Electronic Arts Embraces BYOD, Consumerization of IT and Cloud

Faced with a market edging away from console games and toward casual, interrupt-driven games, Electronic Arts believes it's adapt-or-die time. EA CIO Mark Tonnesen came on board six months ago to enable the video game giant's digital transformation. He sits down for a chat about IT transformation, BYOD and consumerization of IT with CIO.com's Thor Olavsrud.

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As it turned out in our case, our number 2 objective was cost and our number 3 objective was cost. So we ended up not doing a number of things that we knew we needed to do because it required an investment. You needed to invest in order to save and that wasn't part of the strategy under finance. We ended up with a lot of pent-up demand but we also ended up with some technologies that were a bit dated in nature and we needed to go back and retrofit.

Since turning that around, though, it's created a big change. Now we work for the chief technology office and the priority is delivering value and results for the company. Somewhere at number 2 or number 3 is cost.

I still have to manage a budget, I still have to come in on budget for everything, but now I can look at what's the right thing to do for the company. What's going to help us become successful in this digital transformation rather than how much does something cost? It changes the whole conversation. It's actually opened up doors that would have not been open before for me and my team.

The difficulty in some of this is I don't necessarily have all the right people. I have good people if you want to cost control and maintain and reduce and constrain and all of that. But if you want to expand and talk about the business strategy and talk about how this transformation's going to take place, you need people to do that. So it is forcing me to go back and look at some of the skills that I have and to either go back and retrain or in many cases really upgrade skillsets. I actually think it's all for the better. It's really where we needed to be as an organization.

CIO.com: A lot of CIOs and analysts I talk with these days say IT really has to become more of a service organization that competes with external providers to serve its customers in the business. Do you see that as your mission, and if so, how far along are you?

Tonnesen: I think you're right on the mark. I think that's what we're really all about right now is to turn ourselves into a service organization. I think of things in three buckets: We need to be better than the alternative, we need to be faster than the alternative and we need to be cheaper than the alternative. Better, faster, cheaper. If I can't be better, faster, cheaper, then my lines of business should actually go get the service from someplace else. It's a free market society. It should be. Within an enterprise, not everything is always free market, but conceptually that's the way I try to operate.

I'm trying to build in the discipline, the behavior, in my team that we are providing a service, and our service should be better, faster and cheaper. If we're not, we should know why and we should be seeking to be. That is the objective so we become the service provider of choice, not the service provider you're forced to use. If I can't provide storage and compute resources to you so you can develop the next game, and do it better, faster and cheaper than Amazon provides them to you, then you should use Amazon. That should be the way it works. My objective is to be absolutely the best, the fastest and the cheapest service that I can be to my customers. I evaluate my team on that and I evaluate their success based on the value that we deliver and of course the satisfaction that we provide those customers.

It's a little bit of a journey. I'm six months into this. I'd say we're making great progress, but we're by no means done. We still have a ways to go. We've made good progress in let's say maybe about 40 percent of our game studios—we have about 42 of them. In terms of the business functions—the back office, finance, HR—I think we're a long ways. We're probably 80 to 90 percent along.

CIO.com: As you make this transition, what are some of the biggest issues you've had to deal with? What's caused you the most trouble in making this change?

Tonnesen: I think the most trouble really comes from the most basic things. You want to make the change as quickly as possible, and you're having to change the car at 80 miles an hour. You're changing tires and wheels and everything else.

That's hard. I've got to change people at the same time we're moving quickly. I've got to reinvent some old technologies, replace some things, like using Box in a lot of cases, and get out from under some of the older technologies. And oh, by the way, I've got to do this by as much as possible staying within the cost envelope, the budget envelop, which by all means is not growing dramatically.

You've got to be creative about what you're going to do and what you're not going to do, where you're going to invest and where you're not going to invest. That's been tough. It's so easy to make a transition if you're being paid to and you're getting the budget to do it. No problem. But when you're not, and you're having to reinvent yourself and change things within the envelope that you have, you have to get very, very creative. It takes a little bit of time.

CIO.com: A lot of companies going through similar changes are really struggling with the perennial security question: control versus convenience and ease-of-use for the end user. You want to control your sensitive data, but you don't want to put up roadblocks that make your customers go around you to get their work done. Is that something you've struggled with?

Tonnesen: Every company and every industry has different views on this. Quite frankly, I really believe that more and more my role is to provision a service. The actual management of that service, the use of that service, the configuration of that service day-in and day-out I really think is the customer's. I want to get out of the way. I want to put Box in place and let our legal team use it for doing great deals with our partners, to let marketing create an ad and marketing campaign, to let our game teams develop and share intellectual property and collaborate and do the ideation they need to do with the technology and let IT get the heck out of the way.

I think the challenge with that, because it all sounds so simple and easy, is that you have historically, in a lot of IT organizations, people that are command-and-control oriented—and a lot of times you have CIOs that are command-and-control oriented. Making that change, even when they already mentally know they have to, it goes against for some of us 25 or 30 years of training and behavior. It is not going to be easy. I will grant you that a lot of folks on my team still struggle with this whole notion that we need to provide the technologies, but we're not going to manage it. We're going to let them manage it. But that is the beauty of where more and more of these platforms, like Box, are going: to provide the vehicles and tools for them to do their own jobs without needing IT to get in the way.

A company like Box is very successful in the consumer market, and [the consumers] don't need IT people. I think in the enterprise, that's the sweet spot. If IT can learn to get the heck out of the way and provide the tools for the employees to do what they need to do, great things will happen.

Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Big Data, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for CIO.com. Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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