Insights from a global CIO

Mark Egan has the distinct career path of being CIO of technology companies that have undergone rapid growth and acquisition. For over three years now, he has been CIO and vice president of information technology at VMware.

He also had a six-year stint at Symantec, during which he led the IT integration of 28 acquisitions. His resume includes CIO tenures at Walden International Investment, a venture capital firm, and at a computer hardware company, Sequel.

"I feel very fortunate today to have been a CIO," says Egan. "A lot of things in my career have worked out." But when he left Symantec in early 2006, he says he realised, "There isn't any place to go to learn how to be a CIO".

Video: CIO NZ interviews Mark Egan about ways CIOs can transform their careers.;HighLight=2,mark,egan

So he met with his ICT peers and founded the CIO Development Programme that mentors aspiring CIOs in San Francisco's Bay area. The programme is open to anyone running a very small IT group or reporting to a CIO. The members vote who will be accepted to the programme.

"We have 25 aspiring CIOs. They meet on a monthly basis and everyone is assigned a CIO as their mentor," says Egan. The mentoring covers all aspects of IT management, including how to set up the IT organisation, develop the strategy, budgeting and economics of IT.

"Our goal is to really work with them in developing all the skills they need to be a future CIO." He says around three or four aspiring CIOs in the programme have gone on to become CIOs.

So what key advice does he tell these aspiring CIOs? "Look at IT holistically," he says, "people, process, technology."

People are the hardest part, he says. "I work for a technology company and I have all these brilliant engineers that build these great products. But you have got to have the right team in place, making sure you have a strong team."

He says it is important to have a team that "really embraces change."

"Are they going to look at some of the new trends throughout the industry and figure out how you can use them in your company? How do you organise these teams and ensure they get training?"

For someone who wants to run an IT group, Egan recommends working in both the application side and the infrastructure side of technology. The application side is the one "really driving the business, so I would probably put a little bit more emphasis there", he notes. Getting some international experience is also essential. "You can not operate in just one country."

Multifaceted role

Egan explains that he has "two roles" at VMware. "One is the more traditional IT role, putting all systems and so forth in place to run the company. In addition to that, we work really closely with our product teams in building the best products for our customers. We test early versions of our products and with our customers. It is actually showcasing the work that we are doing internally."

He says that having these combined internal and external facing roles is also true for many of his colleagues in other technology companies. The key difference with their CIO counterparts in other enterprises is this: "We are really expected to use all of our products internally. We are expected to use them earlier and really help develop some of those best practices in the journey to the cloud or when using mobile and social apps. We are a little more aggressive than some of our counterparts."

He says one of the luxuries he has is that 99 percent of VMware's environment is virtualised. "I can cut that whole phase of a project," says Egan. His team likewise has a Scrum approach to software development. "We do multiple [releases] per week. These are the things I couldn't do with some of those legacy platforms."

"One of the things I would always give, as advice to my peers, is we are change agents. We have to go off and embrace these new technologies, we have to figure out how we can help our companies use those to increase their revenue, to reduce the costs and improve customer satisfaction."

Doing this requires honing in on communication skills. "Driving that change to the organisation, to really transform your business you have got to be a great communicator."

He also encourages his team to look beyond the product side and get involved with the sales people. "I worked for a consulting firm in between Symantec and VMware and I had to sell. It is hard but I think it is great when you are out there actually talking to customers and trying to help them solve their problems."

"There is nothing like going on a sales call, he says. "I enjoy it but it is different and I am humbled."

Egan is upbeat about the possibilities open to CIOs across the enterprise.

"We have a unique cross functional view of the entire company," says Egan. "I would recommend to my peers to look at what is the core of your business. How can IT help? How can you apply technology to what you are doing and then really drive that?"

"If you think about some of the big trends in technology, in social and mobile and cloud and big data, these are things that we have got to embrace, and figure out how we can help the businesses that we support increase revenue or reduce cost for our customers. That is our role as CIOs."

With an IT background you could go on to a lot of areas, he says. CIOs can move to the sales side if they are in a technology company or into professional services because "you are the target audience" he says.

Mergers and acquisitions

Egan shares lessons learned from being in the midst of mergers, both with VMware and at Symantec. If you get into a merger and acquisitions situation, he says, "first and foremost is focus on the people".

"There are really going to be three questions on their mind before they do anything else: Do I have a job? What is the scope of my responsibilities? Who am I gonna work for? You really have to focus on those three things first. Then you can talk about some of the other things."

Egan says he has that conversation first with the IT leader and then they decide about the team. He says many of the technology issues are secondary and can be sorted out.

The time frame is also important. When VMware acquires a smaller company, which Egan defines as having less than US$100 million in revenue, VMware will just migrate it to their systems. "We try to get it done in 90 days," he says. "We can then start realising the benefits of having that new part of the business."

"The longer that you take, the harder it becomes," he says. "What you want to do for your customers is to start operating as one company, as opposed to two."

Setting -- and spotting trends

Silicon Valley is a prime location to keep updated on business trends, Egan says. What he finds useful is belonging to CIO peer groups.

"There is not a technology or trend or whatever going on today that I couldn't send a note to my different peer groups and get their feedback, and we are all just trying to help each other."

"My network is extremely important to me," he says. "If I am faced with a challenge in IT, I can send a note out to my peers." He says he can get an immediate response on issues that require decisions in a short time frame but have "large implications".

Egan tapped this peer group for insights that helped him frame VMware's BYOM (bring your own mobile) strategy in the fourth quarter of last year. "We were spending more than the average for phones and I could not offer enough devices," says Egan. "There is a lot of preference around a particular device. I found I just couldn't get them out fast enough. I am not sure I have a lot of value [being] in the phone business." Add to this mix is the different preferences of staff, with some content to keep a phone for three years while others want a new phone every six months.

Based on the feedback from his CIO peers who have already tackled this concern, VMware rolled out a programme where all staff can pick the device of their choice and be reimbursed for business expenses. "It worked out really well," says Egan, who estimates seven-figure annual savings with this approach. "But more importantly, we gave them choice."

Egan does not have to look far to get ahead of what is happening in the tech space. "Go see what our kids are doing," he advises. Egan has two teenagers, aged 13 and 15 and he says they are "not intimidated" at using multiple channels simultaneously.

He says his son has headphones for "listening to music or whatever he is working on because it helps him zone in and do what he is focusing on". There would also be at least three other things on his screen -- his homework, Facebook or chat with his friends.

His 15-year old son is already an "entrepreneur", having built a website selling Android apps.

Customers can get a free version, or a paid version that goes through PayPal. Egan says his son did everything himself. "Just a few years ago, enterprises were struggling to do that," he says.

"The consumer market is driving the enterprise," he points out. Some of the consumer applications like Facebook and Twitter don't need any training or manual, he says. "You just sit down and use them. How quickly can we get those ideas into the enterprise?

"That is really where we have to get to as IT professionals. Just make it easy and enable your business."

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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