CIO Spotlight: Mike Corbin, eSentire

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? “Customer satisfaction and the ability to scale ahead of business needs are eSentire’s top priorities.”

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eSentire

Name: Mike Corbin

Company: eSentire

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: January 2019

Location: Waterloo, ON

With 40 years of IT and cyber security experience, Michael Corbin leads the design, deployment and management of eSentire’s Core IT Infrastructure and client-based signal generation platform. His focus is on the efficient and scalable solutions that deliver reliable, secure and cost effective internal and external customer experiences. Prior to eSentire, he led Verizon's Global Cloud and Security Solutions Engineering team where he focused on the customers’ business drivers to improve their security posture and deliver efficient computing platforms.

What was your first job?  My IT career began as a Field Service Technician for a small communications company, Anderson Jacobson Inc. out of San Jose CA. They built “terminals” and acoustic modems to communicate to mainframe systems. 

Did you always want to work in IT? In my senior year of high school, I decided that I wanted to work with computers. My yearbook ambition was to be a computer programmer.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? Believe it or not, I was an auto mechanic when I graduated from high school. I leveraged my mechanical aptitude and went to a trade school out of high school to learn to work on computer equipment, which were all electromechanical at the time. These were collators, sorters, keypunch machines and teletypes. I began my IT career at nineteen years old. I did not start college until I was thirty years old and it took me ten years of night classes to achieve my B.S. in Information Systems with a minor in Business. At one point I held certificates for Microsoft Engineer, Citrix and ITIL 3.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. If my career has taught me anything, it is that success is not always a linear path. I have been fortunate to have had choices and opportunities, some of which required taking steps backward to acquire the skills needed to take steps forward. I have been lucky enough to work across many aspects of business gaining leadership experience in engineering, operations, sales and customer service. This has enabled me to understand and appreciate the need for collaboration and cooperation across all teams to be successful.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? For any business to be successful it must satisfy customers, scale as they grow, and drive cost out of the business. As the CIO, it is my job to ensure that we can do just that. We are a cloud-native company that has successfully leveraged cloud technologies to build-out our platform and service offerings. We will continue to assess and evaluate how and when to move additional workloads to the cloud to reach more customers, expand our talent pool and drive additional scale.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Customer satisfaction and the ability to scale ahead of business needs are eSentire’s top priorities. The IT organisation will continue to look for ways to drive efficiency and scale, secure our platforms, and optimise performance for our customers, partners and end users.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? I think the idea or notion that one must adhere to conventional roles or responsibilities is very limiting. It stifles the imagination, draws delineation lines, and creates friction. The CIO role is about working with the business to understand how data can be transformed into information and shared with stakeholders to empower innovation for 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? Yes. The customer experience and revenue growth along with operational efficiency have always been the balancing act for IT.  Information Technology does not exist just for the sake of having IT. If it is not delivering value to the business, then it is an expensive, heavy burden that will impact scale. IT must constantly adapt to changes in the environment as the technology landscape changes to reduce waste, improve system performance, and protect business assets.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Yes. Operational efficiency compared to revenue is a key metric that we monitor to shape future objectives. Comparing this to customer and employee satisfaction gives us the bigger picture of how to prioritise objectives and recognise their value.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Empowerment drives imagination and innovation. Employees who feel empowered, build a shared positive experience across the organisation. They tend to collaborate more openly with less fear of failure or repercussions. We have made mistakes in the past, but by listening to our employees, we have been able to identify them quickly and make the appropriate adjustments.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Humans all interact in different ways. Finding folks who understand that and can adapt to that are in high demand. Technology skills continue to evolve as the technology landscape evolves and it is important to keep employees abreast of new technologies. That said, there are still systems that have been around for a long time and will continue to be part of the technology landscape for years to come. Sometimes, finding folks who have maintained those skills can be challenging.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Accountability and humility. I have had the good fortune of having worked with some really great leaders. The best advice I got early in my career is that “nobody has as much to lose as you do”. And secondly that no one person has all of the questions or all of the answers. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help or share ideas. One of the key tenants of Lean / Six Sigma is that you should not create process change in a vacuum. Creating a solution that looks like it solves a local problem can create even bigger problems downstream. Reach out, build relationships, understand the other person / organisation’s perspective.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes. Succession planning is a component of empowerment. Recognising talent, cultivating it and empowering it is inspiring in and of itself. Ensuring that there are folks who could step into your shoes at any given time builds a healthy business. Watching leaders as they learn and grow has been tremendously fulfilling for me. One of the biggest challenges goes back to being able to listen and having the humility to recognise that someone else might have a better idea than you do.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Don’t get too wrapped around the technology itself. While it is important to understand how all of the technology pieces fit together, without knowing why they are used or what it means to the business will lead to siloed echo chambers. Reach out of your comfort zones, broaden your horizons, and build relationships.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Relationships. Over the years we have done some amazing things – built data centres, migrated technologies, grown businesses – but none of it was done solely by me. Getting people to spend time away from their families, work hard to achieve a common goal, or come up with new ways to attack a specific problem requires trust and understanding. That comes with successfully building relationships.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? While there were times when it seemed like we were pushing rocks uphill, I would not trade any of it. I have learned so much from those times and it helped shape me as a leader. If there was one thing I might have done differently, it would have been to attend college right after high school, although looking back, I was a much better student at thirty then I was at 16.

What are you reading now? Release IT by Michael Nygard. It is a great real-world look into IT Systems, how they are built and the importance of pressure testing from beginning to end.

Most people don't know that I… I am really in introvert. I love working with people, exploring possibilities, building solutions and then watching them grow, but I struggle with public recognition.

In my spare time, I like to… Spend time with my family, work with my hands, and play golf.

Ask me to do anything but… Get up and talk to folks live in a public forum.