CIO Spotlight: Brian Keare, Incorta

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? “I advise folks to learn how the tools you are working with fit with both processes and people. These three elements – tools, processes, and people – all need to come together to be successful.”


Name: Brian Keare

Company: Incorta

Job title: CIO and Cloud General Manager

Date started current role: September of 2019

Location: Los Angeles County, CA

Brian Keare is the CIO and Cloud General Manager of Incorta, where he advises Fortune 10 to Fortune 500 companies on their digital transformation strategies and how to gain the most valuable data insights in near real time. Prior to joining Incorta, Keare was senior vice president of IT at Nortek Security & Control, a company that engineers, manufactures, and distributes tens of thousands of security and home automation products.

What was your first job? My very first job during high school was working at a local paint store as a mixer. In college, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, so my first “real” job after graduating was at a global law firm in Paris.

While at the law firm, I managed billing, which was - at the time - a highly manual process. This was around 1990 and I was using the early version/precursor of what is now Microsoft Excel. During my time there, I was struck by how manual everything about that process was. It became a big frustration of mine, which ultimately helped me realise that I did not want to be a lawyer or work at a law firm for my entire career. Nonetheless, the lessons from that experience stuck with me through business school, in turn paving my way into IT.

Did you always want to work in IT? I did not! For me, IT was - and largely still is - a vehicle to help companies accomplish amazing things that they otherwise could not do without the help of technology. After finishing business school, I ran a small company that required me to wear a variety of hats. I was able to experience first hand what being successful looks like. I also quickly realised where my true passion lies: leveraging technology to accomplish the impossible. 

Looking back, I was always fascinated with wrapping my head around the technology and how it was able to transform a company and achieve some really powerful things. 

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I received my Bachelor of Arts (AB) in Politics at Princeton University. I then went on to receive my Master of Business Administration (MBA) at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. As I mentioned above, I did not always want to work in IT. It wasn’t until after business school, and specifically while getting my feet wet in a few different CFO and COO roles, that I found myself gravitating towards technology.

My passion was really on display while at Nortek. My task was to lead a team to implement a huge ERP platform (Netsuite) at a global company in an effort to rethink how Nortek was doing business. A few years after this implementation, while re-engineering our data & analytics strategy in another effort to help drive success via technology at Nortek, I ended up learning about, selecting, and implementing Incorta. This paved the way to yet another transition - from a global manufacturing enterprise to a technology software company, Incorta - where I am the CIO today. 

Being at Incorta has been extraordinarily rewarding - shaping our product and helping global enterprises leverage our technology to do amazing things. 

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? At Incorta, in the coming year we will be laser focused on taking the incredible technology we have and working to deliver the benefits to our customers more efficiently to keep up with skyrocketing demand. Many of the key IT investments are happening within our secure cloud platform, ensuring it is reliable, cost efficient, and scalable.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Our CEO, Scott Jones, is prioritising product-led growth powered via cloud innovation. 

Traditionally, Incorta has been an engineering-led organisation, and these engineers have developed amazing technologies that will revolutionise enterprise data analytics. In 2021 our emphasis has been (a) to shift of a product-led growth strategy, developing our technology in ways that allow customers to have their own “A-HA moment” within the product quickly, and (b) to deliver our product on a secure, easy-to-deploy and easy-to-manage cloud platform. 

We are continually uncovering ways to make Incorta even easier for our customers to understand, deploy, and use in a cost efficient way within their organisations. Pursuing a product-led and cloud-powered growth strategy also enables us to more quickly bring our innovations to market, to be able to serve customers more quickly and efficiently, and to ensure that as we grow that we can maintain outstanding levels of quality and service.  Perhaps most importantly, this strategy allows us to be closer to our customers, helping them leverage our technology to successfully tackle their most consequential data challenges. And this allows the Incorta team to have better visibility into how the platform is being used by our customers in a virtuous cycle so that we can continue to improve our product in ways that are important to our customers.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The role of the CIO is, and always should be, evolving. Decades ago, the nature of a CIO's role was to view the function similar to how we would view a utility: does everyone have what they need, and does it function. A lot of the effort traditionally was reactive, focusing on fixing things that are reported broken.

As the internet, the cloud, and digital transformation efforts took hold, CIOs had new opportunities to implement easily customisable business systems and technology within their organisations. Some got more involved in the architecture of these systems in the service of driving productivity or even transforming their companies’ business models - while others were content to let others architect systems that they were merely caretakers of.

On top of this, we are now in the midst of an exponential explosion of data. Transactional data, product data, environmental data - you name it. Sensor data from one customer product (a car, for example) can today generate more data in an hour than global enterprises had produced in their entire history a couple of decades ago. CIOs today can either choose to leave this challenge to others, or tackle the opportunities presented by these revolutions head on.

So as these seismic shifts happen beneath our feet, does a CIO re-invent herself? Does a CIO become the de-facto Chief Data and Analytics Officer of the company - or do they wait for the company to hire someone different for that role?

The best CIOs I know have always been re-inventing what they do. When implementing a new ERP, they become the business process re-engineering leader of the organisation.  In the face of the data revolution, they become the CDAO. They continually search for, and find, disruptive technologies and re-invent the structure and process of how they deliver value to the organisation.  

Most importantly, they always figure out how to strategically leverage technologies at their disposal in the service of their business while also partnering with their fellow executives across the board - the CEO, COO, CFO, CRO, and Head of Sales - they make them all heroes and figure out how to empower them and their teams to do their jobs better.

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? We are indeed driving digital transformation here at Incorta. Internally, my efforts in this regard focus on operational efficiency. We are leveraging technologies that allow us to bring together people and processes in a way that allows us to be efficient and to profitably scale. And to be able to manage efficiently across a distributed global workforce. Of course, we also use our own unified data analytics platform in these efforts because of how effective a tool it is in the service of digital transformation.

Externally, digital transformation efforts help us grow and help us efficiently deliver value to our customers via our products and services. 

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? At Incorta, given that we are a data analytics company, we try to drink our own champagne by using Incorta data analytics to measure everything we do internally. Like many companies, we're smaller and entrepreneurial in nature, but also quickly growing. It is in our DNA to measure what we do.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? I initially saw Incorta’s culture through my experience with them as a customer while at Nortek. It was clear to me that the Incorta team was an incredibly smart group, who think big about how they can tackle insane challenges successfully. I also saw them as humble, transparent, and team-oriented individuals.  

You cultivate a good culture fit first and foremost by having a careful recruiting and onboarding strategy. I always find hiring slow and purposefully leads to the best outcome versus just hiring to fill a seat. When hiring, it is also important to give the person an opportunity to thrive. We are also not bashful about hiring people who are smarter than us.  If we are successful, our new team members aren’t order takers but are in fact are the ones who tell us what we should be doing to take our company to the next level.  It’s amazing to me how consistently this dynamic plays out at Incorta - to the benefit of absolutely everyone. 

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? The competition for technology talent is real - it is extraordinarily difficult to recruit out there today. Talented individuals have many options, and desperate companies fuel bidding wars for such talent. Any role having to do with the cloud or cybersecurity these days is especially hard to fill. 

The realisation over the past couple of years that remote work is not only do-able but is here to stay - this means the gloves are off and the top firms will look farther and wider to find the best talent to join their teams. Which makes the recruiting environment is even more competitive. Thus, in today’s age, you need to be able to offer more than just an attractive compensation package. You also need to also offer a robust, challenging, enjoyable work environment that helps folks with their job satisfaction and career advancement goals as well.   

What's the best career advice you ever received? Good choices stem from being able to choose among multiple, attractive alternatives. If a good opportunity comes your way and you are tempted to jump on, balance that against other alternatives you have (and there should always be multiple). If you are not generating other attractive alternatives, then you are making a decision by default rather than one that is deliberately considered. 

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. In line with my above thought that you hire people not to tell them what to do, but for them to tell you/your organisation what to do...If you really stand by this, then you are giving your team members the opportunity to excel in areas which you might not personally be great at. If I am doing my job right when hiring, I will always look to hire those who are smarter and have greater knowledge in their respective area of expertise than myself. My job is to ensure these team members have the resources, company alignment, and support to execute on their initiatives.  

Through this, they are taking responsibilities off my own plate, fulfilling duties under me, and in the process enabling me as CIO to do bigger and better things for my organisation. If I am doing a good job, then I am always implementing my succession plan so that I can elevate to even higher ways to add value.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? In IT, it is easy to become enamoured with tools. But tools and software are only a means to a higher end; they are only a piece of the puzzle. I advise folks to learn how the tools you are working with fit with both processes and people. These three elements – tools, processes, and people – all need to come together to be successful. 

I also give the advice to get out of a functional lane and think strategically about how what you are doing (in IT) can turbocharge the efforts of your organisation. Don’t only check off the task lists and to-dos, but actually understand how the functional role of IT fits into the larger goals of the organisation and allows it to be successful. If you can look up and see the proverbial forest from the trees, you will be able to be a much more effective IT leader.  

What has been your greatest career achievement? My greatest career achievement to date was “turning the battleship” while I was at Nortek – helping the organisation to transition from how they did business for the last 20+ years and onto a new ERP platform, which was a very ambitious effort. 

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