CIO Spotlight: Cynthia Stoddard, Adobe

What roles or skills are you finding the most difficult to fill? "There is a war on talent today for data analytics, AI and machine learning expertise.

Name: Cynthia Stoddard

Company: Adobe Inc.

Job title: CIO and Senior Vice President

Date started current role: June 2016

Location: San Jose, California

As senior vice president and chief information officer of Adobe, Cynthia Stoddard oversees Adobe's global Information Technology and Cloud Operations teams. In her leadership role, Stoddard spearheads a global strategy for delivering services and operations that form the mission-critical backbone for the company. She has 25-plus years of business experience and IT expertise leading large global organisations including Adobe, Netapp, Safeway, and APL Limited in supply chain, retail, and technology development. Stoddard is a recipient of the CIO 100 Award in 2017 and 2018 for Adobe IT's innovative ways to deliver business value. 

What was your first job? My very first job was in high school as a scooper at Friendly's Ice cream.  This experience was the launching pad for developing my customer service skills.  It also was the beginning of my love for pistachio ice cream. 

Did you always want to work in IT? When I launched my career in my early twenties, I by no means set out to be a CIO.  I am a self-proclaimed math nerd and was trained as an accountant, so I knew from early-on that numbers and metrics would play a big part in my career choices.  I was intrigued with, what was called ‘data processing' years ago, and I never looked back. 

The power of technology to improve efficiency and business practices is what first captured my attention in the IT world and my passion for technology has only increased over the years.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from Western New England University and an MBA from Marylhurst University.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Most fulfilling career journeys are not scripted or orchestrated.  They are dynamic and fluid and always evolving. 

I explain my career journey as a mix of ambition, education and opportunity. 

My 25-year career in IT has spanned various industries including insurance, transportation, retail and high-tech; as well as positions from programmer trainee to head of IT.  As the enterprise landscape has transformed, new opportunities and careers have emerged.  Because I am a life-long learner, and open and receptive to new challenges, I have been able to propel my career by building upon my experiences at different companies across different industries including:  APL Limited, Safeway, NetApp, and now Adobe. I think of my journey as a Wikipedia of experiences that I am continually enriching. 

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? On the business side, we are continually investing in data and analytics to drive our data-driven enterprise.  We have established a data driven operating model - we call DDOM - to operate and run the business, and deliver personalised customer experiences.  It's our data strategy playbook that encompasses standardised KPIs across the customer journey, process for taking action on KPIs, discrete owners and accountability, and a unified data architecture.  Our DDOM is grounded in four key tenets including commonality of data, consistent measurement, actionable insights, and data governance.  We applied this new operating model to key areas of Adobe's business in 2018 and have seen great momentum.  As we move forward, we are continuing to learn from our experiences to improve the operating model and expand it to new areas of Adobe's business.

On the technology side, advances in AI and machine learning have the power to help identify and fix issues and outages across systems without human intervention. At Adobe, we believe the "Healing as a Service" approach will become a business imperative.  Self-healing platforms are capable of identifying and fixing operational issues automatically, before they cause full-scale systems failures.  As our platform matures, we are scaling it to handle event driven automation and applying it to different parts of our operations infrastructure.  I truly believed machine learning and AI will take IT on the next wave of driving value for the business. 

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? My top priorities span across four business outcome areas:  drive operations excellence, drive customer success (both end-user and employees), enable customer insights and engagement, and advance our business platform.  My team and I have key initiatives in each of these focus areas that enable the business to evolve and scale. 

Among them is my role in integrating technology systems and solutions from key acquisitions Adobe has made over the last year including Magento, Marketo and Allegorithmic. My team and I are responsible for on-boarding the new employees and ensuring our acquisition companies' infrastructures are seamlessly integrated into Adobe's ecosystem.  Our strategic acquisitions strengthen Adobe's business and enable us to deliver more capabilities to our customers.  Given the importance of integrating these solutions and capabilities into our portfolio, this is one of the top priorities for our CEO.    

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? In the cloud environment, it's important for CIO's to have leadership or influence over cloud operations because operational excellence is a key differentiator for successful cloud-based businesses.  Customer-centric attributes including continuous uptime, reliability, and ease of use are all table stakes in the cloud service market.  To be competitive, enterprises must elevate their approach to bolster reliability and scalability with 4 9s across platforms and services, while managing costs.  It's a challenge -- one that the CIO is well-positioned to solve given experiences managing large scale, mission-critical infrastructure to run the business. 

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Adobe initiated its digital transformation in 2012 by shifting from a boxed-software business to a cloud-based subscription model.  Because transformation is an evolution, we are still on the journey focusing on digital optimisation.  This requires us to be laser-focused on the customer experience, while shifting our operating model to be aligned to the business and driving business scale with efficiency.

To enable stand-out customer experiences, which leads to revenue growth, we are executing a data driven operating model across the customer journey, as mentioned above.  This enables us to understand the customer opportunities and pain points along their journey - from discover, try, buy, use, renew - and personalize their experiences at every step.  Having a holistic view of the customer journey is key to improving experiences. 

Our DDOM is also enabling operational efficiency by unlocking and democratising big data at scale.  We are bringing together data across the entire organisation into a unified data architecture - including experience, product, and ERP data - to provide a single source of truth.  With our operating model, we are able to more effectively run our digital business with actionable insights and a real-time dashboard that facilitates weekly and quarterly business reviews. 

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Some say I'm a bit obsessed with data and metrics.  But I really feel strongly about having clear KPIs to measure progress and success of programs and initiatives.  It is critical for IT and the business to first align their goals in order to drive common performance objectives.  When establishing KPIs, its important that they drive the desired business outcomes, are targeted to meet the needs of specific audiences and/or personas, are focused on key decision areas, and are actionable to effect real change.  Additionally, people have to understand the KPIs, and they have to understand how they can affect them, all the way down from the management layer to the individual contributor.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? When leading a large, global team, its important to establish a strong identity and purpose that defines your team's culture and values.  The team's purpose is the north star that guides and unifies people and ensures alignment, focus and efficiency.  A team purpose is defined by what they do, how they show up, and their secret sauce.  With this in place, team members understand how they are contributing to the corporate priorities and making an impact.  To continue to cultivate our purpose and the associated behaviors, we have a quarterly peer nominated awards program, where we recognise people and teams who are exemplifying our purpose. 

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? There is a war on talent today for data analytics, AI and machine learning expertise.  These are areas that will take IT on the next wave of driving value for the business.  IT leaders need to cultivate these skill sets internally with their teams, as well as bring in outside expertise.  Because all enterprises across verticals are looking to build out teams with this expertise, its extremely competitive to find good people. 

What's the best career advice you ever received? Don't be a mushroom… don't be in the dark.   As I was emerging as a leader in IT, one of my mentors gave me this advice.  His point was, as a leader you need to be extremely connected to the business and your team.  You need to have your finger on the pulse of business opportunities and challenges as well as what is motivating and de-motivating your team.  In other words, to be a strong leader, you need to be very perceptive to both the business needs and the morale of your team.    

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. All leaders, regardless of leveling and experience, have opportunities to expand their knowledge.  Even the most senior leaders need to think about how to continue to learn new aspect of the business and get out of their comfort zones.  And managers need to take an active role in facilitating this.  I work closely with my staff to provide opportunities across the various disciplines of IT; help them cross pollinate their experience.  This well-rounded experience enables them to make a broader impact and advance their careers.    

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Evolve with the business.  Change is constant in the digital era so IT leaders need to constantly think about how they will evolve their skill sets and focus to drive impact.   They need to constantly look around the corner to stay abreast of emerging technology trends and experiment to demonstrate how innovative tech can be powerful business enablers.    

What has been your greatest career achievement? My greatest achievement is fostering and mentoring people in technology roles.  

Over the years, a number of my team members have gone on to be CIOs - and this makes me so proud. 

I also take an active role in inspiring young women to pursue careers in STEAM.  Given my experiences, I am in a strong position to foster women in leadership and help girls understand how careers in STEAM are very rewarding.   I have developed a partnership with the Townley Grammar School in the UK, dedicated to mentoring young girls to pursue fulfilling careers.  Girls from grades 9 - 11 have visited me at both NetApp and Adobe and learned about roles within technology companies and how they can make an impact.  I have also been involved with Girls Who Code  and have served as a role model for high school students exploring careers in computer science.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Build relationships sooner. I had a mentor who said, "go bond with your business users," and this was a real pivot point in moving forward in my career. I consistently tell my team members and aspiring leaders that relationships are their biggest assets.  Building strong relationships across the business establishes trust and credibility and puts you in a stronger position to make an impact, quicker. 

What are you reading now? I belong to a book club. We just finished reading Warrior of the Light and current book is "The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle".

Most people don't know that I… I am a founding member of Impact100 East Bay, whose mission is to unite women in our community around a common cause. Our goal is to collectively raise funds to support the unmet needs in East Bay, CA - where I live - as well as raise the profile of deserving but lesser known organisations. I feel privileged to be able to collaborate with strong female leaders who are taking action to improve the community we live in.

In my spare time, I like to…Sew costumes. My grandmother, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, was a very talented seamstress. She took apart her sewing machine and smuggled it through immigration. Through her I developed a passion for sewing costumes for my daughters and grandchildren.

Ask me to do anything but… to touch a spider.