CIO Spotlight: Kate Prouty, Akamai

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? “My top piece of advice is to not be afraid to put your hand up and try new things. If you’re not being challenged, then you’re not growing…”

Headshot of Kate Prouty, Senior VP & CIO at Akamai

Name: Kate Prouty

Company: Akamai Technologies

Job title: Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: December 2021

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Kate Prouty is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Akamai. As CIO, she oversees Akamai’s Information Technology organisation, responsible for business transformation including global strategy, development, and operation of the applications and IT infrastructure that enable agile and efficient user experiences for Akamai’s customers, employees, and partners.

What was your first job? My first job out of college was on an IT helpdesk for Fleet Financial and Digitas. This often involved me crawling under people’s desks with a screwdriver to make sure everything was hardwired and connected correctly. I enjoyed my role, but at the time there certainly weren’t many females doing what I did!

After that, my early roles included being a database administrator, sysadmin, and network administrator before going into Business Application software development and software implementation. I certainly ran the gamut of IT jobs, but I was like a sponge; I wanted to learn as much as I could and gain as much experience as I could. The breadth of these experiences helps me to be a better CIO today.

Did you always want to work in IT? To be honest, no. My degree is in business, and I was interested in accounting and finance. However, after I graduated, I found myself in a competitive job market where it was very difficult to find anything that exactly matched my skill set.

It wasn’t until my brother-in-law suggested that I apply for a position on the IT help desk for the company he worked for that I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and take on this new challenge.

I took classes on disk operating systems, LAN administration, Oracle database administration, PLSQL and unix. I also spent a lot of time following people around and learning on the job. I wasn’t afraid to put my hand up to take on really hard problems, which allowed me to present myself as someone who is reliable and can be depended on to get the job done, something that is core to success in any field.

The more I learned, the more I wanted to do. My growth was really organic. I started in one space and then spread out from there.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Keene State College and I’m also a graduate of the Greater Boston Executive Program at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. After working at Digitas for 3 years, I joined Akamai Technologies in 1999 and have been with the company for over 20 years. As CIO, I oversee Akamai’s Information Technology organisation, responsible for business transformation including global strategy, development, and operation of the applications and IT infrastructure that enable agile and efficient user experiences for Akamai’s customers, employees, and partners.

Before moving into the CIO role, my role was to lead the transformation of Akamai’s business processes with an emphasis on flexibility, agility, and user experience. I was hired to run the company’s ERP implementation but was immediately asked to help solve the company’s billing problem.

We had to build a system to compute usage metrics off our deployed system, then marry that to contract data to produce customer invoices. Out of this came our first-generation networks statistics engine and billing system. The network statistics system has evolved from an input used for billing, to a data service used across the company to better understand how our customers are using our deployed network, and network supply chain, to ensure the smooth operation of the business and best serve Akamai’s customers.

Being responsible for essentially enabling the business through technology has allowed me to gain exposure to most of the areas across the business and gives me great insight and perspective on stakeholder challenges. My role has connected me to most of the teams across the company and has helped me appreciate the work they do. Ultimately, it’s the people that have helped me to become the leader that I am today.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? We are always investing in technology, not only to enable us to deliver the best possible service to customers and stay one step ahead of their needs, but also to enable an amazing experience for our employees at work.

One major initiative is our Akamai-on-Akamai programme. This is a company-wide campaign that allows employees to use Akamai's security services as a business customer. Through the hands-on experience of being customer one, we’re able to get ‘real world’ feedback on our products and test how effective they are before we roll them out to our customers. This approach promotes collaboration and innovation, provides deeper visibility and greater control of how enterprises interact with Akamai technology, and offers customers uniquely tailored solutions that suit their needs.

Our Future of Work programme is also another initiative that we’re excited about. This is a global flexible work programme that has been specifically designed to deliver the best employee experience, regardless of where employees work. It aims to promote employee engagement whilst maintaining company culture, inspiring innovation, and enabling exceptional service.

In both these instances, as in countless others, we are investing in the technology that powers these initiatives.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Given the widespread technology transformations, shifts and disruptions over the past year, businesses of all sizes have been faced with re-evaluating their ability to face ‘unprecedented’ threats, or simply manage new hazards in preventing a ransomware attack – including Akamai!

Therefore, one of our ongoing priorities is continually securing our network and end users in a way that’s not disruptive to our employees. We just completed our roll-out of Akamai MFA, and we are continuing to expand our use of Akamai EAA and ETP and are diligently working through an implementation of Guardicore micro-segmentation for our most critical applications.

A key part of this is providing cybersecurity training to our employees so we can reduce the risk of security breaches. Simply put, if employees are not educated about cyberthreats, they can’t be expected to completely defend against them. That is why we’re prioritising training and education services that are specifically geared toward helping employees improve their cybersecurity postures.

My role in this is to report on successes (like number of attacks blocked), communicate the latest risks/threats and share tips to staff about cybersecurity trends and best practices. I also try to incorporate reminders and updates about cybersecurity into team meetings and other important company updates to underscore the importance and purpose of investing in cyber-resilience. This is a really important part of my role and one that I enjoy because it highlights the crucial importance of what we do at Akamai.

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 has dramatically evolved over these past few years to be much more outwardly focused. We have an increased voice in the boardroom when it comes to the general running of the company.

For example, CIOs now need to have a point of view on the business – something they didn’t necessarily need to have in the past. As a result, the modern CIO is expected to have a deep understanding of business strategy and then be able to translate that into a technology roadmap. This involves greater collaboration at the C-suite level, as well as employee buy in. It’s all about facilitating the discussion, being more consultative, and finding ways to push boundaries.

This shift, combined with the recognition that technology is an enabler, means that CIOs are now strategic leaders and trusted business advisors.

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? Akamai secures and delivers digital experiences for the world's largest companies. As the technology that enables this constantly evolves, we do too.

Getting ahead of new, emerging trends is critical for us as an organisation and it starts with ensuring that the devices we use are modern and secure, with features like multi-factor authentication. We must practise what we preach to our clients!

Our ongoing digital transformation addresses customer experience, revenue growth, and operational efficiency. To be honest, I don’t see them as mutually exclusive. Done right, digital transformation can achieve all three. More specifically, we are in the midst of a business transformation across our back office and HCM tech stacks. In the near term. we will continue to drive for modernisation in these areas. as well as our supply chain.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Although Akamai is certainly ahead of most with digital maturity, it is a constant cycle that always has room for improvement and further development. We use KPIs to monitor and keep track of our progress and measure the success rate. While we leverage data for a lot of this, it’s equally important to get real-time feedback from stakeholders.

We use all of this, as well as looking at forward trends to continually evolve our technology and move forward.

What does a good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? I’ve been with Akamai for over 23 years, but the people and culture continue to inspire me every day. I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to work with some of the most talented and brightest people, where everyone is willing to share their expertise and knowledge, as we all want a positive outcome.

All ideas and perspectives are valued, regardless of what stage someone is at in their career, and leadership teams put in a lot of thought and care to ensure employee wellbeing is put first above all else.

Transparency is one of our core values and something I believe is critical to organisational success. I see it as my duty to promote an environment of open communication, so that my teammates feel seen and heard. I try to do this by giving regular updates to my team and ensuring any new information is communicated well in advance, with managers even asking employees to help find solutions.

A culture of healthy debate is also vital for any successful organisation. It’s important to encourage and support everyone to speak up – whether it’s on the products we’re developing or on internal DE&I initiatives – a healthy debate allows us to break the mould and innovate.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? For anyone working in technology, finding highly skilled employees with a technical background is very challenging as there’s such a high demand. Some areas that we are finding particularly challenging right now are cybersecurity, software engineers, business systems analysts, and architects. But, we are working hard to build these skills internally where it’s hard to recruit them in.

What's the best career advice you ever received? One of the best and most important things I have learned is that you need to be yourself. People respond well to authenticity. It inspires trust and it demonstrates a mature level of self-understanding and confidence, too.

Authentic behaviour and communication also help others feel safe and comfortable to express themselves freely, which allows you to build better connections with others.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes, I do have a succession plan that is used to identify and grow talent to fill leadership and business-critical positions in the future. I am fortunate to work with a talented group of people that have been with Akamai for a while and have a solid understanding of all areas of the business.

This is something that can be particularly challenging when it comes to hiring new staff. Akamai works in a highly complex environment, and it takes time to train new staff on the nuances that this complexity creates.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? My top piece of advice is to not be afraid to put your hand up and try new things. If you’re not being challenged, then you’re not growing and there's a risk that you’ll become complacent.

I found this out for myself in the early stages of my career and trying new things really helped me understand what I wanted to do and gave me a breadth of experience that eventually helped make me a better leader.

I also think it’s important to be a person that people like to work with. You will only be as successful as the team you have around you, so you will go a long way if you are supportive of others, willing to compromise, and try your best to make things possible for others.

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