CIO Spotlight: Jan Manning, Forescout

What's the best career advice you ever received? “The best career advice I have ever received was to love what you do! When you love what you do, it shows in the quality of your work.”

Headshot of Jan Manning, CIO & SVP of IT at Forescout
Forescout

Name: Jan Manning

Company: Forescout Technologies, Inc.

Job title: Chief Information Officer & SVP of Information Technology

Date started current role: February 2021

Location: Dallas, Texas

Jan Manning joined Forescout as their Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice President of Information Technology in 2021. She has more than 25 years’ experience in the Information Technology and Corporate Security fields at companies such as Datascan, Hexis Cyber Solutions, and Gemalto-SafeNet, Inc. Manning is focused on partnering with the business to improve the core operations, increase revenue opportunities, and decreasing excess costs by establishing an IT strategy and execution that supports the goals of the corporation. Manning is passionate about supporting the STEM programs in Dallas and supports deployed military and their families via the Soldiers’ Angels program.

What was your first job? My first IT position was as a program librarian for a hospital and nursing home software development company. Six months later, I was promoted to a programmer analyst, developing software for the hospitals.

Did you always want to work in IT? No. I wanted to be a doctor. However, after attending some classes I decided it was not a good fit. I found that I don’t like blood and I am not able to be detached from others’ pain! After that discovery, I was asked by someone close to me to attend some computer classes and found that I really enjoyed technology.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with an emphasis in Computer Science. I do not currently have any certifications.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. As I mentioned, I did have one detour early in the field of medicine, however once I started learning about IT and the multiple paths that were available, I chose to start in software development.  Eventually, I started to add database administration, project management, and learning more about infrastructure. Over time I moved into leadership positions and developed security programs for several organisations as a CIO.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Forescout is investing in several strategic initiatives this year. Among the most significant is the implementation of a new ERP system that will enable the business to streamline our operations while enabling us to support our international presence as well as bring on acquisitions more easily. In addition, we are modernising our infrastructure which will provide a better experience for our employees and reduce costs.

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’s top priorities for IT include supporting our international expansion as well as our acquisitions. This includes items such as building new offices, establishing a 24-7 service desk in Pune, India to provide level 1 support to our employees, improving operational efficiencies and implementing and integrating our systems and networks.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? I do not believe the conventional CIO role includes responsibilities it should not hold. Traditionally this has included business applications, infrastructure, networking, systems administration, and service desk, as well as the PMO. As security has become more important, the CIO role has typically included security. This has been instrumental in providing security controls which help to protect the organisation against attack. Recently, larger companies have split out security into its own department under the CISO. However, when these organisations are separate there can often be challenges with priorities, resources, and the ability to make sure security integral to the corporation.

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, we have a focus on digital transformation. We have initiatives that cross both improving the customer experience as well as revenue growth and operational efficiency. We are a fast-moving organisation where both the business and IT have many priorities. Balancing these priorities can be difficult. Having a strong relationship with the business teams and establishing a prioritisation methodology with them is vital when dealing with competing projects.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? We are quite mature. We have extensive metrics for all IT areas and reviewed monthly with leadership. For each metric not achieved, the team issues an explanation, and, if needed, a corrective action is created and monitored for completion.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Forescout’s values are collaboration, trust, and innovation. When I interview someone to join Forescout, I look for someone who meets this criteria and also wants to make a positive difference for the company. They need to be a self-starter and start forming relationships with an attitude of helping our team and others to always improve our products and services.

I have always believed that you need to lead by example. This not only means at the executive level, but throughout the entire organisation. Coaching and communication are critical to cultivating culture in a company.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? While I am not finding specific roles or skills difficult to fill, I have noticed that there are certain geographical areas harder to find the right talent or resources.

What's the best career advice you ever received? The best career advice I have ever received was to love what you do! When you love what you do, it shows in the quality of your work. This includes learning from successes and failures and the way you show up every day at work. 

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes, I believe that all leaders should have a succession plan. One of the biggest challenges that some leaders have with training high-performing staff, especially in technical roles, is that not all employees work the same way. For instance, some employees are more productive during regular business hours, whereas others may prefer working at night. Some workers may also prefer a more social environment and want to work from an office location while others may work better in a quiet, remote environment. The leader really needs to evaluate and identify what really excites each person on their team and try to create opportunities to utilise their strength while developing their growth needs. 

In addition, leaders need to identify what demotivates teams or member of the team. For instance, not addressing low performers amongst the mid and high-level performers always has a demotivating affect. The reverse is also a consideration – not challenging and recognising those members accomplishing their goals and making a difference can result in attrition of your best employees!

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Concentrate on the role that you’re in and make it the best performance you can!  Learn new ways to streamline, develop, test, or lead different projects. Always try to show up with a positive and helpful mindset. Look for someone or various people you think has the skills you admire or who can help you and learn from them. Ask them to be your mentor.

What has been your greatest career achievement? My greatest career achievement was completing my Bachelor of Science degree. This was difficult since I went to school intermittently after high school and eventually had enough schooling to obtain my first job.  Then life happened. I got married and started a family and was working full time. I had promised my mother to get my degree one day, before I got married. I started back to school part-time and eventually was able to achieve my goal and live up to my promise. I graduated with honours while I was in my first VP of IT role.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Never let your ego get in the way! There was a time that a decision was made for a software implementation that was the wrong one. Although it wasn’t my decision alone, I did influence it. After reflecting on what went wrong, I believe, partially, I let my ego get in the way rather than listening openly to pros and cons which probably would have changed the outcome.

What are you reading now? Measure What Matters by John Doerr

Most people don't know that I… love driving motorcycles and have a dream to ride to Sturgis one day!

In my spare time, I like to…I like to spend time with my family! We enjoy traveling, hiking, and activities at the lake such as boating and swimming.

Ask me to do anything but… Truthfully, I believe you can ask me to do anything as far as my job is concerned. I’ve always felt that if I am capable and able to learn, I can eventually accomplish any task. I also see this as a learning opportunity to expand my skill set.