CIO Spotlight: Milind Wagle, Equinix

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? "... They need to be hungry, humble, and smart."

Name: Milind Wagle

Company: Equinix

Job title: ExecutiveVice President, Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: September 2016

Location: Redwood City, California

Milind Wagle joined Equinix in April 2010 and serves as the Senior Vice President and Global Chief Information Officer at Equinix. Wagle leads the global IT team and oversees service delivery for information security, infrastructure and operations, business analytics and all enterprise applications for the company. Prior to Equinix, he held various IT leadership positions at VeriSign, most recently managing global IT applications for the company.


What was your first job? My first job out of college was to work as software engineer for a company called Tata Interactive Systems. I did two types of software development work there. One was to build computer-based cleaning simulators for field furnaces. And the second thing, which was more interesting, was to build games for children in the age group of four to six. I was helping them basically learn their ABCs and get better with math and counting.

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes, I always wanted to work with computers. From a very early age I was fascinated with computers. I was probably 10 or 11 years old when I watched a show on TV called "The Computer Program." It was a BBC documentary on the first generation of computers. It fascinated me to a point where I just wanted to be around computers all the time. My dad used to be a computer programmer, so he used to take me to his work and show me mainframe computers which fascinated me. I watched him program growing up and he was an inspiration. Although my engineering degree is in electronics, my electives were always computer science subjects. So, I steered my career towards computers because I had a deep fascination.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I hold a Bachelor of Engineering, a BE as they call it in India, in Electronics Engineering from the University of Mumbai. In addition, I have a post-graduate diploma in software technology from a reputable institute in India called the National Center for Software Technology.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I always knew that I wanted to be doing cool work that solved business problems using computers. After I graduated, I worked in India in that company building games and simulators. Later, I applied for a job in the United States in the mid-90s and came to Wall Street to build banking software.

After that I spent a big chunk of my career in consulting, starting with Cambridge Technology Partners and then later with KPMG. The consulting experience was very valuable for me because it gave me exposure to all kinds of corporate environments. Different type of business challenges, different kinds of technologies. The job took me to several countries all over the globe. It gave me a breadth and depth of experience that I would not have acquired if I had been working for a single company. The consulting experience was very rich for me. It also gave me development opportunities. It taught me how to work with people, build relationships, and manage teams. I had never been a people manager before consulting there. I became a people manager for the first time. KPMG and Cambridge both invested in helping me become a people manager.

After consulting, I ended up doing eight years at VeriSign. During that time, I assumed jobs of increasing scope and responsibility. I ended up running the Global IT Applications organisation under the CIO until I joined Equinix. I started my career at Equinix initially starting as the head of Global IT Applications. And then a couple of years into that I led one of the largest transformation programs called Equinix Customer One (ECO) that the company had sponsored. That actually helped propel my career to become the CIO, a position I've held for the last three years.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? There are four big business or technology initiatives that we will embark on from an IT transformation standpoint. Number one is cyber security, which means investing in cyber security transformation to further secure our cyber posture and take cyber security to the next level. The second is quote-to-cash transformation, so refreshing our business process systems and decision rights in the quote-to-cash process domain… to help us scale and become a 7-10 billion-dollar company. The third initiative is cloud transformation, taking our infrastructure and looking at the long-term strategy to move that infrastructure to the cloud, both for enabling scale, agility, and long-term cost savings. The fourth one involves analytics and data science transformation. That is to just provide better business insights, customer insights, operational insights for all workers in our company…all the way from the frontline agents who support customers, to salespeople, to the executive team that has to make strategic business decisions for our company.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? The CEO's top priorities are aligned with the top four that I described. I view technology as just an enabler to a business strategy… so working with the business teams, establishing relationships, partnering with them to figure out what pain points they're trying to solve. Or where are they taking their respective organisations and evolving them? And figuring out how to collaborate with them to make it happen.

We have this two-in-a-box concept at Equinix where every transformational initiative on every project gets a business and an IT owner assigned to them. My goal is to do this across the board. I work with my peers in E-Staff (c-level executive team) on establishing business priorities. Across all levels of the organisation, we have business IT partnerships defined in this two-in-a-box model to execute against several of our priorities.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The role of the CIO has definitely evolved. Now, CIOs are viewed as business leaders, not just technology leaders. As every company becomes a technology company in some respect, CIOs are expected to enable business strategy and come up with ideas to either create new revenue streams for the company, create new models for engaging customers and partners, and to drive scale and efficiency within the organisation. CIOs definitely need to have a seat at the CEO's table, along with other peers of the organisation.

Business process ownership is sometimes fragmented in various organisations. I think the business process and the technology teams need to live closely to each other. The CIO's role is definitely not just about enabling a strategy that's defined by the business organisations. It's definitely not an order-taking role anymore. You're almost leading the business, influencing the business. So, I can't think of anything that should not be part of a CIO's role from a conventional standpoint. It's the same scope but with a different expectation.

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? As mentioned earlier, I did lead the last large massive business transformation, Equinix Customer One (ECO) which began in late 2011 and went live in 2014. ECO had three objectives. The first was to globalise the company, the second was to improve customer and employee experience, and the cost curve was third. Or basically help the company scale.

I'm now leading the next generation quote-to-cash transformation with similar objectives. Our objectives now are more focused on enabling productivity and enabling intelligence for our workforce, as well as improving the experience both for our customers and our employees.

When balancing the two, I think both are equally important. It depends on what is the company's priority and strategy at that time and what outcomes you want to create. It's important to have objectives clearly understood by all parts of the organisation, whether you're trying to transform for the purposes of revenue generation or improving experience. Sometimes they're not mutually exclusive. I think delivering a better experience is key.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? In the digital age, the potential for IT to add value to the business has undergone exponential growth. Equinix is a technology company that offers technical products, and in recent years we've added more discipline and rigor to the way we approach digital business. Some areas are better than others but we're always striving to make it easier for our customers to do business with us. While KPIs are important in demonstrating the business value of IT, those will evolve over time as Equinix aggressively pursues OKRs (objectives and key results) to help the company adapt to changes that will make Equinix more competitive in our industry.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? In my opinion, I think it boils down to three words for all people. They need to be hungry, humble, and smart. Humility is a big value for us in the company. People who are not humble typically don't seem to fit. The culture either accepts you or rejects you in some respects if you're not humble. We are hungry all the time, hungry for learning new technologies, staying on the cutting edge. There's a drive and passion for not accepting the status quo, evolving whatever we do to the next level. And smart because we expect people to just make very practical decisions when faced with challenges or adversity. So those attributes are the ones that best fit the culture.

We make sure that we are diligent in our recruitment process to make sure we hire people who fit our values. Then we ensure that the leaders and all the people from top to bottom live these values consistently. So, it's always about emphasising what these values are, recognising the people who live those values and celebrating them, and constantly promoting our values throughout the company. I would say our executive leadership team cares deeply about the company's culture so walking the talk is something that starts from the very top.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipating to be) the most difficult to fill? There are three areas where I think skills are becoming challenging and CIOs need to think about how to build talent pipelines for them. I would say the first is in the cybersecurity space. Finding good talent that knows cybersecurity is a challenge even in areas such as Silicon Valley where most of the innovation happens in this space. Finding that talent is very challenging. The other two domains are data science, and artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. These require skills which are still emerging. As AI becomes more and more ubiquitous, as more and more capabilities in our enterprise become AI-enabled, this is a skillset that every CIO will have to figure out how to source in their respective organisation. Those are the ones which are I think the hardest to find because the talent pool is small and the skillset is emerging.

What's the best career advice you ever received? I would say the best advice I have received is don't seek titles. Instead, seek opportunities for creating impact. Once you create business impact, the rest will follow.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training high-performing staff. Yes, we do have a succession plan. I'm privileged to have a leadership bench that is capable of not only assuming my responsibilities, but they are capable of becoming great CIOs elsewhere. I have invested in building their skillset over the years and they have focused on their own self-development over the years as well.

I think it is first it's super important to make sure that all levels of the organisation have a succession plan, and not just from a business continuity risk mitigation standpoint. It's always a good idea to continuously invest in the development of your leaders in the organisation to become a high-performing team.

Once you have a really solid leadership bench and team, the challenges are to continuously keep them motivated and have them focused on solving big business challenges. Talented leaders usually are not going to accept the status quo and stay put doing standard operational stuff. You have to continuously excite them and put them on things that are big, complicated, impactful, etc.

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