CIO Spotlight: Sharon Mandell, TIBCO Software

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? "In 2020, we will be focusing on modernising our company through the use of data and analytics."

Name: Sharon Mandell

Company: TIBCO Software

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: July 2018

Location: Palo Alto, CA

As the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at TIBCO, Sharon Mandell steers the company's IT footprint. She provides global communications, computing, and security infrastructure that drives TIBCO's internal business operations. With more than 20 years of industry experience, Mandell helps TIBCO meet the needs of the modern enterprise by creating real business value from within. Prior to joining TIBCO, she was most recently a partner at StrataFusion and CIO at Harmonic.


What was your first job? My first full-time role was as a software developer at Rabbit Software, a Malvern, Pennsylvania based start-up that created connectivity software for non-IBM systems to communicate with mainframes. 

Did you always want to work in IT? No, I was trained to be a professional ballet dancer, so becoming a technologist was a bit of a departure.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I hold a BA in Computer Science from Temple University and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. In between earning my BA and MBA, I participated in the Computer Science Master's Program at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I started my career in product development. I had a role in technical support, which wasn't for me because I wasn't allowed to be hands on and fix product-specific problems. Later on, I co-founded a small software company with my ex-husband. During this period, I wound up toggling between CTO and CIO roles in the media industry or vendors that served it. I found out through my career that I really like having a front row seat at the table to be able to learn how larger enterprises work. TIBCO is the perfect place for me to have landed because it allows me to feed both sides of that equation, being a product company that sells software to people in my role.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? In 2020, we will be focusing on modernising our company through the use of data and analytics, which ultimately will become our AI foundation. We will also continue to strengthen collaboration amongst our employees, partners, and customers - to deepen our relationships with them and help solve the world's toughest data challenges.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? TIBCO's CEO and executive team are thinking about how we can improve customer experience and satisfaction, as well as how we support a truly modern workplace experience - whether that's in an office or as a remote worker. TIBCO is a global company that will leverage top talent whether those people who are located where we have a physical presence or are working from home or in a shared workspace environment. I hope to use the latest generations of our products - for example, the TIBCO Connected Intelligence Cloud - to support those initiatives, combined with the expertise of our key vendor partners.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? Trying to pin down a consistent definition of the CIO role is hard to do. I think it changes and morphs with company size and complexity, the nature of the industry or products a company delivers, and with the person sitting in the chair. The demise of the role has been predicted for a long time and we see new titles cropping up all the time. However, in the end the CIO and his or her team should be providing the best cross functional experiences for the customers, partners, and employees of an enterprise. When they don't or can't - for whatever reason - that work still needs to be done and might wind up living under some other department that doesn't have the IT label.

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? It's always both, unless perhaps your business is in hyper growth mode. I believe if you're doing it right, as you make changes to improve customer experience and drive revenue growth, you're simultaneously driving the efficiencies to help fund at least part of the investment in the future.

I'm in the software business, which is a bit inherently digital. That being said, we have processes and practices that are changing because the way our customers and partners want to engage with us and our products are changing. As we, through our products, help lead our customers along their digital transformation journey, we both learn from and are pushed by them in our own right. At TIBCO, I get the benefit of watching and learning from some of the best CIOs out there.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? As a global business, TIBCO has a high level of digital maturity. To quantify the value of IT, I have established a roadmap that's been shared and reviewed with our Board. There's little on that agenda that doesn't contribute to continuous progress on our digital maturity. I have a quarterly business review with the chief operating officer that includes a series of metrics or KPIs we report on, as well as progress on that roadmap. At the beginning of each quarter my leadership team develops a set of short-term goals that drive that progress. Those shorter-term objectives allow us to connect the day to day work of each employee in IT to the goals we've share with the Board.

Customer Experience is also a large focus for the team. As the CIO, I want to know if our customers think we're listening and contributing value to their digital transformation process. Right now, that is largely measured anecdotally. However, we are using NPS to measure customer satisfaction outside the company and we're looking to find out if some version of that can work for IT as well as internal operations.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? A good culture fit is all about being a team player and remaining focused on business outcomes and the goals of the company either before or alongside one's personal goals. Not measuring one's self-worth or success by the technology feat delivered, but by the business value and success delivered to the customers, either inside or outside the company. I cultivate it by trying to get my team to be empathetic for the users of what we deliver and not so focused on risk that it becomes a straitjacket.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Any role that's not focused on specific technology delivery skill, but those that require an understanding the of business, strong communications capability, and creative problem solving and negotiation skills; those on the front lines being confronted with problems that lack easy answers, but the needs of the business demand one anyway.

What's the best career advice you ever received? These came from different sources and at different points in my life, but first - don't ever take a role for money or title alone, but because you've got passion about it - and, second - only consider roles that have some challenge you haven't faced before or technical aspect that's on the early side of the adoption curve.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. I think I'm "done" with my job when I look around and the team doesn't really need me anymore to make day to day decisions, but maybe just course correction. I'm always trying to reach a point where my contribution on that front is rendered largely obsolete. I always tell my team that if they aren't doing that, how can they expect to be moved on to their next challenge without leaving a gap? So, yes, succession planning has been in my thoughts as I've been building the team at TIBCO.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Work hard, don't get comfortable with how things look today - because they won't look that way tomorrow. Focus on the business and surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are.

What has been your greatest career achievement? My "proud Mom" moments in my career are when people who've worked for me have gone on to equally or more impressive roles/achievements than I have reached myself. No technology you deliver will last long enough for that to be one's greatest achievement.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Looking back, I would have been less afraid to ask more of the questions I thought I might embarrass myself with.

What are you reading now? I'm always reading several things in parallel. Right now, "Radical Focus (Wodtke)," "Choosing Leadership (Ginzel)," "This One is Mine (Semple)", the latest issue of the New Yorker, and the latest article my daughter is working on.

Most people don't know that I… would like to run a business again someday.

In my spare time, I like to…go to the ballet, ride my Pegoretti bicycle, see the Sharks play hockey, cook, drink wine with family and friends, and spend time with my daughter.

Ask me to do anything but… sit still for too long.

Related: