it depends on the industry, adding that there are plenty of sectors where there’s pressure to just take cost out of the business - make the “trains run on time.”
“These businesses aren’t investing in a lot of strategic [projects]. But there’s a realisation that there are new market, new opportunities, and new business models that – if you get the right combination of business and technology playing together – you can do some pretty dramatic things.”
Follow Byron Connolly on Twitter:@ByronConnolly
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