CIO Spotlight: Stephen Franchetti, Samsara

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? “To me, the interesting thing about the CIO role today is that it’s becoming more and more central to the business… Right now, there’s a real convergence happening with business strategy and technology strategy in most businesses out there.”

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Samsara

Name: Stephen Franchetti

Company: Samsara

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: March 2021

Location: San Francisco, CA

Stephen Franchetti is the CIO at Samsara. He oversees all aspects of the company’s Information Technology including, business applications, data & analytics, information security, IT service management, and all core IT services. Before joining Samsara, Franchetti was the CIO at Slack, and then previously the Vice President IT, Enterprise Applications at Workday. He also held positions at Cisco in a range of e-commerce, employee services and IT roles. Franchetti has a track record of creating best-in-class IT organisations that focus on automation engineering and enabling companies to scale and remain agile as they grow. He earned his bachelor of science, with honours, in Computer Science from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

What was your first job? My first real job out of college was as a software engineer at a small startup company in Scotland that created bespoke software. I wrote software for everything from waste management inventory systems to financial software for scotch whisky distilleries. Actually, a small claim to fame is that I wrote the player transfer and registration software for the Scottish National Soccer League, that was a lot of fun. I think the great thing about this job was that I got exposed to literally every aspect of their business, from installing hardware to writing the software itself to being involved in the sales cycle.

Did you always want to work in IT? I thought I’d remain a software engineer and work on developing product, but then I ended up moving to the U.S. shortly after my first job. What started as a contract position for three months in California has turned into 20 years working in Silicon Valley. Despite not knowing much about IT, I landed in Cisco’s IT department working on a data analytics project, and I haven’t left IT since.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I earned my Bachelor of Science, with honours, in Computer Science from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Funnily enough, I originally wanted to go into medicine, then somewhere along the way I realised I couldn’t stand the sight of blood! Shortly after that, I switched to computer science at the University of Edinburgh. I got a computer for Christmas one year, so I thought, I’ll give this a whirl and see what it’s like. I soon discovered there’s a whole world of technology out there and became fascinated by how technology could improve people’s lives… that’s what really interested me.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? There are a few key areas that I’m particularly focused on at the moment. First, anything that allows us to create a better customer experience is exceptionally important. The customer interacts with us generally through technology—whether it’s through our cloud platform, billing systems, or customer support channels. Anything we can do to improve or streamline these customer touchpoints is top of mind. Second, is anything we can do to enhance the employee experience so that they can work most effectively. We want to make sure that our employees can focus on the part of their jobs that make the most impact, and not get bogged down with friction and administrative tasks. Third, is all about supporting the company’s growth and scale. We are an incredibly high-growth, agile and dynamic business, and using automation to keep that agile edge as we grow is a top priority.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? As an organisation, building the best possible solutions for our customers to succeed in the long term is a top priority. For IT, this means we’re focused on developing architecture and business processes that are agile and scalable as the company continues to grow. Of course, maintaining a secure environment for our systems remains a top priority, as well as delivering insights to better run the business overall.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? To me, the interesting thing about the CIO role today is that it’s becoming more and more central to the business. We’ve come from being seen as more of a support role—supporting the business from the back office and helping with fundamentals like laptops or WiFi or ERP systems. While that’s still incredibly important, there’s now a much larger role at play, especially with progressive CIOs. Right now, there’s a real convergence happening with business strategy and technology strategy in most businesses out there. There’s also been a significant acceleration with the pandemic. I read McKinsey research recently that found that organisations have accelerated the digitalisation of their customer interactions, supply chain interactions, and core internal operations by three to four years. The role that is at the centre of all this digital acceleration is the CIO—it’s become supercharged in the last two years. The CIO is the person in the organisation that’s asking, “How do we use technology to drive the business growth and create new opportunities?” On one hand, it’s an exciting time to be a CIO, on the other hand, the expectations are higher than ever.

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? Digital transformation is an inherent tenet of how we operate internally at Samsara, and it’s also key to the value we provide to our customers from our products and services. I consider us already “digitally transformed.” We were born in the cloud and technology is central to what we do—in fact, we use nearly 300 pieces of software to run our business today. For us, it’s about connecting these technologies together to create an architecture, experience, and set of processes that allow us to run the business at scale.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? At Samsara, we are fortunate to be born in the cloud. Our focus is less about maturity as a digital business, and more about connecting all our technology together in a way that scales the company. Measuring value is a key component of our work: we don’t take on any project that is not attached to success metrics and goals, and the KPIs we use help us understand how we are improving our business. Importantly, our focus is not only on technical metrics, but on how we move the needle on our business, e.g., driving growth, improving efficiency, and enabling better insights.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? While each team and office within Samsara has its own culture, we all come together around a set of values for how we work together, tackle challenges, and grow our business. We see ourselves as a progressive IT organisation, in the sense that our focus is less about back-office support and more about driving significant business impact. It’s our goal to foster a culture that enables consultative business partnerships. At Samsara, we’ve actually cultivated this by defining our own set of aspirational values and behaviours under a new ‘IT’ brand—called Business Technology. We recently re-named our department internally as a symbol of this cultural intent, marking who we want to be and stepping away from the trappings of traditional IT being seen solely as a support function.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Two hot areas for us right now are data and security. At Samsara we have a massive amount of big data, and we do a great job of mining that data to provide insights for our customers to drive safety, efficiency and sustainability within their businesses. Now, we want to mine that data to drive insights that support the continued expansion of our own business. Given this, data engineers and data scientists are roles that we’re very focused on, however, we know they’re in high demand across the industry. The same thing applies to security. Security is a top priority to protect both our customers and employees. Security engineering is a skill that’s difficult to find an abundance of, but it’s of paramount importance.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Any advice that encouraged me to take risks, try different things, and not to take the path well-trodden. I believe it’s important to cast a wide net early on in your career in order to figure out what you enjoy and what you are good at.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. I’m certainly always planning for the future and the long-term success of my team. Recruitment and retention play an incredibly important role in that, which is why I’m focused on fostering the career paths of my current team members, in addition to actively hiring top talent for a number of open roles.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Remember that life (and your career) is a journey, not a destination. Try a little of everything and look for those opportunities that will continue to allow you to grow and learn—especially those opportunities that will challenge you. There will be failures along the way, but those are the moments where you will learn the most. Don’t default to following the safe path, the obvious choices are often not the most rewarding.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I get the most satisfaction from the creative process of growing teams in a dynamic, fast-paced, high-growth environment. For me, there is an immense sense of achievement associated with that—taking a team from its early days and growing pains to a team that wins together and feels as though they belong!

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I’d say knowing when to move on. Looking back, I may have spent too many years at some companies. It’s easy to become comfortable and ingrained in a culture and stay past a point where you’re learning and growing—either in your career or on a personal level. Something I learned later in my career is that I have a passion for the creative process of building teams within hypergrowth companies—and hopefully, teams that people want to be a part of, and teams that make a significant positive impact on the company at large. So, in hindsight, I’d recommend constantly reassessing whether you’re in the right place, and in a role that you have passion for—and if the answer is no, not being afraid to move on.

What are you reading now? I’m currently reading It Worked for Me by Colin Powell. An incredible leader who lived a life of public service and has amazing anecdotes of his life in leadership. I think a characteristic of an amazing leader is being willing to admit the mistakes you’ve made, be vulnerable, and use it to grow stronger.

Most people don't know that I… If you can believe it, I actually used to play basketball for the Scottish national team!

In my spare time, I like to…Cycle and run out in nature whenever I get the chance. I find this to be a great stress reliever.

Ask me to do anything but… Attend another meeting! Time is a precious commodity—I like to encourage my teams to be thoughtful about meeting attendance, and to use async collaboration where appropriate.