The role of IT has evolved from a centralized delivery model to IT as a service, where IT-owned capabilities are being offered as a service throughout the business to drive new levels of agility. One CIO embracing the changing role is Declan Morris of Splunk, which enables organizations to turn massive streams of data into operational intelligence. (Disclosure: Splunk is a customer of my employer, MuleSoft.)
In this Q&A, Declan explains how Splunk’s IT team is driving value across the organization and partnering with the business to deliver on unified vision focused on customers and growth. Recalling his experiences at Splunk and Adobe – where he was on the original team that helped launch Adobe Creative Cloud – Declan shares best practices around how CIOs can take advantage of the technology trends impacting every industry and how CIOs can help pivot to new business models when needed.
The role of the CIO is getting harder. Why on earth do you do it?
Declan Morris: It’s a great time to be in IT. I love the rate of innovation that we’re seeing in our industry. When I started my career, the typical product rollout was approximately 12 to 18 months. However, the consumerization of IT has accelerated everything. Now, the companies making serious change and thriving are the folks that are excited about what’s going on in IT. They realize the power of IT and harness it to drive customer adoption and business growth.
How is Splunk’s IT team armed for this fast-paced era?
DM: The typical IT shop will hire business system analysts (BSAs) as a means to engage with their internal clients. However, I believe that the traditional IT model is done and dusted. At Splunk, we strive to hire product managers and product owners. We want people to have a passion for what they own and to really think about IT as a product. That means creating a companywide vision, aligning the rest of the organization around that vision and executing against it. This is the way I truly believe IT is going. It’s inevitable.
I’d love to unpack the shift from IT to product more. What role do APIs play in this shift at Splunk?
DM: We are now an API-driven economy. There’s no question. APIs allow us to bring disparate sets of services together to create something new, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And, we can do it in record time. For example, when challenged to launch Splunk Cloud trial in 90 days, traditionally that would have been handled exclusively by the product organization. However, our IT team was able to deliver 95 percent of the functionality using an API-based strategy, where our team could easily orchestrate behind the scenes with other SaaS providers like AWS, Ping, Stripe and Salesforce. We delivered the trial in less than 90 days, contributing to accelerated adoption of our Splunk Cloud solution across the industry. I shudder to think what it would have taken if we attempted this initiative five to seven years ago.
With the right API strategy, IT can truly deliver business value. In return, the value raises the executive leadership team’s confidence in the IT organization’s ability to deliver, which in turn leads to further investment opportunities. At Splunk, we’re in the early stages of truly creating an API marketplace, where we can extract value from reuse and consistency across the board. The building blocks are there. That is absolutely the way we’re heading. As noted in a recent McKinsey article, the IT department is “radically reframing.” In conjunction with this reframe is the need for CIOs to evolve and partner closer with business leaders.
How do you communicate the value your team is building to your CEO and CFO?
DM: If the executive leadership team doesn’t know where they’re going, then IT has no way of knowing where it’s going. Splunk’s CEO Doug Merritt has been crystal clear and consistent in his messaging for what our vision is to get to $2 billion in revenue in the next three years. It makes my job, frankly, a lot easier. As a team, IT can reverse engineer from that viewpoint and can critically look at what the business needs are to drive greater value rather than becoming a choke point – the worst outcome for any CIO.
From one month to the next, our business is never static. CIOs have to be adaptable in this environment and comfortable with ambiguity. If priorities have changed for the right reasons and it’s tied to business value, change is good.
However, many CIOs will encounter an executive leadership team that’s less open to change or lacks a crystal-clear vision. In these situations, one effective strategy is to gut check your idea with all the major influencers before engaging the CEO. When the CEO seriously questions what is being put forward, the rest of the executive leadership team can jump to your support because they have their fingerprints on the strategy.
How do you approach the adoption and management of SaaS applications in your IT landscape?
DM: This behavior is induced by what the business drivers are. It’s not about cherry picking a SaaS solution. The SaaS solutions we consider have to blend in with our overall corporate strategy, and we hinge our IT strategy off where our CEO is taking the company. Earlier this year, he put down the challenge to the organization to double revenue in the next three years that could double our employee base. That’s been a rally call for the company. Our responsibility within IT is to ensure that the additional SaaS applications we introduce on top of our platform actually complement and contribute towards that goal. We take a very critical approach to evaluating what SaaS vendors play well within our ecosystem and to ensuring that they’re expansible.
Additionally, I think the SaaS providers have done an amazing job circumventing IT to a certain extent and going straight to the business to sell their technology. While a couple years ago this created a sea of shadow IT within companies, today we’re having more constructive and healthy conversations with the wider business on what problems they are trying to solve. At Splunk, we have a Portfolio Working Group with representation from every major part of the business. We meet as a group to come up with ways to solve the business needs.
Furthermore, it’s imperative that IT teams understand how to diagnose their SaaS environments. If an error occurs and the CEO asks what happened, you can’t simply say, “Well that was SaaS, so we don’t have the ability to do an inquiry.” There’s an expectation. My advice is to pay close attention to the SaaS providers you work with to ensure that you can really tap into their environment and have access to what you need to run your business.
A slightly different topic: How are you implementing DevOps?
DM: If you have a DevOps team, it’s probably a red flag. DevOps is a framework, not a team. One way to know you have DevOps is when you look around the table, you are unable to separate the ops people from the engineers because they’re working closely together. Also, when you have the inevitable P1, who takes the call? If DevOps is done right, there is truly a joint sense of ownership. It shouldn’t be about the ops person restoring service. It’s “we” need to restore the service. In today’s DevOps world, the mission team should be able to sit around a physical table and collaborate. At Splunk, we’re absolutely all in. It’s invigorating and exciting. We have a lot of folks to thank, including Spotify and Amazon Web Services (AWS), for being pioneers in the space.
Finally, what advice would you give to CIOs going through major transitions?
DM: When companies go through major transitions as they scale, more often than not CIOs will encounter the corporate antibodies – the naysayers that question why they need to change when they’ve always done it a certain way. The advice I give to every CIO is as follows: If you’re going through a major transition, especially one where there will be corporate antibodies, peel off an energized and motivated team to execute the transition and set them up for success. The team doesn’t have to be very large – in my previous job at Adobe, I left behind a product team of 350 to start a team of 12. For me, it was inevitable our industry would go through a seismic shift, and if we didn’t embrace it, we were going to be left on the wayside.