by Clint Boulton

CIO enjoys dual role of cloud strategist and company pitchman

Sep 03, 2015
CIOCloud ComputingIT Leadership

VMware’s Bask Iyer spends his days refining the company’s private cloud system, which he uses to sell the software maker’s technology to fellow CIOs.

SAN FRANCISCO — Bask Iyer has donned two big hats since joining VMware as CIO in March. He manages internal IT, including a private cloud based on the company’s server, storage and network virtualization software products. That software defined data center also serves as the chief test bed for his second job: advising fellow CIOs, including VMware customers, about how to build and manage their own cloud systems.

This second role is particularly crucial for a company trying to challenge Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Cisco Systems in the competitive market for cloud infrastructure software. The idea is to make VMware technology more appealing to business peers by showing them how the company operates on its own products.

[ Related: CIOs boost their careers doing double duty ]

“We use the products we make,” Iyer told at this week’s VMworld conference, where the company unveiled several new products to support its software-defined data center strategy. “It’s a lot more credible when I can show CIOs that I use it.”

Iyer, who implemented VMware’s technology in prior CIO positions at Juniper Networks and Honeywell, says he’s enjoying the dual role. This includes spending at least one day a week with customers to articulate VMware’s vision for the future and discuss IT leadership in general. Iyer and his peers cover such topics as where IT sits in the business and whether the CIO should report to the CEO, CFO or COO. They also discuss whether BYOD strategies are good ideas and whether or not to offer staff BYOD stipends.

Getting the ear of the CEO is crucial for CIOs

Iyer’s influence also extends to the executive boardroom, where VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger regularly solicits his opinion about the company’s evolving strategy to help CIOs implement programmable hybrid clouds. In an executive meeting during Iyer’s first day on the job Gelsinger asked him what he thought about the company’s approach to pricing its cloud solutions. He said that because CIOs are going to go to the cloud at their own pace, they would view an enterprise license agreement on flexible pricing as an attractive option. “I have an opinion on everything because I’ve been on the other side,” as a customer, Iyer says.

[ Related: CIOs embrace hybrid cloud and software-defined data centers ]

Iyer says it’s also important that Gelsinger seek his counsel because the rest of senior management will follow his lead in respecting him as a business peer. He says some CIOs suffer from a certain “intellectual blindness” in their organizations. That is, CEOs may court CIOs for their business but they treat their own CIOs as IT guys tasked with running the data center and making sure email works rather than seeking their counsel for product strategy. He says CEOs, particularly those running tech companies, should look to their CIO as being the “voice of the customer.”

Challenges and works in progress

While Iyer embraces his dual role, the job has its challenges, some of which he shares with his peers. For example, Iyer says, companies struggle with the consumerization of cloud, a shadow IT phenomenon by which anyone from sales and marketing heads to developers purchase and implement cloud software from the likes of and AWS, independent of IT. Such staffers expect to get the same delivery speed of technology from their own IT staff. That creates a challenge for CIOs tasked with vetting technologies and reconciling the return-on-investment ratio.

Consumerization of cloud sets the expectations higher, Iyer says. He welcomes such conversations because they afford him the opportunity to showcase the efficiencies of his company’s private cloud, which allows developers to rapidly deploy virtual machines AWS-style, with a few button clicks.

Another of Iyer’s project is consolidating mobile capabilities into fewer apps, creating something of a universal inbox for business process workflows. Like most companies, VMware employees use separate apps to approve purchase orders, new hires and expense reports. Using several apps to approve tasks is tedious and consumes valuable real estate on the small screens of smartphones and tablets. So he instructed his team to tuck approval functionality into a custom application. He’s also mulling a similar mobile exercise for the corporate intranet. “Enterprises are not building enterprise mobile apps, we’re mobile-enabling something we already have,” he says. “Enterprise IT has not taken mobile seriously.”