CIO Spotlight: Alastair Pooley, Snow Software

"There is a key initiative focused on customer success happening this year and I think it comes down to us recognizing how we can help empower our customers to gain more value from the data available in Snow’s SAM platform."

Name: Alastair Pooley

Company: Snow Software

Job title: CIO

Time in current role: Since February

Location: Bracknell, UK

Education: I have an undergraduate degree in physics, but I didn’t have any IT qualifications when I started my career. When I secured my first job working for an ISP, there weren't that many people with network or internet experience, so they were willing to take a gamble on people based on sheer interest. Since then, however, I place immense importance on continuing education and have been consistently studying for new technical qualifications throughout my career. Most recently I've focused on AWS and am a certified architect and certified developer. I also completed an MBA when I moved up the management structure.

Alastair Pooley is the newly appointed CIO at Snow Software, responsible for Global IT strategy and implementation. Prior to his role at Snow, Alastair spent five years at multinational security company Sophos, where he was Vice President responsible for Global IT infrastructure, providing service to 3,300 staff globally and live services to over 100 million endpoints.

What was your first job? My first job was building computers from scratch in a local IT firm during the early 90s when we still had to assemble the components. While I was at university, I also wrote a book on how to play the computer game "Elite". It was a dream holiday job to be paid to play a computer game all summer.

Did you always want to work in IT? I was always interested in computers during my teenage years, but it wasn't until I was at university studying physics that I thought about it as a career. Back then, we would all gather together to network computers so that we could play LAN games of Doom or Descent. It wasn't easy getting the computers to talk to each other at that point and, ultimately, as I found it interesting, I decided to pursue it as a career.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I've been very lucky – no detours. My first job out of university at the ISP really caught my interest. From there, I was involved in an offshoot which became a separate company - Messagelabs - who were acquired by Symantec in 2008. I chose to stay with the managed services/ISP business until it sold Claranet in 2012, at which point I moved onto Sophos and helped grow the business, working on building its first SaaS service and running large scale infrastructure. I joined Snow at the beginning of February 2018 and am delighted to be getting started in this new role.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organization in the coming year? At Snow, we believe that Software Asset Management (SAM) has relevance beyond the traditional SAM manager as IT spending moves from the IT office into the business. Gartner predicts that by 2020 large enterprises with a digital focus will see business unit IT increase to 50 percent of enterprise IT spending.  As a result, we have committed to investing in making the data from the platform relevant and useful to more users within our customers - that’s a key initiative for us this year.

We are also investing in the public cloud, as I’m a firm believer in reaping the benefit of the flexibility and agility it offers. We'll also be looking to reduce friction in our core business processes: we’ve got some integration work to do between our systems to make them more efficient, so that the data moves more easily.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? This coming year, I've got three main priorities:

  • First, to use Snow's Automation Platform to automate core business processes internally.
  • Second, to leverage the insight from our own products to support the company's GDPR compliance.
  • Third, to use our SAM platform to gain full visibility of our use of technology across the business, which includes cloud computing usage – because even SAM providers are facing the challenge of a growing disruption gap between the business and IT office for technology purchasing!

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? CIOs are seeing a shift of budget for technology out of the IT team and into the business units, which has made owning financial control much harder. As an example, marketing (it could be any other business function) will purchase the technology that will enable it to achieve what it needs, but this makes it harder for the CIO to keep hold of the purse strings and be accountable for technology spend. Now, CIOs need to transition into the role of a consultant and influencer that works with business units to ensure they are getting the best value and not buying overlapping offerings.

Data governance is also becoming an increasingly important responsibility for the CIO, with GDPR on the immediate horizon. Ownership, insight and visibility will ultimately enable the CIO to have better discussions within the business and truly add real value.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasize customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? There is a key initiative focused on customer success happening this year and I think it comes down to us recognizing how we can help empower our customers to gain more value from the data available in Snow’s SAM platform. We also want to enable them to share knowledge and troubleshoot on Snow Globe (our Community platform), learning from each other as well as from Snow experts on how to resolve challenges. Looking at Spiceworks, it is clear that many people would like to resolve issues without going back to the supplier, so we want to help them do that.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? As a company Snow has been a firm adopter of the digital business model. We have made use of Business Intelligence Tools to help us gain insights into our customers and help us gain a better view of our customers. However it’s definitely an area with an opportunity to improve. We have some metrics in place today but I’m going to be reviewing them carefully and ensuring we can develop some real insights from them. Looking at the IT metrics – it’s a similar story where I want to make sure that I have the right dashboards in place to demonstrate the value of IT.

What does good culture fit look like in your organization? How do you cultivate it? We have a very strong view on culture at Snow – and it was ultimately one of the reasons I joined the company. Snow has six principles: be brave, all in, be empowered, drive innovation, build improvement, and deliver brilliance. These principles are cultivated at an onboarding that every member of staff has in Stockholm for a week, where we hear stories that help us understand what the company is about, where it's come from, how we want people to behave and then how to relate that back to the decisions you make.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Cybersecurity and Salesforce roles are particularly hard to hire for due to rapid growth in both areas. Salesforce CRM is critical to building relationships with customers, vital to grow the business. Security is an increasing concern with more risk of cyber crime and of course regulation, like GDPR.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Not advice per se, but I once did an exercise with my manager where we sat down with a pack of cards with different motivations written on them, where you then identify your top motivators. You continually whittle down the list down until you have just your top five. This ultimately helped me realise what I wanted from my role and enabled me to have a positive career discussion about the future. I've gone on to do the same exercise with a number of other members of staff, because it's so important to know what drives and inspires you, and that will make coming into work every morning that bit easier!

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. As I'm so new to the role, I don't currently have a succession plan. However, I do believe that it's important to have one and to invest in staff.  Beyond hiring the right people, the key is ensuring they have the training and support to grow and develop. At Snow, we have reviews every three months, so that we can ensure that development plans are properly managed and have tangible benefits.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? IT is a technical role and you can spend a lot of time thinking about how it works. However, it’s the business element – aka how you are delivering value back to the business – which is crucial for aspiring IT leaders to understand. Ultimately, tech underpins everything, so you need to understand what value you can add to each business function, rather than how clever a piece of technology is.

What has been your greatest career achievement? My greatest achievement would be the adoption and growth of Public cloud at my last company. In 2013, the CTO and I decided that we should focus on a “cloud first” strategy. I closed nine physical data centres and moved 80 percent of our customer facing Infrastructure to AWS. The business gained flexibility and an ability to grow rapidly which was critical to allowing the huge growth rates the company subsequently enjoyed, and a successful IPO.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I'd give politics and relationships more of a focus – you need to make sure that you continue investing in relationships and that they stay current. Ensuring that people are comfortable with the direction being taken; making sure that, if there are problems people know that they can come to you and discuss them; investing time in getting to know stakeholders around the business to widen your understanding of where IT fits in and how it can assist the business in reaching its goals.

 What are you reading now? It’s actually a Python textbook, I’m a big fan of automation on AWS and I have been trying to refresh my coding skills.

Most people don't know that I… Am an avid cave diver and underwater photographer

In my spare time, I like to… I am a keen traveler and enjoy new experiences, from snow shoe hiking in the Alps, to dry caving in the UK.

Ask me to do anything but… Jump off a ski slope