Business

Inside the Social Network

Tim Campos may be CIO of Facebook -- a company whose user numbers rival and even top the population of some countries -- but he faces the same quandary as his colleagues across the globe, across industries and organisation size.

This is, "How do you handle the urgent, separate it from the needs that are important?"

"They are definitely challenges IT leaders face everyday," says the 39-year-old Campos, who joined Facebook two years ago.

He outlines a strategy he implemented at KLA-Tencor, where he was CIO prior to joining Facebook, which is to "strip" the organisation into "run" and "build" teams.

The 'run' function's sole purpose is to keep existing services up and running while making sure the business is not investing disproportionately in services that don't provide a lot of value, he says. "At the end of the day, they are not encumbered with figuring out new stuff to do, they are encumbered with keeping existing stuff up and running, relevant and efficient."

The 'build' side of the organisation has the exact opposite challenge, he says. "It is about, 'how do we build systems that are going to help our staff meet our growth targets more effectively, maximise our revenue potential for the company?'"

But this is not to say innovation is stacked in this side of the IT organisation.

The innovation in the 'run' team is of a "different kind", he says, "It is more operational and less disruptive innovation."

Routes to innovation

The culture of innovation is fostered further by the regular "hackathons" at Facebook. These are held every few weeks or so where staff are free to work on ideas, guided on the organisational principle of "Move fast and break things".

These sessions "empower employees to make bold decisions", says Campos.

"How effective those decisions are is judged from the basis of either producing results or learning something, but employees will never be punished because something did not go as expected."

Campos says Facebook also follows another route of innovation which he says is unique to the organisation -- innovative partnership with external companies.

"We have got a pretty good track record now with innovating with our IT partners," he says. "Those experiments have paid off wonderfully for both Facebook and the companies that have chosen to engage with us."

One such partnership led to the creation of a vending machine -- which dispenses computer accessories instead of snacks -- and is now a regular fixture in Facebook's offices. "We now have great operational efficiency through our help desk because we do not have to provide support for people who need a new keyboard or new power supply," he says.

He says Facebook reached out to international vending machine providers and told them, "Hey, we have a new idea for how to use your technology but we need you to do something you have never done before."

The system has to be tied with the company's employee directory system and back end reporting on top of this in order to track consumption. One vendor, IBM, he says, jumped at the opportunity to build this vending machine and now has a prototype which is being sold to other companies.

He says Facebook has similar projects with its other technology partners such as Salesforce and Microstrategy, and also with startups.

Campos also looks outside his industry for ideas. While Facebook gets a lot of attention because it is a high tech company and everybody uses it, there is innovation that goes on in IT organisations all over the world, he says.

"I love just seeing what other companies do. It does not have to be relevant or actionable for me in order for it to be valuable."

He cites an experience at a conference two years ago, where he met the CIO of a ski resort. "I had no idea why a ski resort would have a CIO. It didn't make any sense to me but as I listened to his story what he was doing for this ski resort, I was completely blown away."

The CIO told him about the resort's innovative use of RFID tags. "They integrate the tags into the ski passes," says Campos. "With that technology, they could track where people hang out in the resort. They now reduce operational cost by deploying staff in the areas where the customers congregate."

"At the ski lifts, they started to collect data about what their customers were doing. This gives them an idea who is a good skier, who spent time on the basic slopes and how much time they spent skiing They could use all this information to better tailor their services and their ski resort for their customers," Campos says.

The new frontier

This meeting stands out for Campos because it tackled what he says is a "core passion" -- analytics.

"Data is the new frontier," he says. "Data provides a new opportunity to return to the mid-90s, when innovative use of technology can provide significant differentiators for users."

Read about the special report on the CIO Summit: In sync with change

He says networked enterprises today already have access to tremendous amounts of data. "There are more pieces of data online today than there are grains of sand on all the beaches in the world put together."

"The ubiquity of cloud computing and connectivity has enabled us to be completely surrounded by information," he says. "It is a matter of tapping it and unlocking its potential. The data is unique to our companies, the context is there."

For CIOs, this presents an incredible opportunity to change their focus from the last 10 years of relentless drive for cost efficiencies, to creating value for the business, he says.

This perspective can be applied, for instance, in an IT support system. If a computer breaks, this incident doesn't become data until it is captured by the system in the form of a ticket. "Once it gets into a system it produces data. Now we can do stuff with it," he says. "We can start asking a whole bunch of questions," he says. "How many laptops are breaking? Who owns these laptops?

"We can look at other types of aggregates. What is the performance on fixing these issues? How many times do we exceed SLAs in addressing them?

"It gets interesting when you start generating insights that correlate data. Insights are hugely valuable. Once you have that you can then use insights to build predictive models."

Using these insights from its corporate data, Facebook has "a rough idea how much we want to grow in the next couple of years", says Campos.

So where does he see the CIO role going?

He says that for the past 10 years, "The game in IT has been everybody has got it, so make it cheaper, faster and more efficient. And to be quite frank, it has been operational and not particularly innovative."

In many companies, he says, "IT is a bad word". For instance, in some companies there is a fear of calling the help desk because it creates more problems than it solves.

He describes BYOD, for instance as "the failure of the IT department to provide the equipment that the people need".

"They basically outsourced the selection and the support and maintenance of the equipment to the employees."

"But what is happening now is the tech is becoming so commoditised you don't need the IT organisation of the past at all. The sales organisation can go to Salesforce.com, they can set it up on their own, they don't need an IT organisation. The finance organisation can approach NetSuite and they can go build an ERP in a few days and they don't need an IT organisation.

"The HR organisation can go to Workday and they can get everything that they need there."

But someone has to look at data across the system and how it is going to come together in order to be able to address strategic business decisions. "The one role in the organisation that knows how to take advantage of that is the CIO, the head of IT," says Campos. "That is what the next generation CIOs are going to have to deal with. They have to be a lot more information focused, more data focused, less operationally focused."

"It is going to create opportunities for all of us but it is also going to be very different from what the head of IT has needed to be in the past," he says.

Differentiators

Campos says there is one distinct trait of CIOs -- which may not be true for other members of the executive suite. "One of the real benefits of being a leader in IT is that the function is typically more open to sharing than other functions of like capabilities," he says.

"CFOs can't go and share best practices on sales forecasting or accounting practices, VPs of engineering are not able to share their secret sauce."

"IT organisations are typically more open because we are all getting different flavours of the same things," says Campos. "We are all using Oracle, Microsoft and Salesforce but the innovation is in the application of the technology, not the technology itself."

He likewise believes the position delivers an advantage for those aiming to become CEOs. "One of the benefits of the CIO role is you understand all aspects of the company," he says. "CIOs that are best aligned with the business have this opportunity" to progress to the top role.

Campos is an advocate of continuous education. "Most of us spend the first 20 to 22 years of our life in an educational setting and then we go off into our careers and think we have done with college and will never have to go back," he says. "That is not growth."

He says it is useful, particularly for those who are midway in their career, to take a step back and consider taking up an activity that they want but are not sure they need. "It opens up new doors and allows you to start to see the role in a different light."

Campos says this happened to him when he enrolled in his MBA. "I learned a lot about global macro-economics. I learned about technology strategy not from a technical perspective but how you take the strategy into the technology industry."

"I wouldn't trade for a moment my education, I think it helps me everyday," he says but will not go so far as saying that having those three extra letters is the way one can achieve this. "It could be working in the business itself."

"A formal study of business is actually very valuable for IT roles because IT is really the confluence of business and technology and you have to understand both.

Campos completed his MBA while working as a CIO -- and has practical insights on how to achieve this balancing act.

"It is a combination of prioritisation and time," he says. "The first thing is, do you have time or not? The reality is, we all have the exact same 24 hours. It is what we use to do with that time that matters and we tend to focus on things that are most important.

"When people say that they don't have time for something, what they are really saying is that it is not that important to me."

For Campos, having a deep leadership bench is also critical. "It is incumbent on leaders to put a strong staff underneath them so they are not required to do everything," he says. "That does afford the head of a function to be able to spend less time on things that are urgent but are not necessarily important because they have staff to handle it."

A farewell to legacy

Campos has seen his team grow from around 65 to a hundred in the two years he has joined Facebook. "We are bigger, but roughly the same size in the percentage of the company."

He says it could even be a bit smaller because of their outsourcing arrangement. "We are about 100 people in addition to that 300 full-time employees with our outsourcing agencies like help desk and application support team.

The team is "leveraged, very efficient," he says. "This is an organisation that gets a lot done for every dollar that we got."

He says another area Facebook has improved are the relationships between the business and technical functions of the company. "It is a little bit hard to see where IT stops," he says.

So what are the upsides of being CIO of the largest social network?

"It is pretty obvious," he says. "You get to build the system from scratch; you are not dealing with legacy.

"We move pretty fast in support of what Facebook needs of us because we don't have to think about rebuilding stuff as much as an IT organisation."

"The proof is in the future," he says. "For us the systems are working great today, but how they evolve, how they keep pace with Facebook's scale is the biggest challenge."

His message to IT leaders? "Keep innovating," he says. "This is what keeps us employed, that is what drives more value for our businesses. Every day that we come up with new ways to solve existing problems or the problems that we don't know yet about, those are the best days of my job."

So how is it like working with Mark Zuckerberg? "He is wise beyond his years...a tremendous leader," says Campos of the 28-year old CEO of Facebook.

"Absolutely, the case of Facebook is here not by accident but by the conscious, deliberate collection of decisions that Mark and the people he chose to surround himself with have made."

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