CIO Spotlight: Ed Diver, Digital Realty

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? “Spend more time listening than you do talking…”

Digital Realty

Name: Ed Diver

Company: Digital Realty

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: September 2018

Location: San Francisco, CA

Ed Diver is the CIO at Digital Realty and responsible for managing the company's global information technology operations, including both internal functions as well as customer-facing applications. With more than 30 years of experience leading global teams of technology professionals, Diver has spearheaded IT transformations at Fortune 500 companies, headed international divisions of up to 700 employees and managed budgets in excess of $300 million across a number of verticals.

What was your first job? I worked for the Texas Rangers at the baseball park. I was 15 years old and it was the year that the Rangers moved to Texas. I started out taking tickets and later advanced to the ground crew. I worked at the ballpark all through my first summer of college and never missed a game.

Did you always want to work in IT? I actually went to school to be an accountant, and during my last three semesters I had to take a few IT classes, and that’s where it clicked. My first job after graduating from college was as a developer for a recording company, where I ended up doing a lot of work with their financial systems. It was a great fit for me as I was able to leverage my accounting and technology training.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I attended the University of Texas where I received a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Accounting. I am also an ISACA Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA).

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I started early on in my career on the technical path and for the most part always worked in IT. I’ve spanned nearly every role including development, security, operations and infrastructure engineering, and built several data centres along the way.

I did take a slight detour about 10 years into my career. I was working at an energy management company at the time and I took on the role as the project manager on the company’s headquarters building. I built a data centre in that building, as well as 10 floors of office space. When I finished that project, I had a choice - move back into IT or take on another construction project. It was a tough choice between building things, which I love, or a new leadership role in IT. I ended up choosing the technology role because I knew the position had the potential to continue to stretch my leadership skills.

Though, my construction project management skills did come in handy on my weekend warrior home remodelling projects! Years later, I left Dallas and moved to San Francisco where I led the IT teams at Novell, PeopleSoft, Safeway and later BlueShield. I retired after leaving BlueShield and spent several years as a part time consultant helping companies develop their IT leadership teams. I found myself consulting at Digital Realty when the prior CIO left. I was so impressed with the leadership team and the company that I accepted the CIO role in 2018.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Just like Digital Realty’s customers, our company is also focused on digital transformation. To ensure we’re supporting our customers with their digital ambitions, we too have to ensure we have the right infrastructure capabilities to keep up with our growing customer demands. This year, we’ll be focused on investing in our data centre platform, PlatformDIGITAL™, which is designed to help our customers solve digital transformation challenges by bringing them closer to centres of data exchange to remove data gravity barriers.

A trend we’re seeing among our customers is the need to go global, so we’re making the necessary investments to make sure we can support their business growth in regions such as Latin America, Asia, Europe and Australia, and also of course here in the U.S.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Right now CEOs around the world are focused on ensuring that their employees and customers are taken care of during this pandemic. Digital Realty’s CEO, A. William Stein, has one overall goal in mind: to keep our employees, customers, and partners safe. In addition, we also have a broader responsibility to ensure that our customers can continue to work, connect and keep information flowing. Especially for our customers in the government, healthcare, education and emergency industries, they rely on our data centres to keep their business running during these unprecedented times.

Our whole company is working together to ensure our 275 data centres are keeping up with the growing connectivity demands. Obviously, IT plays a major role in that so my team and our IT team have been focused on making sure we’re providing secure, efficient solutions that our customers can rely on no matter what is happening in the world.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? I think most CIOs would agree with me when I say that the role of the CIO has drastically evolved over the past few years and that’s mostly due to digital transformation. It used to be adapting to new technologies as a competitive advantage, but these days simply automating business processes and ensuring there is cloud storage is no longer enough to keep up. I think today’s CIOs need to focus on three pillars: technology, process, and most importantly the people.

First and foremost, CIOs need to focus on updating their IT infrastructure with the goal of supporting their digital transformation ambitions. Too often a CIO is bogged down by mismanaged and aging technology and I think the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for a nimble infrastructure. As work and school shifted to home setups, infrastructure teams had to rapidly expand bandwidth on networking and computing power in data daters. CIOs need to focus on a bridging strategy to link “keep the lights on” infrastructure with the emerging technologies that create competitive advantage.

The core of the shifting CIO role includes owning the technology that serves the customer experience. As pointed out by IDG’s CIO report, “To support the creation of new revenue-generation projects, CIOs are learning about customer needs, creating teams focused on innovation and creating business case scenarios with defined costs and benefits.”

Lastly, CIOs need to develop partnerships with other business leaders in their company. Often siloes are created between the CIO (and their IT teams) and the rest of the business, but that can prevent digital initiatives from being successful. Today’s businesses need to be nimbler to survive, meaning they must break out of the mold and rid themselves of these silos to find success with any transformation strategy that’s in play.

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? Due to the inherent nature of our business, we do both. Our short- and long-term business goals are focused on empowering our customers to scale their digital business globally quickly and securely. And our customers can only do that if we’re operating efficiently. With our PlatformDIGITAL™ platform, our customers are easily able to:

  • solve global coverage, capacity, and ecosystem connectivity needs with a single data centre provider
  • tailor infrastructure deployments and controls matched to business needs irrespective of data centre size, scale, location, configuration or interconnection needs
  • operate deployments as a seamless extension of any global infrastructure with the consistent experience, security, and resiliency that business demands
  • enable global distributed workflows at centres of data exchange to remove data gravity barriers and scale digital business

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Within IT we leverage a series of KPIs that measure our customer service, availability and responsiveness of our systems and services, and our ability to deliver solutions that meet the needs of our customers. We run nearly all of our systems and technology services in the cloud as it allows us to stay responsive to our customers’ needs and scale up and down quickly when required.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? The employees that do the best at Digital Realty are the ones who are flexible, motivated and adventurous. We have thousands of employees, all from different backgrounds, but what we value most is being able to adapt to changing environments. There are always new skills to be learned, growing customer demands, and new challenges pop up every day, but we work as one team, all of us coming together to solve these problems in a positive, encouraging environment.

The data centre industry has definitely had its fair share of staffing issues, so we’ve learned to create positive environments where employees can learn new skills and feel supported in their career growth. For example, at Digital Realty, we have several programs to encourage employee engagement. Digital Realty’s Veterans Employee Resource Group (VERG), is a program designed to increase the support and services Digital provides to veterans, helping the company attract and retain more veterans, and being a voice for veterans at the company, and where appropriate, with customers and the community. In addition, Suzie Gleeson, Digital Realty’s VP of Global Accounts Sales, co-founded the Women’s Leadership Forum at Digital Realty. The community provides collaboration and support in a collegial environment for women at the company.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate being) the most difficult to fill? I think the most important skill is versatility, but it’s a difficult trait to find. Technical people are typically thrown problems, and they can figure it out, but it’s easy to fall into a trap of hiring too many specialists. Specialists are great, however, too many specialists can lead to silos or compartmentalisation of the work. However, for companies like Digital Realty, our technologies span across several different areas so we need people who have a diverse background and can be flexible. We are constantly on the lookout for “versatilists”, individuals with strong skills that can solve a wide variety of challenges.

What's the best career advice you ever received? My mentor told me, “I can only help you so much with your career. The best advice is to watch and study others in your organization. Look for traits and skills where others excel or that are highly effective and learn from those individuals.” And to this day, I continue to practice this approach…it’s how I continue to improve my own skills. By watching people, learning how they operate and seeing how they interact, you’re able to learn some of the best traits from some of the smartest people you know and apply those learnings to your own career.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Absolutely. Not only do we look at my team and the people that I work closely with, but we also look across the entire company. We’re always on the search for new talent. I want to see someone within Digital Realty take on my role. Someone who is close to the company and can continue to expand and drive our vision for the future. I’d much rather promote someone from within, than bring someone in from the outside. Driving career growth from within benefits both the company and our employees.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Spend more time listening than you do talking and no matter what you do, deliver outrageous customer service. Being a CIO is a tough job, you have to stay on top of the business issues your customers are facing, and you need to keep pace with the technology you will use to help and support your customers. 

What has been your greatest career achievement? My goal was always to be a CIO and I’m honoured to say I’ve been a CIO for a handful of companies. Helping others is what energises me and that’s what this job is all about…helping others.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I grew up wanting to be an architect. I always had a lot of passion for the industry, but when I entered college, the prospects for that career were not great. I’m not saying I wish I would have pursued that job over what I’m doing now, but looking back, I wonder how my life might have been different if I had pursued that career. There are many parallels between IT and architecture professionals. Both professions design and build infrastructure that improves the lives of others, so in a way, I am following my passion.

What are you reading now? I’m not huge book reader; I prefer to spend my time reading trade publications. I pay attention to the stock markets and industry trends.

Most people don't know that I… almost pursued a career as a professional hockey player.

In my spare time, I like to…spend time with family sailing, skiing, scuba diving and hiking. We recently purchased a Peloton and I’m having fun riding all over the world with friends and family.

Ask me to do anything but… do something over, I’d much rather focused on getting the job done right the first time.