By Peter High, published on Forbes
Keith Collins has been with SAS Institute for most of the time it has been in existence. He rose through the ranks to be an early leader of research and development, and was a long time chief technology officer of the company. As such he became a leading influencer, not only at SAS, but more generally in the emerging field of what would be known later as big data and analytics. This was a field that SAS founder Jim Goodnight pioneered.
Across Collins’ time in SAS, he has taken on new responsibilities roughly every half decade. When he helped lead the search for a new chief information officer for the company a little less than four years ago, he realized that the challenges and opportunities present in that role would be an interesting step in his career journey. Since taking on those responsibilities, Collins has helped IT become a driver of revenue and efficiency-centric value, helped develop a mentality on his team of being “customer zero” to the company, and led a major shift to the cloud, all of which we cover in depth in this interview.
Peter High: Keith, you have been the Chief Information Officer at SAS for three and a half years, though you have been with the organization for thirty-three years. Before becoming CIO, you were the CTO, and you have run R&D within the organization. How did those roles color your experience as a CIO?
Keith Collins: I am of this new generation of CIO that comes from the line of business. My perspective is not understanding the business of IT. I came into it knowing the business of SAS. Running R&D has a strong technology bent, but it was about the business of SAS not running SAS from a technology standpoint.
High: There are a lot of CIOs and a lot of IT teams that have a distance from where value is created for the enterprise. One of the significant advantages you have from leading a line of business is that you were deeply enmeshed in the products that the organization offers. How have you oriented IT towards how the company develops value for its customers?
Collins: When I was CTO, we always wanted to make sure that we were first movers with SAS products. The CIO reported to me. When she retired, I interviewed CIO candidates. I have a habit of changing roles every four or five years. I started to realize that being CIO was something I had not done. I got a chance to hire myself and fire myself. It was a fantastic journey. I brought knowledge of our customers to the team, how to integrate the customer, and how to work with the different business units. What I bring to the team is that connection. What they bring is their expertise about bringing IT value to that connection.
High: The big challenge for a lot of IT organizations within companies where technology is the business, is finding some form of unique value that can be contributed. There is a joke that in a technology company, everyone believes they can do the CIO’s job better than he or she can. How do you think IT organizations within a technology company can contribute that unique value?
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