What's the biggest problem CIOs face? Deciding what to say no to
When implementing technology changes, expect unease. And for CIOs stepping into a business for the first time, whether that's the implementation of methodologies or a massive IT overhaul, that unease is tenfold.
For Dropbox, a new CIO ushered in long-term thinking about how the technology vendor would shape its IT strategy internally.
Sylvie Veilleux, chief information officer at Dropbox, was brought on as its first CIO in May. Before joining the company, she served as Mozilla's VP of enterprise IT and security and spent time at Salesforce, Apple and Oracle.
Free of legacy architecture, Veilleux can take on some of the tech industry's most concerning issues without worry about lagging infrastructure that can limit innovation.
In a conversation with CIO Dive, Veilleux explored how Dropbox can creatively tackle challenges like the growing tech talent wars and the need for methodologies to help make sense of the ever-changing technologies available on the market.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
When you are operating in a new environment, what's on your road map? What are the biggest things your hoping to accomplish in your first year on the job?
Veilleux: The time spent to understand our landscape, understand our capabilities, understand our gaps and then where our opportunities are. You have to look at what you're going to focus on over the next 18-24 months.
Right now, I'm really focused on our marketing technology landscape so that they can actually scale their space; sales enablement and effectiveness; and business intelligence as data programs.
What has been the biggest challenge you've faced getting into this new environment?
Veilleux: Hiring fast enough (while) pulling the team together and trying to grow my leadership team and find the talent is one of the challenges that we have.
Today, you have to ensure you're moving the business forwards so you compliment with professional services where you can. But you also may try to higher some of the leadership and the staff that you need to scale.
How do you approach hiring when you're in such a competitive area?
Veilleux: I think any IT organization or any business leader must have a workforce location strategy. That's something that we will be pulling together as a leadership team. A workforce location strategy that looks at the different lines of business you support and the type of work you do.
I like to classify the work in terms of loosely coupled and tightly coupled. Where the work is loosely coupled to the business or the teams you work with you can probably hire anywhere in the world.
Then when they're tightly coupled you want to make sure that you're hiring where folks are close to their teams or the business units that they work with closely. As an organization we'll start expanding our footprint in terms of our hiring locations because of that. Then you get the other benefits, of course, of getting lower cost markets.
But the driver for me is the focus on how the work is done and who the work is with.
How much of a legacy portfolio do you have to deal with internally, if at all?
Veilleux: We are very lucky to have almost an entirety of SaaS-based solutions in the corporate application landscape. We don't have that legacy and we definitely benefit from more modern technology.
But we do have a lot of [technology]. So I think that for us, it's about how we understand our current landscape and the business capabilities they support.
There might be some optimization, rationalization, integration efforts to do, but it's not about tearing up an all legacy ERP and bringing it to the cloud. It's not that kind of thing. We're definitely at an advantage there.
Looking back on your first weeks and months at Dropbox, do you have advice for CIOs in their first days on a new job?
Veilleux: I would say my first weeks, I would say four to five weeks, there was a lot of time spent meeting new people, understanding their current state [and] their needs. There was a lot of listening and understanding to know where we are.
Gathering the information around things that are going well, things that might not be going as well, would key how we put our focus together for the next 18-24 months.
Ultimately, people want to start taking action early on and I think the best action I would recommend [for] new CIOs in organizations to start with is to be very attentive and [listen] and [be] thoughtful, not taking actions too quickly.
Do you think the biggest problems CIOs are facing when it comes to technology and portfolios?
Veilleux: What do you say no to? It's always more work than you'll be able to do and that's typical in any shared services organization. I think the hardest piece is that.
This is really about how do you build your strategic portfolio and how you align it to the company goals. And how do you refine, or actually prioritize, work that comes in throughout the year against those goals.
Having the methodology and a good peer stakeholder, or if you want to call a steering committee, to talk through those things is essential.
Do you have any tools or devices that you're using that you just can't live without?
Veilleux: One of the things that is essential for me that I believe should be for a lot of technology companies and CIOs is to have a practice of enterprise architecture. Because that helps you modulize [what is] in front of you in some methodological way.
You have a way to rationalize tons and tons of information into pieces and chunks that are digestible and allow you to make decisions.
Enterprise architecture supports application architecture and solution architecture and technology architecture.
There's a good set of places where you can put that in play that's not too heavy. It's not the bureaucratic ARB model from the past. It's about having those people that understand the business and that can talk business and technology at the same time. For me that's an essential toolkit for an IT organization.
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