Symantec CIO: Digital transformation plan shaped by cloud, AI

Read about how SaaS, public cloud, AI and machine learning are driving Symantec's digital transformation in this Q&A with CIO Sheila Jordan.

Editor's note: In part one of this Q&A, Symantec Corp. CIO Sheila Jordan discussed her top IT priorities and their potential for delivering value to the business. Here, she explains the key elements of the cybersecurity and services company's digital transformation plan and the CIO skills needed to pull it off. In Jordan's view, the overarching goal of digital transformation is to deliver a seamless customer experience. Foundational technologies include private and public cloud, AI and machine learning, and, of course, Symantec security products.

Jordan's take on digital transformation

What are the hallmarks of an effective digital transformation plan?

Sheila Jordan: To me, it's delivering an optimal customer and partner experience that is predictive and relevant to the customer and one that hides the way the processes work. It's offering this unique, personalized customer experience that masks the complexity of the processes and systems behind it. And it's in near real time: It's on your mobile device, it's making the customer and partner experience as optimized as you can where, when and how they want to experience your company based upon their needs and desires. To do that, you have to stitch processes and systems together behind the scenes. And I think the same thing applies for employees; you have to do the same thing internally.

Is that work ever done?

Sheila JordanSheila Jordan

Jordan: No, I think this new customer experience will continue to evolve and the bar will continue to rise. Customers will expect more surprise and delight in their experience. The expectations will continue to increase. So, [a digital transformation plan] is going to be a journey. It's an evolution with continuous improvement forever. That's where we're at right now.

Is that overwhelming?

Jordan: I think it's totally exciting! The advancements in technology and in processes and in customer and employee expectations -- it's exciting to think about what experiences we can offer to our constituencies.

You've been recognized as a change agent. What are the key elements that CIOs must have to successfully navigate the kind of major changes that a digital transformation plan entails?

Jordan: If you walk into a board room or C-suite and say here are three or four ideas and have a discussion around the benefits and the risks, that's how you get the momentum and movement. You move from ideation and strategy-setting to execution. But it's a journey, and there are always going to be people you continually have to bring along on the journey. It really is iterative. So, you have to keep checking in and moving it forward if you want to be in it together.

Power of the cloud, developing IT staff

What key technologies is Symantec tapping to execute on its digital transformation plan?

Jordan: Of course, we're using our Symantec security products across the entire stack; security is top of mind for all CIOs. And we've moved a lot to SaaS. I'm about 65% SaaS, using Box, Microsoft 365, Workday, Salesforce, Zuora. I love SaaS because the vendors are doing the work; they're doing the updates and releases.

The third category is public cloud. We made a decision about 14 months ago to move most of our consumer business to the public cloud, so we've moved about 200 workloads and applications to public cloud. That really takes away a lot of the work way that we did internally to run infrastructure. We also manage a lot of data in the company, and we're just beginning to scratch the surface of applying AI and machine learning so we can be really predictive. We use a lot of AI and machine learning in our products, and we're asking how do we use that to operate IT better and more efficiently?

With reports of the IT skills gap and a shortage of IT talent continuing, how do you ensure your workers have the skills you need them to have for success?

Jordan: It's all about the work. I'm fortunate to be doing some really innovative things now. For example, we had our shift to public cloud and that was a new skill we had to learn. And the recent merger and acquisition activity, that allowed us to create a playback to successfully handle integrations of new companies. And there's AI. One of my leaders just held a hackathon where the only requirement was that every project had to have an AI component. So, it's really introducing employees to work that lets them stretch and grow and develop their talent.

We also have a pretty significant training and development program. We do six technical training classes a year with our vendors and ourselves. We just introduced 'Resource Now' -- that's our project name internally -- where we post small projects in a marketplace. If someone wants to learn in a safe environment, they can apply through their manager to go work on them, so they're growing and developing and we get the work done. And I'm a big believer in cross movement, so I move my leaders. I'm constantly rotating my leaders within the functions in IT.

The vision thing

As a CIO, how do you ensure you're still growing, bringing in new ideas and new thinking?

Jordan: That's part of my job every day. My job is making sure I'm constantly thinking a step or two ahead of the business, thinking about what technology will help enable them, to help them run and change and grow. The good news is I'm in Silicon Valley and I have startups all around us. My leaders and I spend a day once a quarter to learn what's happening.

One of the tools that I use to keep the organization focused is a structure called VSEM, for vision, strategy, execution and measurement. Vision is five years out; that's your vision for your entire IT organization. Strategy is two to four years out: what are your strategic initiatives, like moving to public cloud; there are five or six. All the projects and programs are under execution. M is measurement.

Also, once a year my staff goes off site to talk about the scope, intent and mission that we're going to accomplish in the next 12 to 18 months. So, every year we come up with that intent and mission; that's the what. And from that we pick the technology that we need to work on; that's the how.

How do you ensure collaboration across a global workforce?

Jordan: It's joint ownership of objectives, so when I work on a project with India and the U.S., we have people in India and in the U.S. working on the same teams and the same initiatives with the same ultimate goal. That's what drives it. Some [other companies] will set up discreet centers of excellence, and that can work, but it can become islands.

So, we're constantly working on the same objectives. That's part of our DNA. And the tools and technology like [videoconferencing] allow you to support that. We create forums and we create recordings. We try to be time sensitive, too, so when I do my all-hands meeting, I do it for the U.S. team and then again in the evening from my home for India. That also gives you face-to-face interaction without having to get on a plane every quarter. It helps drive the sense of engagement that audio can't do.

What's the new technology that will impact IT that excites you the most as CIO?

Jordan: There are two. First, AI. Every CIO has so much data, but you're typically looking in your rearview mirror. I'd like to get insights and be more predictive and help the business make decisions with AI.

And the other is a security product, CASB, or cloud access security broker. It gives the CIO visibility of all cloud products in your environment. We know the ones we've agreed to deploy, but I don't know if someone in the business uses what I call a credit card application. CASBs allow you to see all cloud applications. And when you attach [data loss prevention software], you can not only see the cloud applications, but also what data is going in and out. It's a gift to have that visibility.

What's the new technology that scares you the most as CIO?

Jordan: Bots. I like the capability of bots -- the systematic way to do a repetitive process, the ability to automate a repetitive process -- but the part I don't like about it is people think, 'Let's just deploy them across the organization.' You have to think about the architecture, how it fits in and what if they go down and the process isn't documented. You have to have the right plan, and we have to think about bots in the context of the architecture.

What are the advantages and challenges of being a CIO at a tech company?

Jordan: There are two big advantages: Work happens at a really rapid pace, and you've got to keep up and it's an advantage because we can try a lot of things, do proofs of concept and keep pace. We're not sitting around and waiting for years to make a decision. The second is we're Customer One. As our engineers are building products, we have our own internal department where we test them, try them, give feedback. The other advantage of that is when we actually deploy, we create white papers about what we learned, so we hand those through our sales team to our customers. We're kind of the practitioner that validates what we're doing on the product side. It's just fun. We're in the thick of it.

There's an inherent challenge in making sure we're doing our job and putting in the right products and services. If we don't, we find that the engineering teams can go find a SaaS application [without IT involvement]. For example, we had Slack in four or five different instances before we made it enterprise-wide. So, you have to be careful and aware of their needs. I have to really pay attention.

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