by Peter High, published on Forbes
Paul Chapman has been a chief information officer (among other IT leadership roles) at multiple technology-centric businesses from HP to VMWare to Sun Microsystems. When he joined Box as CIO ten months ago, he had a keen understanding of how a can play an influential role in an organization that has both depth and breadth of technology talent. First, he and his team act as the first customer of the enterprise, working with product leaders to test new products and offer comment on value. As such, he is also well positioned to be a company advocate with the CIOs and other technology executives who are Box’s customers. He also highlights the need for IT leaders to make change a source of strength rather than a source of angst. He also offers thoughts on how best to work with and motivate an IT department and a company that is largely made up of digital natives.
(To listen to an unabridged audio version of this interview, please visit this link. This is the 35th article in the CIO’s First 100 Days series. To read the prior 34 with the CIOs of companies like Ford, Intel, GE, P&G, Kaiser Permanente, and AARP, among many others, please visit this link. To read future articles in the series, please click the “Follow” link above.)
Peter High: Paul Chapman, I thought we would begin with your current role. You are the Chief Information Officer of Box, a role you have held since July of 2015. You had been with other leading technology companies—HP, VMware, Sun Microsystems before this one, to name just a few—but this was a different kind of company, certainly. In the days leading up to your ascension to this position how did you prepare- for the role?
Paul Chapman: I think whenever you are transitioning into a new organization, that organization has some history to it that puts it into its current form. As I spent time with leaders at Box and understanding Box’s positioning in the marketplace, one thing that I would call a difference in terms of transitioning from a more traditional company was that Box was born in the cloud and has grown up digital, so the footprint and the IT services and the IT landscape that you inherit in a company like Box is typically very different than most other organizations in the fact that they have avoided building up a lot of “tech debt”, a lot of legacy infrastructure, legacy operating models. Understanding the platforms that were in place in running the business of Box, and understanding that sort of “cloud first” model, was different than typically most organizations where you are somewhat having to manage your way out of that legacy environment. So it allowed me to jump in very, very quickly, look at the landscape of platforms and services that were in place. Then really the key thing was to make sure we were on leveraging those best of breed capabilities to a greater extent than we were at the time that I joined. But really, the preparation was understanding in advance what those cloud-based services and platforms were that were in place that were running the business of Box.
High: When Aaron Levie announced you were coming on board, he noted “our IT organization is free to focus on connecting best of breed solutions, creating a more agile and productive workforce in solving core problems to differentiate our business.” What are some of the ways that you think of IT as differentiating the business of Box?
Chapman: There were a few things that I quickly settled on as key themes into how IT was going to help Box, not only to scale, but also to become more data-driven and operationally more efficient, and actually to focus on enabling to a greater extent as much productivity as possible. It is all about speed and agility, but at the same time managing scalability and risk. One of the things that I noted early on as a key theme for us was ‘What is going to be our path to one billion dollars?’ As we grow in scale how are we going to get there? What I identified was that we were lacking longer range planning, a roadmap to how we were going to get to one billion dollars, how we were going to scale out and get the right resiliency, and so on, in our environment. We had invested in a lot of best of breed capabilities, but we had not necessarily leveraged them to their fullest extent. We had all the right platforms, but it was like buying a sports car and taking it to the corner store and back and not really getting it out of first gear. One of the early things that I did was focus in on understanding, from a heat map perspective and a roadmap perspective, where we need to invest time to really leverage these platforms to a much greater extent.
The second one was really around a data-driven enterprise. I found that we were not as data-driven as I would have liked to have seen us, and so we spent a lot of time in the environment looking at how we provide better insights, better analytical capabilities, to make better informed decisions.