Ciena has been in business for 25 years. Not all of them have been easy.
When it floated in 1997 the company had a first day valuation of US$3.4 billion, the then biggest initial public offering of a startup. It enjoyed the biggest revenue ramp up for any company in history and in its first year of going public was the most profitable company ever.
A downturn in the telecommunications market downturn in 2001 saw revenues nosedive by 80 per cent and sales of its optical networking equipment fall by nearly two thirds.
Since then it has made numerous acquisitions, diversifying the business from selling optical transport solutions to other networking equipment, support services and software, plus consulting, services and network monitoring. Local customers include the likes of Telstra (through Ericsson), VERNet, Sydney Trains and Vodafone New Zealand.
Ceina is, according to chief information officer Craig Williams, a “survivor”.
“I was always fond of this company that just kept battling in this market that’s always shifted and changed,” he tells CIO Australia.
It’s what attracted Williams to the role less than a year ago, one of a number of LinkedIn IT leaders leaving in the wake of the Microsoft acquisition – along with Hasan Talukdar former director of IT communication and collaboration services at the social networking site, now head of infrastructure and operations at Ciena – to make the move.
As Williams positions IT as an innovator, a driver of transformation and profit centre, his team’s efforts are bringing about a major change in the company’s culture.
“You can't wait. You have to experiment. You have to be OK with a little confusion,” Williams says. “But you have to be aggressive and know that sometimes you know better. You know that they're going to like this stuff. They just don't know it yet. And you just need to have a little stamina to prove the point.”
When Williams arrived at Ciena headquarters in Hanover, near Baltimore, the company had just completed a major Oracle ERP upgrade.
“They had literally taken close to three years to get it done. A huge, huge undertaking. Now they needed someone to run IT and really partner with the business to not just keep the lights on but focus on how we can help win and help the company make more money,” Williams, who has served in senior IT roles at Red Hat, Cisco and Mitre, explains.
“I think in the past we just got used to keeping things going. So we started with a vision with IT being a competitive advantage, making sure the team really understood that we're here to move the company forward. We really had to get that mindset down because if we're going to help our products mature or we're going to help our services teams we're really going to have to dig deep and identify how we can add that value,” he adds.
That work has begun with a focus on collaboration tools, in particular video communication.
While there was initially some work required to “clean up the network” and roll out Zoom (selected after a number of user feedback studies), the tough part, Williams says, was getting people to use it.
“I remember several conversations with people where, you know, it was challenging: ‘hey just turn on your video, we're going to have a chat’. And I used to say if we were physically in a room we wouldn't close our eyes and chat, so let’s kind of get over the fact that we shouldn't just flip on the video,” Williams says.
The IT team pushed out a number of announcements and hosted webinars following the roll-out, appointing the executive team to be early-adopters and champion its use.
They also published user stats to drive “healthy competition”.
“It just took off from that point,” Williams says.
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