by Clint Boulton

5 conversations CIOs must have with their C-suite peers

Oct 01, 2015
CIOIT LeadershipIT Strategy

CenturyLink CIO Bill Bradley says tech leaders need to keep their C-level peers abreast of IT efforts. Not surprisingly, mobile and cloud are among the key discussions.

CIOs can no longer be content to run financial software and other business applications from a data center. Modern consumer demands require CIOs to ask themselves this key question: How do I grow the business in a increasingly connected landscape where companies are struggling to ensure they stay in lockstep with rapidly evolving consumer preferences for digital technologies?

Bill Bradley is having those very discussions as CIO of telecommunications company CenturyLink, where he is doing double duty migrating the company’s applications to cloud software the company acquired, and then, marketing those solutions to rivals. He is one of eight senior managers who report directly to CEO Glen F. Post.

bradley bill 20141

CenturyLink CIO Bill Bradley.

Bradley says Post values IT a strategic asset. “IT is an equal partner at the table and has an equal voice in all strategic decisions that the company makes,” says Bradley, who has held several IT roles since joining the company in 1985. Bradley says there are five conversations that CIOs need to have with their C-suite peers to be an effective leader.

1. Avoid sales hype: Companies accumulate several different platforms and applications over time. But sometimes senior executives seek to purchase new technology that performs the same functions of extant solutions. It’s incumbent on the CIO to ask their business partners to consider the business problem that they’re trying to solve, and suggest existing assets, rather than buying into the “hype that surrounds that platform,” Bradley says. “In high-performing organization, the IT leader should push back and say: How does this make a difference for this company?” It’s also vital that the CIO review the implementation to determine its return on investment. Far too often, companies say they will do this, but it falls by the wayside as other priorities bubble up.

2. Support the business, through rapid change. A word tossed around freely these days, “agile” has meaning beyond developer operations. It’s about being responsive to the business and driving revenue for the company. Bradley supports the sales team by meeting with customers, and detailing his shift to cloud computing. He also carefully weighs investments by trying to determine whether they will boost business. To that end, Bradley’s policy is to avoid investing in “capped apps,” or those that lack growth potential. For example, he consolidated and upgraded the company’s consumer billing system. “We have every billing function ever dreamed [of],” he says. “Why would I keep investing in that?” With the blessing of his C-suite peers, he is allocating money for a software-defined network, which will allow him to more efficiently manage data traffic without investing in new proprietary hardware. “If you want to be a growth company you have to spend as much time on the revenue conversation as you do on the cost containment,” he says.

3. Articulate the cloud strategy: Articulating a cloud strategy is harder than it sounds, because as companies migrate from several physical systems to virtualized systems, with more operating systems and applications running on fewer boxes. Since acquiring cloud software providers, including Embarq, Qwest, Savvis, AppFog and Tier 3, CenturyLink has reduced the number of data centers from dozens to three.

Bradley has articulated to his peers the considerable cost-savings of converting to the cloud. He’s also explained to staff who have spent their careers managing servers that their role will be less important in the future, an unenviable but necessary conversation. “You need to say I appreciate what you’ve done for me in the past, but I need you to take those skills and apply them to a more virtual environment,” he says. “Their job environment is changing.” He says training from within, as well as using external consultants, is helping CenturyLink’s ongoing cloud journey.

4. Develop a mobile-first mentality: Migrations to the cloud are crucial, because the services provide a next-generation platform with which businesses will support their customers. Mobile has become king, as consumers expect to procure goods and services from smartphones, tablets and, increasingly, wearable devices. That requires drastic changes in the way companies write and deliver code. Once upon a time, developers standardized on Microsoft Windows, building images for desktops and laptops that enabled people to access the Web through Internet Explorer.

Today, Safari, Firefox, Chome, Android browsers dominate mobile computing. “We have to be browser- and device-agnostic,” Bradley says. “In the world of cloud, I have no way of knowing which platform my customer is going to interact with me on.” Mobile software is developed iteratively and constantly refined. CIOs assure their peers that the development pace and velocity must be crisper, he says.

5. Service abstraction anyone?: Build abstract services with generic interfaces that can be reused. He says developers will repeat several of the same steps as they write code for new applications. APIs help here, allowing developers to write software once and run several places. CenturyLink developers have written software that allow employees to access frequently customer addresses, for consumers and enterprises, from a single service.

With reuse, companies can eliminate software waste and “future proof” their assets. Is that a conversation worth having with C-level peers? Perhaps, perhaps not. But CIOs can put it into context for them by explaining that software is being developed more efficiently. “If you build a service, it should work broadly,” he says. “By doing that I build in a layer of future-proofing rather than silos with brittle interfaces.”