This summer, New Relic promoted SVP of operations Yvonne Wassenaar into the newly created position of Chief Information Officer, where she has been charged with leveraging data, technology, and process to drive competitive advantage for New Relic. We sat down with Yvonne to find out more about her new role and how evolving technologies such as cloud computing, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), and Shadow IT are changing what it means to be a CIO.
See parts two and three of the series:
- New Relic CIO Yvonne Wassenaar: How We Use Our Own Technology
- New Relic CIO Yvonne Wassenaar Shares Her Strategies for Technology Success
New Relic: As a newly minted CIO, how do you see the role of the CIO changing? And how does your background fit into that?
Yvonne Wassenaar: Clearly, what companies need out of CIOs has changed based on how technology is evolving. There’s a lot of talk about Shadow IT and business leaders being able to go straight to the cloud and handle all of their technology needs on their own, without the support or even knowledge of the CIO. Business owners are demanding and finding ways to get quicker access to what they need. At the end of the day, successful CIOs increasingly need to be strategic partners to the businesses versus gatekeepers of technology.
I’ve learned that a strong understanding of where the business is trying to go and the technical options for how to get there are critical. Leading CIOs bring forward new innovation options for the business to win in the marketplace. Successful CIOs must be very collaborative and service-oriented; they will need to earn their business going forward.
I believe I bring those skills to the table for New Relic. I’ve worked in the depths of technology, developing and delivering code. In addition, in my role as a senior executive I have focused on solving business problems. My career successes come from leveraging technology and building relationships with stakeholders. This combination has resulted in great outcomes.
New Relic: How does your CIO role differ from the SVP of Operations position that you previously held?
Yvonne: My core mission stays the same, but I believe my ability to drive impact is accelerated. I came to New Relic to scale and diversify the business. I focused on strategy, alignment, and operations. It became clear to me over time, however, that without strong technology and data enablement across the company it would be increasingly challenging to effectively drive the company’s strategy at the scale and pace we would like to. As CIO I am driving a holistic vision for how data and technology can better differentiate New Relic. Collaborating with the stakeholders in the delivery of that vision, I believe I will be able to more quickly enable all of us to do our jobs better, faster, and in exciting new ways.
New Relic: Being a CIO in 2015 can be really challenging—how do you make that work?
Yvonne: CIOs find themselves in different kinds of situational places:
There are large legacy companies that have their own data centers and a lot of legacy code on premises, and they spend a tremendous amount of their time keeping the lights on. What you see in those types of companies is they’re working hard to manage their costs while meeting the increasing needs of the business. These are the CIOs who are pushing to migrate solutions to the cloud and adopt new SaaS applications while hoping that Shadow IT does not get the better of them.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have younger companies like New Relic that have always taken a cloud-first approach—a whole new class of companies that are able to start with a blank sheet of paper.
Substantially all of New Relic’s business enablement is third-party SaaS-based providers or our own internal cloud. I have found that being a cloud-first company makes life easier because I don’t need to spend my time worrying about buying as much hardware, running data centers, or maintaining large amounts of on-premise code.
I prioritize my time in two different areas: 1) the engagement of third-party SaaS providers and 2) building out the data/analytics backbone that integrates across the different business applications. My focus is on the latter. I see this connective tissue of data and analytics across our business application landscape as being able to allow us to be more agile and innovative in how we deliver on business needs. And I have seen that, with real-time business insights, our business stakeholders know more about their customers and markets and they are able to take informed and often automated actions to better service our customers and meet our customer needs.
The tension I see for both large legacy companies and the cloud-first companies, however, is how to effectively manage the holistic environment regardless of who “owns” the resources.
This is where a lot of companies struggle. Companies often have a black-and-white approach that visibility ends at the organizational/ownership boundaries. The reality is, I believe that data is most valuable as a shared resource and there are great benefits in managing it that way. Similarly, business applications need to be able to work together seamlessly because they are all servicing the same customers and partners. And clearly, having strong security and privacy oversight is more critical than ever.
Figuring out how to empower business functions with holistic and accountable management is challenging. Ultimately, you want to focus on central ownership of some common core elements while establishing clear guidelines for what is decentralized. And overall holistic visibility is key.
New Relic: Given those competing priorities, what’s your view of Shadow IT?
Yvonne: New Relic’s approach to internal enablement of business applications has been almost all Shadow IT (I define Shadow IT as technology endeavors driven by the business functions directly). Historically, collaboration tools, infrastructure, networking, and desktop devices have been managed centrally, but our business functions have typically driven their own selection, implementation, and management of the SaaS solutions supporting their business areas.
The benefit of this model is that it helps the business functions meet their needs in an agile and effective way. The important caveat, however, is that the business functions are empowered to do this in a way that’s secure, that’s compliant, and that is optimized for the company versus just the function. Additionally, for true advantage, you want to make sure that the different applications are well integrated and data flows across the organization in meaningful ways.
Typically the bad part of Shadow IT is the lack of visibility across the organization as to what decisions are being made and how they impact the broader company. Along with limited visibility there is often minimal integration in the process flows and alignment across systems. The result can be unnecessary overlap of functionality; challenging customer experiences; friction in how the groups work together; and failure to prepare for scale requirements and security threats.
Making it easy for the business functions to innovate technologically is good. It keeps CIOs on our toes to ensure that we’re providing the right service, we’re keeping the company competitive, and we’re not able to rest on our laurels or get buried in legacy, keeping-the-lights-on work. Doing that is not easy, but I think that the companies that master it will be deeply differentiated and enjoy a huge competitive advantage.
I believe New Relic is incredibly fortunate because we’re starting down this path at such an early stage in our growth that we can put in place the right foundation to drive a coordinated and yet empowered world. If we are successful in establishing the right processes and the right structures—be they centralized and/or decentralized—I believe those good behaviors and practices can be built in as we grow.
New Relic: Putting it all together, how would you define the CIO’s role in this new world?
Yvonne: Being collaborative and having a service-oriented focus is critical. Successful new-world CIOs also need to ensure technology and data are used as catalysts for growth. CIOs sometimes need to be advisors, sometimes need to be service providers, and occasionally they need to be provocateurs.
New-world CIOs must quickly build out clarity around the fundamentals of how technology and data will enable their business and empower the business functions to drive the day-to-day successes for their areas. Doing this with clear guide rails and key areas of support provide the agility that the business functions of today want and need. The main job of the CIO organization is then to keep a clear focus on those areas of biggest differentiation. These are typically centered on data and integration along with key projects that have a large cross-company impact as well as enabling new and disruptive business models.
CIOs in leading companies will push the business to do more by leveraging technology, data, and insights in different ways. Where the CIOs don’t do this, you are likely to find new titles—including CTO (Chief Technical Officer) and CDO (Chief Data Officer)—popping up to fill the gaps. One way or another, technology will change what businesses can, should, and need to do to win.