Innovation and large-scale IT, with Mark Sunday, CIO, Oracle

Mark Sunday, Oracle CIO, discusses how the rise of digital technologies are creating opportunities for CIOs to assert new importance in the enterprise.

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In this CXO Talk interview Oracle CIO Mark Sunday discusses the role of IT, the relationship with the business and the impact of digital transformation on IT. He also shares his connection with customers and how he oversees the technical integration when Oracle acquires a new company.

Watch the video and read the complete transcript of the broadcast.

Michael:          (00:04) Innovation and one of the largest technology organizations on the face of the planet. That is our topic today on episode number 114 of CXO-Talk. I am Michael Krigsman and I am here with my co-host, for whom there are no superlatives that can describe him, Vala Afshar. Hey Vala.

Vala:               (00:31) Michael, happy to be here. I am super excited to learn from Mark Sunday, CIO of Oracle and really happy to have you with us today Mark.

Mark:              (00:46) I’m happy to be here.

Michael:         (00:49) Go ahead Vala, after we have been doing this how many episodes 300, 400, will be figured out some sort of signal or something where we don’t coordinate the hangups.

Vala:               (01:04) The beauty of this show is that it’s clearly not rehearsed.

Michael:         (01:09) It’s definitely not rehearsed.

Vala:               (01:10) Mark would you kindly share with our audience a little bit about yourself and your background and then a little bit about Oracle, size and scope and your responsibilities

Mark:              (01:21) So just a quick technical thing, and I know these technical things come up all the time, but I’m hearing a delay. I’m hearing the broadcast seconds later in my headset.

Michael:         (01:39) Make sure that you don’t have our website open in your browser, make sure you don’t have the episode open in your browser.

Mark:              (02:25) Is that better? Sorry about that.

Michael:         (02:30) I’ll tell you a story about that. A few weeks ago we had a guest and I had the episode open in my browser, and just at the moment of where I was about to introduce the guest, it started playing back in a delayed form in my ear and I was totally flummoxed. It was just at that moment I looked down at my computer to figure out what’s going on and it looked like I didn’t know who the guest was. So I know that nobody would ever believe that it just happened at that instant but anyway, Mark tell us about your role and Oracle, and the size and scope of Oracle. Give us some context of what you do.

Mark:              (03:11) Absolutely, so I have been the CIO here at Oracle for now over nine years and when I joined I came in as the CIO of Siebel and we were I don’t know roughly 50,000 end users and over 10 billion in annual sales. Now here we are nine years later and I’m approaching 140,000 end users in roughly 100 countries and $40+ million in sales. So a pretty large operation and I’ve had this global role of providing the infrastructure to enable all new uses and lines of business now for quite some time and it’s an exciting ride.

Vala:               (03:53) So during that nine years Mark, you had the privilege to witness lots of changes in IT at a large scale, and growing scale. Can you talk a little bit about how IT is changing, and advice for your peers and colleagues?

Mark:              (04:12) Yeah, I’ve been doing this for nearly 40 years, since I was a sophomore at Michigan and I got my first IT job and I have been doing it literally ever since, and it’s changed absolutely dramatically. I mean we all know that cloud, mobile, social, big data, consumerization of IT have literally led to the whole digital transformation, and we’ve experienced that absolutely first hand with the size and growth. And even where our focus has been at Oracle over that time.

(04:46) For the first several decades of my career, the role of being an IT leader and the role of being a CIO was all about who would integrate these things that we either built or bought or had been around forever. And our job was then integrating all this stuff against long-term plans and then operating it.

(05:09) And really what the role of a leading IT organization is now is to no longer focus so much on integrating and operate, but to really transform themselves to driving more business value by innovating and orchestrating across a wide variety of services.

(05:26) So while Oracle is a provider of cloud services, we are quite frankly an international customer of that, so we are no different than many other organizations, and we’ve seen this big transformation – again leveraging these technologies which is causing huge business changes and then IT needs to be put into position to be able to respond to that.

Michael:         (05:51) So historically IT has focused on issues such as security, integration and governance. But you just described a set of changes that are forcing IT out of that historical role. And you’ve seen that during these nine years at Oracle, so how do you manage to get IT to adapt, especially on such a large scale environment as yours.

Mark:              (06:21) First of all let me set some time. When I think about the role of IT, I certainly think Oracle, but I think this is true across IT organizations in any company, that first of all it begins with driving the overall productivity. And I’m using the big productivity and that is the value that organizations are able to drive, and that’s at the line of business, functioning and individual employee.

(06:48) And so, one of the key goals is how do we add as much value to not only the lines, business and functions but actually to each individual employee. And then that’s balanced against risk, and in our mind that’s not only security but also privacy, business continuity, compliance as well as all the threats.

(07:10) And then the third thing that we got going is continuing to do what we do and do it better. You know, drive efficiencies, drive operational excellence, and make it more agile. So it’s the balancing between driving value for the business, doing so while managing an acceptable level of risk, and continuing to make the investment and bettering ourselves and those are the three things that need to balance, across potentially, I think all IT organizations.

(07:42) So we have really a fourth dimension that we are very active in, and that is I’ve set the goal of first of all being the biggest influencer of Oracle technology. You know if you look at the broader IT community, my team and others at IT services directly in line with our businesses, we are by far the broadest implementation of Oracle technologies anywhere, and also have the largest scale in many ways.

(08:12) The second thing is being the first adopter, you know really embracing this technology long before in many cases that the lights stay on. You know being involved hand in glove with the product development teams, and we look at what products should and could do – not only from the capability, but how do we make the scale reliable? How easy is this to maintain? And quite frankly we have 140,000 internal guinea pigs for us to be able to explore new things.

(08:45) And then lastly doing what I’m kind of doing now is by being the best promoter as to what we do. So when we look at what we’re doing of course we have the mission of security and reliably by providing the infrastructure and operational services our company requires, but on a much larger sense it’s what can we do to drive value, manage risk and really in that other role that my team fully embraces is, what can we do along the line of helping our products teams put together the best possible products and services for helping other customers.

Vala:               (09:30) I read a Forbes article written by you where you talked about the importance of being accessible to your customers, and also accessible to your peers, you wrote in another Forbes article about BFF, being a best friend and with different lines of business, whether it’s marketing CMO or finance the CFO. Can you talk a little bit about your role as the CIO and how you make yourself accessible – not only to Oracle external customers, but your internal customers like marketing, financing, engineering, supply chain and so on and so forth.

Mark:              (10:07) Okay, so first of all let me start internally. Fundamentally how my team is structured is embedding key senior level folks with each of our what we call strategic stakeholders. It could be an important function like marketing or finance, it could be a line of business like our cloud services. You know which is embedded to us so we really understand what are their goals, strategies, impersonations and what are we doing for them.

(10:43) And one of the key things that we do is also assess how much are they taking advantage of the services that we offer. And so that kind of thing is what allows us to really you know help ensure that were driving value. And in fact the people that play this role within my team, how they are measured is what is the cumulative value derived by the stakeholder in which they represent. And so that’s by us making stuff better for them and new services and new products, but it can be just by extending the adoption.

(11:21) And then the rest of the organization is aligned to drive services across that. So on one hand we have stakeholders in one dimension but (on the flipside) to that I have folks that are responsible for each of the services we offer. Then our global team is spread across 50 organizations that takes advantage of our mantra of simplify, standardize and centralize to then enhance these services that we use across the entire company.

(11:59) Externally though, I am very active in working with our customers. First of all my absolute favorite part of my job is the opportunity to go up and learn about entire businesses I didn’t know existed. So I go up and meet with our customers and learn about the businesses. Learn about their business strategies, their business outcomes they’re trying to achieve, and by the way how they’re employing technology. Even culturally, how they’re structured and how they deal with some of the challenges that they have.

(12:35) Then extending beyond that, I’m the executive sponsor like other executives at Oracle for just a small number of our most strategic customers. So for example General Motors, Dow Chemical’s, Capital One are customers where I take the executive sponsor role and really get to meet with them frequently and understand their business opportunities and the business challenges.

(13:03) Beyond that, one of my sweet spots is a forum where we do CIO roundtables we’re engaged with you know 15 to 20 folks and have a really active dialog where we all learn from each other. But then of course to large big events and certainly not as flippant as (Yola? 13:24) but involved with from time to time doing various articles and videos and so forth, all about kind of sharing what I’ve learned on this journey.

(13:38) And interestingly enough a relatively small amount of what I often talk to our customers and larger forums about it less about technology and more about leading a global enterprise that’s moving very very rapidly.

Michael:         (13:56) So this is a very unusual role for a CIO to have, being the executive sponsor for extremely large or significant or strategic accounts.        

Mark:              (14:12) Not very many CIOs in the whole scheme of things, they are selling products to customers which technology is an integral part. You know we happened to be the largest consumer in breadth of products of Oracle products, and also we’re a company that operates globally. We operate at a large scale. We’ve done, just under my watch over 100 acquisitions, so a lot of these things are you know public areas that companies are very interested in.

(14:48) We went through a transition beginning of 1998 to truly globalize our organizations, globalize our business processes, put in place global scale shared service centers, where we draw a huge financial return, huge improvements in terms of our ability to execute well. And probably one of the biggest enablers is that it really positioned us as a company for all of these acquisitions assimilations that we’ve done over the last decade.

(15:28) So our customers at all levels are interested in learning not only from Oracle and how do you get the most out of Oracle technology, but also we’re an organization that they look to learn from [in terms of] how we operate.

(15:44) In fact, one of those opportunities happens next week, I’ve been asked by Terry Halvorsen the CIO for the Department of defense, which potentially is the largest CIO budget in the world (over $30 billion) as well as a number of his colleagues and the CIO from the UK as well, to come in and talk to everyone about how we run Oracle as a global multifunction, multiline of business enterprise, yet simplified, standardized and centralized, because that’s what Terry would like to accomplish across all the different effective lines of business within the DoD.

Vala:               (16:29) You have written about revising the foundational idea upon you know which IT operates, can you talk a little about what that means?

Mark:              (16:39) Well for me it goes back to what I touched on early on, that when I joined Oracle nine years ago I had an organization that was structured in some regards around line of business, and a whole team for example of over 100 folks committed to supporting an (open university) business.

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