Transforming IT into a revenue-generating powerhouse is a tall order for many IT leaders, yet it’s quickly becoming necessary for businesses to achieve competitive advantage. For Joe Kinsella, co-founder and CTO of CloudHealth Technologies, baking this mindset into the culture of IT has enabled him to grow the organization from one to 190 employees serving 2,000 customers worldwide over the past four-and-a-half years.
Kinsella notes, “That type of rapid scale and pace of change wasn’t possible through some brilliance on my part. It was really just harnessing the collective intelligence of an absolutely customer-centric organization.”
[ Want to become known as CIO who makes it rain? See our related article, 4 habits of revenue-generating CIOs. ]
Kinsella recently took home the Corporate CIO of the Year award from the Boston CIO Leadership Association. We asked him to share his mantra for IT and how he encourages everyone to play a role in the success of the business.
The Enterprisers Project (TEP): IT leaders are increasingly tasked with projects that make money rather than save money. How has this shift in mandate impacted the evolution of your career and your role as CTO of CloudHealth Technologies?
Kinsella: I’ve definitely seen this shift over my career. For instance, for years we talked about shadow IT, and in my opinion, that was a reaction to the fact that IT had started to become misaligned with the business strategy. The shadow IT movement went on to result in the adoption of things like Software-as-a-Service products and public cloud, and we are now seeing a realignment of IT back to what the business needs. Increasingly, IT is being seen as a driver of innovation and even top-line revenue in some cases. I think that’s a healthy change.
In my current role, we are the revenue driver. My technology organization builds the SaaS platform that is used by our 2,000 customers around the globe. We live and die by our ability to innovate and deliver value to customers through technology. So it certainly is something that’s near and dear to my heart.
TEP: Your mantra is "everyone is a product manager." Can you talk about what this means for your IT team?
Kinsella: I used to use the phrase: “Product management is a company, not a department.” I’ll confess, today it is a department, but the sentiment still rings true. In order to build a successful product that drives value for customers, you can’t just have a small set of people saying, “This is what we need to do for customers,” and then have an IT organization that’s off executing what they’ve been told to go execute. Instead, we’ve worked to build an organization where everyone feels like they’re a stakeholder in the success of the product.
We take this mantra seriously. When we have a product conversation on the table, whether reviewing requirements or discussing features, it’s not uncommon to have 45-50 people in the room from all different facets of the organization who want to engage, have a conversation, or debate the specifics.
Whether you are someone who develops software, or you’re in tech ops, or you’re an accountant, your primary job is to actually build the business. Everyone has an equal share in helping to shape and drive our product strategy, and that motivates everyone in the organization to become a product expert and take the time to work with and listen to customers. Simply put, it’s just easier make better decisions when you can harness the aggregate power of a group of brains that are all thinking and looking at the same set of problems.
TEP: How do you reinforce this message and focus for your team?
Kinsella: Just like the dollar is the currency of the United States, the currency of CloudHealth Technologies is first-hand customer knowledge. In order for anyone on our team to exert influence, they have to have first-hand customer knowledge, paired with a deep understanding of the product. If anyone wants to drive change, they need to have this requirement. It’s baked into every role in the organization, and when we onboard new people, we make sure they are getting steeped in the product and knowledge of the customer from day one.
Of course, you can do as much or as little of this as you want, and that’s part of our meritocracy model. The more you do, the more influence you can wield over what the company does. It has a social-engineering effect where people are incented to go do this without us having to force it top-down, and it’s worked extremely well for us.
TEP: Last year you doubled the size of your employee base and you are looking to do so again in 2017. What were some hiring challenges or important lessons you learned along the way as you grew your team rapidly?
Kinsella: The first challenge that comes to mind is scale and culture. The core tenets of our culture are transparency, collaboration, innovation, customer first, and a learning environment. These tenets were there when it was a three-person company, and they were there when it was a 20-person company. But for each subsequent doubling of the company, it became increasingly hard to ensure that the culture continued to scale with the organization. And there’s no magic solution for this. You have to continually assess, either qualitatively or quantitatively, where you are. You have to have constant vigilance, and you have to constantly work at it. By comparison, scaling the technology is a breeze.
TEP: Are there traits that you look for when hiring to help you with this challenge?
Kinsella: Analytical thinking is the one trait we always start with. We could care less what technology someone knows. We can teach someone a specific technology, but we can’t teach them to think in a way that allows them to effectively solve complex problems. From there, we look for people who are collaborative, transparent, and communicate well, as well as people who are willing to admit when they’re wrong. These are traits of people that we’ve found are very successful in our culture.
TEP: What is one of the most important relationships in your current role, and how do you maintain it?
Kinsella: One of the most important relationships, for me, is with our CEO. He’s my business partner. I view us as solving two halves of the same pie. I invest heavily in maintaining this relationship, which means there is two-way transparency between us. Either of us can be wrong at any given point in time, as long as we converge towards what the right decision is from a business perspective. Constant openness and collaboration is what has made our relationship work.