CIO Spotlight: Tim Smith, Dispersive Holdings

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? “Listen more and speak less… always be open to hearing – as well as listening – to a different perspective.”

Headshot of Tim Smith, CIO at Dispersive Holdings
Dispersive Holdings

Name: Tim Smith

Company: Dispersive Holdings, Inc.

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: June 2021

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Tim Smith is the Head of Cloud Operations and CIO of Dispersive Holdings, Inc. Smith has decades of experience successfully aligning IT solutions with business strategy by directing the planning, budgeting, staffing, architecture, design, and implementation of state-of-the-art technology initiatives.

What was your first job? My first job was working for my dad and his partner at “Eaton & Smith!” It was a vehicle repair and full-service station. It was a great experience, and I learned several invaluable lessons that helped directly shape who I am today. And, of course, it was wonderful to be able to spend so much time with my dad and learn what it really looks like to be a good man.

Did you always want to work in IT? No. My original path after attending college was to be an accountant. How’s that for a course change?!

What was your education? I received my Bachelor of Science in Commerce and Business Administration degree from the University of Alabama.

Do you hold any certifications? What are they? Yes. My certifications include ITIL Foundations, Microsoft MCSE, Accountable Communications, Leadership Development, AGILE Scrum Methodology, Change Management, Delegating and Empowerment, Automation and Performance Testing.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. As a youth, I was blessed with having access to computers and technology and, needless to say, having a mother with a master’s degree in mathematics who was also a teacher benefited me greatly as well. Upon entering college, I chose to major in accounting but also took computer science courses as electives. My first job in the world of technology was working as a support technician/analyst for Peachtree Accounting Software. This was actually a great pivot point for me. My deep understanding of accounting allowed me to quickly dig deeper into the technology stack to identify software related issues and resolutions.

After graduating from college, I initially pursued various accounting roles but soon realised my real passion revolved around computers and technology. Prior to my joining Dispersive, I worked for Turner Broadcasting for several years where I received various awards and promotions into several unique leadership roles.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? As a leader in cybersecurity, Dispersive prides itself on staying at the leading edge of trends and Industry changes. Our key initiatives for FY 2023 that will drive IT include growing our presence globally to scale our operations across multiple industry verticals and geographies, focus on customer success and advanced metrics, as well as launching new innovative functionality that maintains our continued market leadership.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? Our CEO, Rajiv Pimplaskar, has identified his top priorities as delighting the customer through operational excellence, zero downtime, and building an efficient elastic infrastructure that can scale rapidly with business growth.

How do you plan to support the business with IT? In addition to being a CIO I am in the unique position of also serving as Head of Operations. My responsibilities include supporting internal and external customer sales, implementation, service delivery, cloud, network, compliance, security and support. From an internal perspective, we are executing a number of cost-containment initiatives to consolidate tool sets, solution migrations and implementation of operational efficiencies. Based on our growth targets/projections, it is critical we remain efficient while also mitigating the risks of operational issues now and in the future. In addition, the design of our core internal/external customer SaaS solution directly benefits from our ability to leverage several public and private cloud service providers which are used to support the deployment of our high-availability cloud-native architecture. With this in mind, we are actively working to evolve our current cloud deployment automation strategies to scale resource deployments based on location, cost, and demand. In addition, we are enhancing our SaaS model, upgrading our current support model/tooling, and implementing processes/procedures to support future compliance certification objectives.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The phrase “conventional CIO” is really not applicable for most CIOs. That is especially true for CIOs in start-up organisations. The number of roles I execute and hats I wear daily would make some cringe. It’s a lot! That said, I enjoy the challenge because it allows me to utilise the years of leadership, technical and soft-skills I was blessed to develop over a number of years by working in various roles and career growth opportunities. The key ingredient to being successful in any role is not merely what you are asked to do or contribute to but more so -- how you do it. Being knowledgeable of various technical and functional disciplines based on real-world hands-on experience is a skill set that will yield success, but only if you are open to other’s thoughts and perspectives.

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? All the above! It is not always easy, but it can be done if you have a foundational understanding of the guiding principles to achieve revenue growth and operational efficiencies. At Dispersive, we work tirelessly to align expenses with revenue growth opportunities. Our team has several models we leverage to align the availability and deployment of resources based on the anticipated ROI. Basically, we avoid the “build it and they will come model,” and right-size our implementations and deployments to support the demand.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? As a start-up, we are actively working to implement additional tooling to help validate our ITSM for operational service delivery supporting internal and external customers. Our existing processes are defined and mature, however, we currently lack the tooling to fully achieve our goals and objectives for end-to-end self-service delivery capabilities. We have measures to support our service delivery and availability but, at the end of the day, having direct customer feedback will always supersede metrics and KPIs. In the end, if any customer is not happy and no longer wants to use your services, having good quantitative metrics will not deliver qualitative results. It’s important to note that metrics are valuable and needed but looking beyond the numbers is critical in facilitating long-term success and growth.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Our culture is based on shared responsibility, accountability, and collaboration. Every role in the company is valued and our people understand we all have a direct impact on how we achieve the goals and objectives set by the CEO. As with any start-up, individuals with varying skill sets and capabilities are highly desired. Often, we’re asked to assume responsibilities that may fall outside our perceived strengths or comfort zone but it’s essential we all work to expand and grow our knowledge continuously. Quality, not quantity, is the key to our collective success.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate being) the most difficult to fill? Currently, we are facing challenges finding ideal technologists and well-rounded engineering candidate skills in the market. Within our organisation, we have a need for talent that is not limited to knowledge in just a single technology, solution and/or programming language.

What's the best career advice you ever received? That’s a great question! Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work on a number of innovative technologies and enjoyed the challenge of being an individual contributor (based on the role within a team setting). Despite the personal success and continual career growth as an individual contributor, I was asked to become a manager. At the time, being a manager was not something I had even considered, and I was uncertain if it was a role I even wanted to do. I was wrong. (Side note to Krandall – “Thanks, you were right!”) Having someone that challenges you to go farther, be better, and grow is invaluable to anyone’s career growth. Over my career I developed a philosophy that I still apply to this very day – “You can learn something from anyone daily, this includes what and what not to do.”

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. I’m not sure I’d say I have a succession plan, but I am definitely an open book and share the knowledge and skills I have developed whenever I can. I am passionate about growing members of my team from a technical and soft-skills perspective. My knowledge is based on years of learning and practical application that could not be easily replicated. I’m obviously not saying that no one could succeed me because I have many talented team members and colleagues. I make it a point to invest time in their growth through coaching, sharing responsibilities/ownership, knowledge, and inclusiveness. The key to anyone’s growth is largely based upon self-determination and goal setting. Beyond this, leaders can further support team members’ career growth by dedicating time to discussing their goals, desires, and career aspirations. For me, leadership is not a one-way street. Good leadership requires you to be consistent in providing your team timely and meaningful feedback as well as being open to receiving feedback yourself. Good technical and functional skills are meaningless if you don’t have and insist upon character and accountability.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Listen more and speak less. Hire people smarter than you, and always be open to hearing – as well as listening – to a different perspective. The goal is to do what is best -- not always be right. Make decisions if you must but be willing to solicit the input of others whenever possible. Finally, be willing to take ownership of your own imperfections and never hide behind a title.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Hopefully, I have not gotten there yet. Maybe ask me again in 2 years! This is just the beginning and I’m confident that, career wise, the future has much more for me in the years ahead. If I had to name my greatest and proudest achievement it would be that I have a loving and supportive family and, for me, nothing could be greater than that!

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I don’t tend to look backwards. I have never doubted myself or thought anything was impossible. I like to learn from the lessons of the past and use them to build a better future.

What are you reading now? The Bible, technology briefings and white papers on a number of subjects, as well as articles and books on Executive Leadership, Horticulture and Music Theory. How’s that for a broad range?!

Most people don't know that I… Play multiple musical instruments, and currently play bass guitar and sing for my Church home, The Solid Rock of Atlanta. I love golf but I have been too busy to play much at all. I plan to change that in 2022! I am also a lawn care enthusiast and one of those guys who is trying to make my front yard look like a golf course (yes, it is possible with Bermuda grass).

In my spare time, I like to…Spare time? I have enjoyed mentoring the Georgia First Robotics teams and have been doing that for more than 10 years. Unfortunately, I have not been able to do that for the past two years but plan to find a way to get back to helping them soon. I also love the outdoors, playing golf and camping.

Ask me to do anything but… Climb a ladder to get to the top of a three-story roof to stop a leak. The runner-up is cut the lawn taller than 38.1mm (my wife and daughters are no doubt shaking their heads).