Success for a CIO, when technology initiatives take years to execute and can last beyond an executive's tenure, is not clearly defined. It's subject to a technology leader's judgment and, in some cases, the market's whims.
For Global CIO Barry Libenson, success is found in the financial performance of Experian.
Experian is a global consumer credit reporting company, one of the big three credit reporting companies alongside TransUnion and Equifax. Its business relies on data, requiring the financial services company to operate like a nimble tech giant.
Shaping a technology strategy that rethinks where data can live requires a CIO willing to remain curious and tinker with technology. With efforts to build trust and show what's possible, leaders like Libenson gain the ear of the CEO and serve as a member of the highest level of corporate strategy discussions.
The technology team has to contribute and help enable the business. "But what I tell my team is the biggest sign of us being successful is praise," Libenson told CIO Dive. "When the business tells us we're helping them or we're doing the right things that's the best measurement I can think of, in terms of success."
Libenson has spent almost 20 years serving as a CIO across industries. Before joining Experian in June 2015, he worked as CIO at Safeway, Land O'Lakes and Ingersoll Rand. While many CIOs specialize in a sector, Libenson says his experience in other industries is integral to his career success.
Though he firmly believes in promoting from within, Libenson worked to completely retool the technology team when he joined Experian and build a trusted technology unit within the company.
The technology organization was highly decentralized and focused on keeping costs down. Experian, which has offices in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, the U.K. and Brazil, lacked a global architecture; every region and business acted independently.
Libenson "will never ask you to do something he's not willing to do himself. That's one of the things that I admire about him."
Global chief enterprise architect at Experian
As the company's revenue grew, "the inefficiency and the lack of reusability, the difficulty in maintaining the platforms, was becoming very cumbersome and quite a burden," Libenson said.
The executive leadership team across the world had a "precariously low" level of confidence in the technology team's abilities, Libenson said. "When the rest of the business doesn't have confidence in the technology organization inside of a technology company, you're in a really, really dangerous place."
Experian's cloud strategy
Plans to adopt and implement a cloud strategy began in earnest two-and-a-half years ago when the company experimented with moving parts of its business to the AWS, including its U.S. direct-to-consumer business.
Experian understood the "power of digital transformation," Mervyn Lally, global chief enterprise architect at Experian, told CIO Dive. Libenson taught Experian how to have zeal for technology and "really drove the organization to pay attention and say technology is part of our DNA."
Libenson "will never ask you to do something he's not willing to do himself. That's one of the things that I admire about him," said Lally. He's the type of CIO who drives collaboration across different regions, lines of business and leaders and works to remove barriers.
Under Libenson's guidance, Experian put in motion a cloud strategy centered on flexibility and the ability to operate in any cloud.
"It's not feasible for us to be a 100% public cloud consumer. We will always need some private cloud capabilities, whether it's in our data center or somebody else's."
Global CIO at Experian
The company built a technology foundation for its products using APIs and microservices enabled by containers and Kubernetes. It also requires doing things the same, or similarly, across the world so the company can reduce technology sprawl, drive consistency and offer market agility, according to Lally.
Experian and its clients deal in large quantities of data, so "it's important to get the compute close to where the data is," Libenson said. "If we have a large client that wants to be in the Azure cloud and all of our stuff is in the AWS cloud, and we can't get an interconnect between the two, its highly problematic."
Working across clouds becomes a selling point. Experian can inform customers it can move containers that operate their environment into any cloud they want, including the customer's cloud or Experian's private cloud.
The company's ability to offer such flexibility stems from market parity, as the cloud capabilities of Microsoft and Google have caught up to AWS (though the pioneer still dominates the market.)
Experian is about half way and roughly three years from the desired cloud end state where the company has total flexibility to operate in any cloud and in any one of its platforms, according to Libenson.
It's "slightly ahead" of most organizations, but not operating like Salesforce.com or another fully SaaS-enabled, multitenant company, he said.
"Given my interaction with some of our largest clients, it's not feasible for us to be a 100% public cloud consumer," Libenson said. "We will always need some private cloud capabilities, whether it's in our data center or somebody else's."