Transformative CIO: Strategic Advice for Start-Ups & Fortune 500s

By By Mike Kail, Chief Information Officer, Yahoo!

By Mike Kail, Chief Information Officer, Yahoo!

Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO) is a globally known multinational Internet corporation. Headquartered in Sunnyvale, California, the company has a current market cap of $41.51 billion.

With the rapid onset of digital transformation, the role and scope of the CIO is evolving and expanding, and the need to create a proactive, not reactive organization is paramount to success for any company. Whether a start-up or established multinational firm, today’s CIO needs to keep in mind some strategies, both technical and cultural, for moving IT to be a key business enabler, not a cost center.

1.Strategic Thinking: As a leader, you need to empower your team with a roadmap and platform strategy, as well as define the culture. You should also be a change agent and introduce concepts such as continuous delivery, integration, and A/B testing. Create avenues for continuous feedback; measure/quantify results; get the team thinking about business value, RoI, and being proactive collaborators instead of “order takers”.
2.Business Understanding: Any CIO today is equally valued for their ability to solve for the internal and external technological issues of a company, as their ability to manage a team and deliver within budget. Like me, many CIOs manage various and diverse teams: for example, at Yahoo, I have the opportunity to work with Mail, Platforms, Flickr, and Homepage/Verticals orgs (to name just a few) on a daily basis. To be a successful CIO, you need to demonstrate business leadership, in addition to experience building, growing and maintaining the right technological solutions for the company.
3.Listen Before Leading: Understand the entire cultural landscape before you introduce change. Take the time to dig in and see what’s working, what could be improved, and what needs to be changed and/or swapped out. The time you invest will not only result in better decisions in terms of what type of technology the team needs to succeed, but will also help you develop the relationships and ultimately trust you need to ensure success during your tenure. Establishing a clear “cultural blueprint” is also a big part of driving successful change. Foster collaboration across the entire company and try to remove artificial organizational boundaries and continually speak about the company’s best interests, not your specific organization. A simple acronym from the DevOps culture is: CAMS - Culture, Automation, Measurement, Sharing. Shape the culture, continually automate, measure what is important, and share the results broadly.

More than twenty years in the industry has taught me that whether you’re leading in a start-up or a more established company, inevitably you face similar opportunities and challenges, just at a different scale. Keeping an entrepreneurial spirit and drive will help ensure the success of your company, regardless of the number of employees. To help keep that innovation muscle strong, I find that it’s good to keep close watch on which companies are getting funded by the lead venture capital firms, and what areas seem to have more overall activity. It’s also critical to spend strategic thinking time focused on where technology is headed, not where it is currently.

I’ll celebrate one year as CIO at Yahoo this coming summer, and it has been an incredible ride. I’ve worked on some of the most important projects underway at Yahoo today, from ensuring our data centers around the world can serve our one billion users as quickly and efficiently as possible, to implementing the best technology and productivity solutions for our multinational company with more than 11,000 employees. I look forward to continuing to shape Yahoo’s future, innovating from the inside and outside of the company to deliver the most inspiring, entertaining and personalized experiences for our users.

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