CIO Spotlight: Tom DeSot, Digital Defense, Inc

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? "Virtualisation engineers."

Name: Tom DeSot

Company: Digital Defense, Inc.

Job title: Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: June 2010

Location: San Antonio, Texas

As CIO, Tom DeSot is charged with key industry and market regulator relationships, public speaking initiatives, key integration and service partnerships, and regulatory compliance matters. Additionally, he serves as the company's internal auditor on security-related matters. Prior to Digital Defense, DeSot was Vice President of Information Systems for a mid-tier financial institution with responsibilities including information security initiatives, the Y2K program, implementation of home banking and bill pay products, the ATM/debit card program, and all ATM networking.

What was your first job? My first "real job" was working as a teller in a now defunct Savings & Loan.

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes! Ever since high school.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I hold both a Bachelor's Degree and a Master's Degree.  The Master's degree is in Information Technology.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I worked for a number of years in banking operations and then finally got my big break to run an IT department at a financial institution here in San Antonio.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Put plainly, growth! Our company is growing so rapidly that sometimes it's hard to keep up.  This growth drives our investments to ensure that IT can support all of the business needs that spring up on almost a daily basis.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Corporate certifications. While we operate in a non-regulated industry, there are more and more expectations by prospects and clients that we hold a greater number of corporate certifications so that they can show them to their own auditors and examiners.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? If there is one thing that I've seen in discussions with my peers is the issue of the CIO being charged with facilities issues. In my opinion, this needs to either fall under its own division or fall under Finance since this topic typically involves large capital expenditures and is not within the bailiwick of the CIO to approve or decline. 

In organisations where it does not, I think that the CIO role should have a seat at the table in the board room.  Given that most if not all companies are driven by technology, the CIO can provide insight to the board on why certain directions are being taken and why certain decisions need to be made.

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? Yes! We balance both by making sure that operational efficiency does not interfere with customer experience. In our business, the customer always comes first. As such, the operational choices that we make must support the effort of the sales and other frontline staff that deal with the clients on a daily basis.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Yes. I provide metrics to the board on an ongoing basis so that they understand the value of the division and what it brings to the table in the way of supporting the mission of the company.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? We work in a relaxed but fast paced environment.  The entire management team, not just IT, has been charged by the CEO to ensure that employees have the tools they need to do their jobs in the most effective and efficient manner possible. At the same time, we're all about having a little fun along the way!

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Virtualisation engineers. Every company in the world is moving to virtualisation, either within their own infrastructure, the cloud, or both. Virtualisation engineers that have the skill set to work in both environments are becoming ever more needed by companies both big and small.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Ignore the people who tell you that you can't do something.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. It's something that we're always working on. Corporate fit always comes first and foremost before training is even considered.  The person needs to understand the goal and mission of the company and buy into it before they're considered for leadership roles. Our attitude is that if you find the person with the right attitude, you can train them to do almost anything.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Read. Daily. The IT environment is changing on almost a daily basis between new programming languages being developed, new technologies being introduced, and new threats on the horizon.  If you're not reading to stay abreast of all of these changes, you can quickly fall behind.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Building an environment where my team enjoys coming to work.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have sought out an IT management job long before I did.

What are you reading now? Everything. From business books, to blogs, to social media. There is so much out there that you really can't limit yourself to one source and expect to get the whole picture of what's going on in the IT ecosystem.

Most people don't know that I… Really enjoy going to motorcycle drag races (professional).

In my spare time, I like to…Did I mention that I like to read?

Ask me to do anything but… Don't ask me to get rid of my books. It's just too hard to choose.