CIO Spotlight: Graeme Thompson, Informatica

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? “For me, the most important IT leadership skill is having the ability to separate the ‘score makers’ from the ‘score keepers.’”


Name: Graeme Thompson

Company: Informatica

Job title: SVP and CIO

Date started current role: June 2016

Location: Redwood City, CA

Graeme Thompson is the senior vice president and chief information officer (CIO) of Informatica, responsible for the worldwide IT, information security and data governance functions. In his role he leads the ongoing enhancement of the company's IT infrastructure and applications in support of the growth and transformation of the company.

What was your first job? My first job was with Tandem Computers, which was a manufacturer of fault-tolerant computer systems. Right at the time I was leaving college, they were opening a factory in Scotland – which is where I am from – and I was fortunate to be one of the first people hired into the supply chain organisation. During my more than seven years at Tandem I held positions in procurement, production planning, inventory management and material control, giving me the opportunity to see how all parts of the factory operated from procuring the raw materials to finishing the products on the assembly line. I stayed in supply chain for 15 years before moving into IT. I didn’t know it at the time, but this gave me an appreciation for how processes had to work end-to-end and how those processes are supported by the applications.

Did you always want to work in IT?  No, the thought never even crossed my mind. Around 1997, Tandem was acquired by Compaq and rolled into its server division. During this time, they asked me to relocate to the US for a two-year assignment to manage part of the supply chain integration. The project had a huge systems component, which became a critical part of my journey to my long-term success. A number of years later, the financial controller from Tandem had become the CFO at BEA systems and he asked me to come run IT for all business-facing applications as he remembered how, as a business leader, I was able to work effectively with IT to execute large projects.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a bachelor’s degree in business economics from the University of the West of Scotland.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I think your career path only makes sense when you look back. Few people have their entire career path mapped out, and if they do, they may miss opportunities that come up along the way. I see mine as a permanent detour, meaning, I took on whatever role was most critical and impactful at the time. Looking back, this gave me the opportunity to work in many different business functions and geographies.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Companies now should have a deliberate cloud strategy, and lead with a cloud first, cloud native approach that prioritises investments based on business impact. As such, there are a set of operational processes our company requires. First, we must consider end-to-end life cycles for when we book an order, how it will be provisioned in the cloud environment automatically, and how the client can access it immediately. By optimising the end-to-end process, we’ll help track subsequent changes to the cloud environment as customers buy or add more of our products. 

Second, we have to support go-to-market initiatives. We have done a great job as a company at solidifying our broad product portfolio into key journeys typical for our customers. The business applications supporting demand gen, campaign management and reporting require constant attention to make sure we have a feedback loop to inform future marketing activities. This is especially important since the number of large in-person events – a normally important marketing touchpoints for us – has decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year.

Amid COVID-19, we were thrown into working from home with little warning. But thanks to the investments we made in cloud technologies, our network, VPN and security were already designed to enable our employees to seamlessly transition to working remotely. It also allowed us to use cloud applications the way they were intended – over the internet and untethered to a corporate network. We are continuing to optimise our collaboration technologies so that Zoom and Microsoft Teams work better together to enable our employees to be even more productive and encourage continued virtual engagement with customers.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Beyond the table stakes of making sure our IT infrastructure and applications fully support the needs of our growing company, Informatica CEO Amit Walia and I are completely on the same page in that the IT team’s priorities need to support our go-to-market initiatives over the next 12 to 18 months. For example, we need to make sure that our systems and processes give us the right actionable information on the effectiveness of different marketing campaigns and continue to drive data quality, governance and analytics across the company – in many cases using and showcasing our own enterprise cloud data management products.  

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? In addition to the traditional applications, operations and infrastructure CIO charter, I collaborate closely with the offices of the CISO and Chief Data Officer. Because we are centralised in IT and we enable processes throughout the company, I often look at my job as being a chief “Change Inspiration Officer.” The IT department sees all changes through from end to end, so the CIO is best placed to see the impact of a change in one part of the process on other functional areas. This is less important in times of minimal change, but when the company is really transforming its business model, it can seem like everything is changing at once.

In terms of the role of the CIO evolving, I believe that companies will each move forward differently based on their needs, whether it be organisationally or through the creation of different roles. But either way, there are going to be new skills needed in the IT marketplace in order to deal with the new functions of IT. Looking ahead four to five years, there’s definitely going to be a new group of people within IT whose job is to optimise the management of, including the cost and the quality and the security of, these cloud solutions. That, in turn, will change the conventional role of the CIO.

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, I think everyone is leading a digital transformation in one way or another. In our company, digital transformation started several years ago, moving away from the license model to subscription and cloud-based. It impacts every process in the company and every system that supports those processes across the organisation. This is the digital transformation my team is responsible for, which is making sure the systems and the processes are in support of where we want to go and not where we have been in the past. Since going private in 2015, we have come a long way in driving more revenue from subscription and cloud. There is continuous innovation to ensure that the company can operate with a cloud-first, cloud-native mindset. There’s more to it than just cloud technologies – you need to run a company completely differently.

There’s always more to be done with digital transformation. The platform work is done, we have modernised our Salesforce and Marketo environments and we swapped out our last remaining legacy on-prem system for a new cloud ERP system. With a modern platform, it is much easier for us to incrementally change as new business priorities come up. For example, the last couple of years have been very focused on transitioning to a subscription-based revenue model. Now, it’s our journey to the cloud. This creates requirements that we didn’t have before, but it’s easier to fulfill now that we are on modern, standard, industry-leading platforms.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? IT value is often in the eye of the beholder, so we survey employees throughout the company on what they think about the IT organisation and the services it provides. We do this in two ways – after a specific interaction like a service request and then more generally we survey about a fourth of our 5,000 employees each quarter, meaning that each employee should have the opportunity to provide survey feedback once per year. We measure our employee satisfaction on a five-point scale and use specific feedback to inform roadmap discussions, for example, to broaden Microsoft Teams to enable external voice calls and to improve collaboration and email security / spam / phishing. We also ask specific questions about how Informatica compares with their IT experience at other companies. I believe that at Informatica, we should be able to provide a better “IT quality of life” than at other companies, and I really want to know how we are doing against that expectation.

In addition to this subjective measure of “value,” we also of course measure the “performance” of IT against standard benchmarks for operational efficiency (IT cost as a percentage of revenue and as a percentage of company opex), quality of services (change success rate, outages caused by change), standard security metrics and important organisational health metrics like diversity, attrition and the success of our location strategy mentioned previously.

The KPIs that matter are business KPIs, and these have evolved throughout Informatica’s transformation from an on-premises software provider to a cloud-first, cloud-native subscription platform. For example, when the business first requested it, we didn’t have the right capabilities to align our internal finance and sales applications and processes with a subscription-based revenue model. Now, we can do so, and we have the ability to more accurately forecast our growing annual recurring revenue (ARR), incorporating data around things like subscription renewals and net new business.  

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it?  For me, the most important IT leadership skill is having the ability to separate the “score makers” from the “score keepers.” There are a lot of people who are quite happy being in the stands, watching the game and passing judgement on how well the game is being played. That may be fine for some, but I would much rather have people on my team who are ready to jump onto the field and help change the outcome of the game. I don’t want people who will just observe and tell me what’s going on. I need people who can influence, roll their sleeves up and actually make a difference. The culture within our organisation at Informatica is diving in head-first and working to improve a situation or project and, ultimately, driving results. This is the culture I strive to cultivate across the IT organisation.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Cybersecurity, Salesforce and data analytics experience are highly sought after at the moment. But companies need to be thoughtful about their recruitment strategies in various regions. For example, in Silicon Valley, we know we are competing for talent alongside the major tech giants. We are mindful about the jobs we create in certain locations, which is why we have a very strong IT presence across markets including Austin (TX), Dublin and Bangalore, in addition to our headquarters in Redwood City, CA.

What's the best career advice you ever received? It was from a coach I had who walked me through the process to discover what really motivated me. Through this exercise, I found that I was most engaged, motivated and effective when working in areas where I had the expertise to add unique value to an important problem or opportunity. My coach helped me look introspectively at the intersection between where I provide unique value, and what I actually care about and feel fulfilled by doing. That’s when the score keeper/score maker analogy came into play for me, because I realised that I was most motivated when I found that sweet spot between the ability to make a difference and the value of the outcome that is impacted by my effort.

This advice ultimately led to my decision to leave my previous company and join Informatica, because it was clear that our strategy was going to be dependent on being able to modernise our systems and processes, and it excited me to contribute and not stay on the sidelines.

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