CIO Spotlight: Bill Naughton, Acoustic

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? “Our key cultural values include being customer centric, nimble, and having the ability to wear many hats.”


Name: Bill Naughton

Company: Acoustic

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: April 2020

Location: Chicago

Bill Naughton is the Chief Information Officer at Acoustic, the world’s largest independent marketing cloud. At Acoustic, he leads the company’s technology practices and works to digitise the business while implementing data strategy and security. An energetic and empathetic leader, Naughton has a track record of solving complex business challenges and building world class technology. Naughton was previously the CEO of Saoi Technology, a boutique consulting firm he founded to serve the private equity industry. He also served as CIO at CDK Global and ADP.

What was your first job? My first professional position was Operations Analyst for a high-volume logistics firm. At that same time, I worked as a part-time high school wrestling coach.

Did you always want to work in IT? No, I didn’t always want to work in IT. I knew I always wanted to work in business - my background is in financial management and I have my MBA. But as I began my professional career at WR Grace, I got a taste for systems and engineering and decided to focus my business career on the technology side. My experience there showed me how technology can be used to solve business problems and I love using the power of technology to solve the most gnarly problems out there.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I received my bachelor’s degree in financial management from St. Mary’s University. After a few years working, I returned to school and earned my MBA from Pepperdine University. To gain more expertise in the IT world, I participated in the Stanford Executive Program and earned certifications in strategic uses of IT and supply chain.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I began my career at WR Grace, where I worked my way up to the Director of Systems, Operations, and Engineering. From there, I took a director role at RR Donnelly where I stayed for nearly 10 years and became the Chief Technology Officer. I then moved to ADP where I was the Chief Information Officer for the IT Dealer Services unit. While at ADP, I adopted the move to agile development, implemented global hosting strategy to consolidate data centers, and was deeply involved in defining our big data strategy for our user base of data scientists.

I then became Chief Information Officer of CDK Global, the largest global provider of integrated information tech to the automotive industry, where I was responsible for managing all of CDK’s global hosting, internal IT and support, dev-ops and development, cybersecurity, and global procurement. After my time there, I returned to my financial academic background and founded my own boutique consulting firm, Saoi Technology, serving the private equity industry, hedge funds, and venture capital organisations. I joined Acoustic in 2020 as CIO where I lead all aspects of technology, including digitisation and cybersecurity.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? We are building out a world-class go-to-market process for our teams. This is important for a new company carving out of a mature business such as IBM. We are also ensuring we maximise all our cloud investments for expanded capabilities, scalability, and extensibility to our customer platform.   

However, the WFH environment that COVID-19 thrust businesses into will likely remain in some form or another even after there is a vaccine. So, in the coming year, we, as all businesses should, are staying focused on evolving our tech to support a fully or partially remote workforce by ensuring that our collaboration tools and security tools to promote remote working are the top of the line and meet all our business needs.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Acoustic’s top CEO priorities include further establishing a customer centric culture, operational excellence and integrity, and market-aligned innovation. IT is essential in helping the company to achieve all of these priorities. Without the proper tools and software, businesses cannot function properly to achieve their goals.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The CIO should have responsibilities that cover all the business processes that drive the core business. For technology companies, this includes Dev-Ops and technology support.  Some of the more traditional process have changed and moved over to third-party providers, such as emailing capabilities. As a result, some CIOs may have stopped seeing these processes as falling under their umbrella. However, CIOs still need to own and oversee their entire product suite of collaboration technology and unified communication, whether or not a third-party provider is involved.

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? Our company is in a unique position as a carve out from IBM into a brand-new company.  I am partnering with our CMO and CRO on digitising the company since we have a clean whiteboard to start with. We have the leading tools in the industry for marketing automation and we deploy our own products for internal use. 

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? The business KPIs matter the most. IT KPIs should always be supporting the business and not stand alone.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Because we are a newer company, we’ve had the privilege of being able to build our company culture from the ground up. Our key cultural values include being customer centric, nimble, and having the ability to wear many hats.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Finding strong product management resources is always a challenge and the roles that require those skills can be difficult and time-consuming to fill.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Take your job very seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. We are bringing incredibly talented individuals onto our team who could all step into a variety of roles. I am a firm believer in giving employees expanded scope and responsibilities, even if they might not be entirely ready yet. This allows them to consistently challenge themselves and grow into the position instead of becoming stagnant or complacent in their job and career development.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Take on a variety of roles and have diversity among the people you work with, industries you engage in, and the technology you work with.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Working on the spin-off of CDK Global from ADP because we were able to unlock billions of dollars in shareholder value.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would’ve hired and recruited faster, even during the height of the pandemic.

What are you reading now? The 99% Invisible City by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt.

Most people don't know that I… I am an Opera lover.

In my spare time, I like to… I like to travel to interesting cultural locations but haven’t been able to do much of that this year with the COVID-19 lockdowns. Instead, I’ve been watching off-beat Sci-Fi on Netflix/Amazon.

Ask me to do anything but… Go spelunking. I’m not a big fan of caves.