By Peter High, published on Forbes
Kumud Kalia has been a CIO multiple times over, at Direct Energy, at Qwest Communications, and at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein. For nearly six years, he has been the CIO of Akamai Technologies a $2.3 billion global content delivery network services firm. Kalia is responsible for leading the strategy, development, and operation of the applications and infrastructure that support the company’s business operations. As a CIO leading IT at a technology company, in some cases, his team provides guidance of CIO needs and validate the value of the products the company has in development. Moreover, he and his colleagues in IT have developed internal solutions that can be adopted by the end- customer.
Among other areas, Kalia attributes his success to developing a culture that embraces expansive thinking and that is agile in its mentality and its approach. Both have been essential as the company has grown tremendously during his tenure, and its needs and demands for IT’s services are different and far greater than they were six years ago. We cover all of the above and more in this interview.
Peter High: Kumud, you have been the Chief Information Officer at Akamai Technologies for five and a half years. Please describe Akamai’s business and your role as chief information officer.
Kumud Kalia: Akamai has been at the heart of the internet for the past 20 years. Companies that do a lot of internet-based, commercial business use our services to distribute content over the internet. For example, media and e-commerce companies depend on Akamai to run and scale their businesses. We store our customers’ content on our global network of servers that we position geographically close to their end-users. The online experience that the end-user has is the fastest and richest possible because our servers remove latency caused by distance and congestion on the internet. In effect, we speed up the internet by overcoming its natural limitations.
As the CIO of a technology company with many technology-savvy employees, I work with a tough crowd. There are at least 2,000 people in the company who think they can do my job better than I can. There are advantages, of course. Being technologically-aware makes my colleagues more willing to experiment. They also provide critical feedback on technology that we are considering and are adept at debugging my solutions. However, even technology people can be reluctant to embrace new solutions. Engineers tend to consume products that have been built by themselves or by someone they know, and then develop a tribal allegiance to that solution. This challenge is similar to what many enterprise CIOs find with their end-users. I have much in common with CIOs of other enterprises, but I have some natural advantages that come from being in a tech-savvy user community.
High: In our previous conversations, you have said that a CIO and his or her team should foster business agility. IT should not gum up the operation, but rather, as the organization identifies new opportunities to seize, IT should be an accelerator. When you joined Akamai, it was roughly half the size it is now. Presumably, it has plans to continue to grow. How do you think about agility in a fast-growing company?