Box CIO: New style of work, new style of IT

"[When] you are all in the cloud, you have a freedom from infrastructure, you have a freedom from a lot of things that sort of become anchored in a more sort of traditional organization"

Organizations born before the digital era often find themselves stuck in a technology loop, working to keep systems running and struggling to invest enough in digital transformation efforts. Other companies, however, were born in the digital era, creating tools designed for a modern workforce.

But that's not to say more digitally focused companies don't have growing pains. Companies like Box, for example, require an evolved technology stack to facilitate its rapid customer expansion, requiring technology leadership to help the company mature and scale. 

Formerly the CIO of HP Software, Paul Chapman joined Box as its CIO in 2015, taking on a digital company that was rapidly growing to help customers looking to implement more agile technology.

With more than 1,400 Box employees worldwide, Chapman is tasked with catering to a millennial workforce that demands intuitive, consumer-like tools in the workforce. He also has to ensure Box's technology stack can efficiently scale as the company continues to grow. 

Box CIO Paul Chapman

In a conversation with CIO Dive, Chapman addressed the company's plans and strategies. This conversation has been edited and condensed. 

What was it like moving from a company the size of HP to a much smaller organization? 

Chapman: There are pluses and minuses in any transition. At a macro level, the thing that is probably one of the biggest differences is really just age and tenure of company. When you have a company like Box that was born in the cloud, has grown up digital ... a much higher percentage of your workforce is a millennial workforce,  a workforce that has actually grown up being a digital native, [and] employees that are more educated by the Apples, the Googles and the Amazons of the world.

At HP, you have an organization that was born in the last century that has become more entrenched in the way that it operates and was optimized in a very different way. I think in larger companies like an HP, you have this big build up of technical debt, a lot of operational management, a lot of operational investment [and] a big portion of your IT budget is portioned to keeping the lights on and running.

Whereas at a company like Box where you are all in the cloud, you have a freedom from infrastructure, you have a freedom from a lot of things that sort of become anchored in a more sort of traditional organization that was maybe born in the last century. I think that what that really has done is it allows me as a CIO to focus on things that are higher value add. Things that actually add more value back to the business and also to get closer to and work more closely with customers. It allows me to be more of a customer advocate, a company advocate and to spend more time being externally connected to the technology community.

I think also there's a new style of employee, but there's also sort of this new style of work [that is] much more social and open and collaborative. The work space in the workplace is very different. I think in turn that leads to this new style of IT as well.

The things that you get in some of the bigger organizations are maybe more maturity around certain processes and the way you operate. The average millennial tenure is about 18 months, whereas at somewhere like HP you've had people who have been there for 25-30 years at the same company. So a very contrasting workforce.

How do you cater to the millennial workforce? 

Chapman: I used to say that work was this place you went to. Now it's much more a state of mind. The other thing that is also different, is in today's technology world, we have much more consumer-led technology then we ever did. A lot of companies were built with enterprise-led technology and now we have consumer-led technology that's entering into the enterprise.

I think about workplace productivity as, 'how do I take the work out of work?' How do I create a seamless set of interactions that people have in their day to day working environment?

What I noticed in other organizations over the years is that, that's an easy area to trade off investment in order to invest in other areas. Those tradeoffs over time have created this big gap: Everyone [is] sort of working in cubes and they're working on old technology and there's a lot of friction.

What happens is, because you have a sort of workforce that's more engineered for a more frequent pace of change, there's less friction in adoption of change, which means you're able to roll out newer technologies that get adopted faster than say a traditional organization where sort of the pain of change and the friction of change actually could be quite painful. You lose some of that pain at an organization like Box.

How do you get older organizations over the hump of implementing more agile technologies that are very cloud focused, such as Box. How do you help enterprises get to that point? 

Chapman: This doesn't just hit Box. It [hits] many other services that are emerging today. First of all, quite a lot of companies ... may be struggling with this. They've figured out what they need to do and why they need to do it. Where it gets really gritty is that it's in the 'how' part. How you execute and how you get adoption. In some cases that technology is the enabler to a better outcome. But the how you get there is the trickier part.

People are a lot more familiar with working with technologies in their consumer lives. The expectation is that they have similar experiences that are very easy and intuitive in their working experiences. As an example, nobody goes and takes a one week training class in Facebook. So when you enter the workforce, you don't expect that the tools that you're given require all this training.

I think that what's happening is people are getting more comfortable now with these consumer-like experiences and expect similar things in the workplace, which is making adoption a little bit easier, especially for applications like Box where we think continuously about making sure we have the most intuitive user experience possible.

Did you roll out any changes when you started at Box?

Chapman: When I first joined Box, there really wasn't a central IT organization that was defining an IT strategy, [such as] how we were going to grow and scale our business, the systems we needed to have in place, the capabilities we needed to have in place. We weren't very data driven. We didn't have a focus on workplace productivity, it was just kind of stuff happening.

In addition, I think that we had invested in, for the most part, best of breed cloud-based services, the typical ones that you see running most businesses of our size, especially the front office and the back office. We were good about turning them on, but then we didn't have a road map or plan to leverage at a greater extent. Kind of like buying a sports car and driving it to the corner store and back. We had the car, but we weren't leveraging it enough. 

What's next on your tech roadmap? 

Chapman: There's a number of things. As we think about scaling out our company, our business is becoming more complex. The things that got us to where we are today aren't the things that are going to get us to where we need to be in the future. As we started to expand more SKUs, we now have more things that we're selling, which increases bundling, pricing and things like that.

Making sure that we have the right things, like CPQ, how you make sure you have the right configure price quoting tools in place. An investment in our marketing technology stack. How do we start to introduce more predictive analytics capabilities in our marketing world?

[For] workplace productivity, I think there's this emergence of the dialog interface that's growing. How do we start to introduce more of a dialog interface? We've actually just started to do that in some of our conference rooms, where we've introduced [voice recognition devices] ... for conference room interactions.

We have mobility applications that gives you turn by turn, blue dot navigation throughout our building so through your phone you can find a conference room, book a conference room, get directions to a conference room, you can interact with that conference room via [voice recognition devices]. For me, those are sort of baby steps. I think directionally and aspirationally at some point, you're going to have a lot more of a dialog interface, which is much more natural for a lot of people as well. 

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Filed Under: IT Strategy Leadership & Careers
Top image credit: Box