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Refocusing Your IT Department with Graeme Thompson of Informatica

Episode 72

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Graeme Thompson (LinkedIn, Twitter) grew up and first started his career in Scotland. When he moved to the U.S., he noticed a lot of differences in the mindset when it came to IT, but he also found a way to blend the practicality of those in the UK with the entrepreneurial spirit of American workers. Now, as the SVP and CIO of Informatica, he is using all of his knowledge and skills to bring real-time tech solutions to customers around the globe.  

In this episode, he discusses what IT looks like at Informatica —including how IT has changed and where it’s going — plus he breaks down the need for real-time hybrid data management and some of the problems and solutions Informatica is seeing in that area of IT.

Best Advice for a first-time CIO: “There’s definitely a recipe to follow. So follow the money, make sure you know where the money’s being spent. That’s where you will find the money you need to go through the things that the company wants to do but doesn’t have the money to fund. Make sure that you assess your team and make sure you’ve got the right people on the bus. Your team is going to be a function of the past. You need to make sure that it’s a fit for the future, too. And then your number one job is to make sure they are not wasting time flawlessly executing on the wrong stuff.”

Key Takeaways:

The differences between the UK and the U.S. — (2:00)

In the UK, Graeme noticed that there is more of a focus on efficiency, operations and making things better by practical means. He credits that mindset to the history of shipbuilding and traditional, heavy engineering. Those jobs created a built-in discipline to do things well because workers were responsible for physically building something useful. In the U.S., Graeme sees more of an entrepreneurial and creative spirit and a built-in belief that anything is possible.

“Folks here are much more entrepreneurial and they believe that four people in a garage can absolutely change the world. And that’s absolutely true, but that’s not the way people in the UK tend to think. But I think you need both types of people to build a great company.”  

IT at Informatica and Graeme’s view on IT in general — (5:00)

IT is centralized at Informatica and Graeme is responsible for a lot of the IT functions. In fact, the CISO and CEO both report up to Graeme. According to him, the new CIO should look at his job as being a chief “Change Inspiration Officer.” The IT department sees all changes through from end-to-end, so the leader of that department is responsible for making sure that everyone along the way has what they need.

Innovation is key to what Informatica does, and the company has a strong group of IT architects who look at business problems and understand how to solve them using technology.

Graeme also stresses that the folks working in IT, if they are looking to move up, need to start focusing on the right projects. Too often they get stuck working on small or mid-level projects, and while they might work hard and do a good job, those projects ultimately do not move the needle of the company.

“If you’re trying to change the way a company works…it’s a team sport. It needs everyone from the initial seller to the person who drives adoption all the way through customer support and renewals to be completely aligned.”  

“For years, decades, probably IT has been trying to flawlessly execute the wrong stuff…You’re not going to get a seat at the table by executing department level projects no matter how well you do it and it’s soul destroying for your team. Your team is working so hard, IT people always have to work nights and weekends because you can’t do change during the week. So you do all that work and they wonder why they don’t get any thanks or recognition and often it’s because they’ve flawlessly executed the wrong stuff. ”

“[Our architects] are almost like a filter that looks in the industry to see what’s going on, figures out what may have an application for us, then figures out how long it’s going to be until that thing’s ready to help us.”

Guiding a team and creating “colleague capital” – (21:00)

As a CIO, you have to guide your team toward business decisions that are right for the company. Sometimes, that involves saying no to proposals, partnerships, and new technologies. When someone comes to you to propose something, you first have to make sure that they understand that you are all in alignment with your goals. Then you have to ask them why they want the solution they are pitching and what they believe they can achieve from a business standpoint with their proposal.

You have to have enough chips in the bank to be able to say no sometimes and be able to have no be the persistent decision. In order to do that, you need a relationship that’s built on trust, which starts from an alignment with you.”

A community of CIOs – (25:30)

Even among CIOs who work for competing companies, there is an environment of openness. Graeme reports that it is not uncommon for CIOs and IT professionals to get together to discuss common challenges. One challenge is fighting for talent, which is especially hard in the Bay Area, where so many massive tech companies have set up shop.

“There’s a lot more excitement around end-user collaboration than there has been for a long time.  

“I’m very, very aware that many of the people that drive to my office have to pass Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, just to get there….So, as a CIO, I want to give all of our employees the best technology so I can to make their job as productive and as fun as possible. I want two sales guys, one from, Informatica, one from Oracle to debate in a bar about who has the best technology to do their job. And I know the Informatica guy is going to win that argument.”

Hybrid management — (30:20)

One of the biggest challenges facing companies today is hybrid cloud and data management. Graeme stresses the importance of building systems that allow those companies to do data integration from cloud-to-cloud and from cloud-to-on-premises. And as companies collect more data, they not only need places to store that data, but they need analytics that will allow them to use the data they collect in the best possible way. Graeme compares the CIO to the CFO insofar as if you ask the CFO if she knows where the company’s money is, who has access to the money, how they are optimizing the money, etc., the CFO will have answers to all those questions. If you ask the CIO the same questions and substitute the word “data” for “money,” they need to be able to provide suitable answers.

“There’s much more data available these days than there ever has been before. The stakes are higher and expectations are higher because people see from their consumer world what can be done if you properly and responsibly, hopefully, use the data.”

Real-time solutions offered by Informatica — (38:10)

Because of the IoT, there is more of an opportunity and a demand to have constant updates and data analytics to drive a business forward. In oil, gas, agriculture and other industries, Informatica is helping to provide real-time data, which is impacting how companies in these industries go about implementing safety protocols, productivity checks and more.

“Sensors are sending real-time streaming information…and they’re able to capture data and do real-time analytics on it and then not just use it for after-the-fact reporting. It’s using it to describe what the next best action should be based on what we actually know. You should do this and you should do this. That’s amazingly powerful and it’s something that these traditional technologies are really taking advantage of.”

What does the future of IT look like? — (45:00)

Graeme believes that companies will each move forward differently based on their needs, whether it be organizationally or through the creation of different roles. But either way, there are going to be new skills needed in the IT marketplace in order to deal with the new functions of IT.

“If you think about what does the IT job look like in four or five years, there’s definitely going to be a new group of people within it whose job is to optimize the management of, including the cost and the quality and the security of, these cloud solutions”  

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Throughout the years, Graeme Thompson has seen many changes in the world of IT. Now, as the SVP and CIO of Informatica, he is in charge of making sure his IT department is focusing on the right problems and coming up with the best possible solutions.

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