CIO Spotlight: Asad Siddiqui, Celigo

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? “It has shifted from keeping the light on and running the business to being a strategic partner and a key executive enabling the company to achieve its business objectives…”

Headshot of Asad Siddiqui, CIO at Celigo

Name: Asad Siddiqui

Company: Celigo

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: May 2022

Location: Sant Mateo, CA

Asad Siddiqui is the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Celigo and is leading the company’s Technology vision and strategy. Siddiqui is a seasoned technology executive and a thought leader in SaaS, Business Technology, Data and Security. His expertise in these areas is critical to Celigo’s scale and success of a distributed global workforce and culture. Prior to Celigo, Siddiqui held several leadership positions, most recently at Asana, where he was the VP/Head of Enterprise Technology, helping scale their SaaS business along with supporting its IPO direct listing. Before that, Siddiqui was leading Business Technology and IT teams at LinkedIn, Zynga and other reputed technology companies, all of which scaled to billion dollar businesses.

What was your first job? My first job was as a product engineer in the FinTech space designing and developing product solutions for consumer facing products.

Did you always want to work in IT? I was always intrigued by technology when I was growing up. My curiosity took me to building products that people can use everyday solving business challenges. This transitioned very well into me supporting enterprises and scaling them. The rest, as they say, is history. 

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a bachelor's in technology with a major in computer science from Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Technology in Hyderabad, India and a masters in Computer Science and Engineering from New Jersey Institute of Technology. I also have PMI & Agile Scrum certifications.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I started my career as a software engineer for a Fintech organisation building its product that helped large global banks engage their customers. I always wanted to understand and learn how businesses operate and this curiosity took me into Business Technology where I worked as a consultant solving complex challenges and scale problems collaborating with various departments. This exposure gave me different perspectives and also introduced me to various industries and verticals. My appreciation for the field of IT & Business Technology grew stronger and I decided to pursue my passion while taking up roles that were highly impactful and kept me at my toes as the industry evolved quickly.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? In the post-pandemic era with the current macroeconomic conditions, our IT investments will be focused on digital innovation. Automation of processes across the business will be the centre of our digital transformation strategy. Employee productivity and efficiency are key goals for us. We are investing in tooling that directly impacts productivity of our teams across the business.

Due to our phenomenal business growth, technology and systems are playing catch up at the moment. We are investing in making our foundational systems strong so they can scale fast when we add capabilities to support business. We are investing in our data stack to help us transition into a data-driven business. As we continue to add new products, new systems and new ways to globally support our customers, security and compliance is a key area of investment for me. We continue to add tooling, security engineers and analysts to support our business growth. 

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? As a fast growing SaaS business with ever changing dynamics, customer engagement and experience is a key objective for the company and top priority for our CEO. My team is building out the tech stack that our business teams will leverage to engage and create best possible experiences for our customers. This includes any medium of inbound and outbound customer interactions alongside the most relevant data surfaced to enhance that interaction and help in fast value realisation.

Our mission as a company is to make automation as simple as possible by enabling anyone in the enterprise to build or deploy integrations. As a CIO, I am responsible for enabling organisation-wide integration-based automations – an internal priority from our CEO for my group to evangelise with a goal of creating efficiencies for our employees.

Earning and growing customer trust with a strong security & data privacy posture is a top goal for us and a top-down area of focus from our CEO.

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 CIOs is ever-changing. It has surely shifted from keeping the light on and running the business to being a strategic partner and a key executive enabling the company to achieve its business objectives – this is where forward-thinking CIOs are creating an impact. The role of a CIO has evolved to not just focus on internal tech and employee efficiencies but also to be externally facing as a thought leader. A CIO should be ready to play a few roles that help holistically solve business challenges.

SaaS sprawl is a real thing. It is the role of a CIO to ensure this sprawl is strategically addressed while enabling a culture of democratising tool selection. This is done effectively by creating the right balance between velocity and governance.

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 takes many shapes depending on where the company is in its journey of scale. Being a fast growing company with a strong product offering, our key goal is creating amazing product and engagement experiences for our customers. We believe that if the customers can easily use our product and have a seamless experience with our teams, they will realise value faster and be willing to invest with us. With this in mind, we are making investments in understanding user behaviours with our product, investing in UX and pre- and post-sales engagement mediums. We are making investments that help our teams be productive – streamlining leads to opportunities, CPQ, customer engagement tools, enablement platforms, chat, capturing touch points, etc.

On the operational side, we continue to make investments in our internal back office tools, which includes an HCM platform to scale with employee growth. I am also assessing a work management platform that can help us be on top of our game in planning, communicating, collaborating and execution, enhancing our use of Slack with several planned integrations so information can be easily shared and consumed. My team is rolling out a service management platform for several teams to centralise their services and create more predictability with their stakeholders.

For balancing these investments, it is important to continue to have an open dialogue and a continuous feedback loop to make adjustments as needed to respond to the dynamic shifts and trends.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? As I noted earlier, we are a fast growing dynamic business and often systems and tools play catch up. Digital maturity itself is not the goal for me; rather, it is a means to an end. I consider the following characteristics of digital maturity as part of my yearly roadmap: Automation; Customer-centricity; Efficiency; Innovation; Operational efficacy; Insights; Quality. From increased efficiency to improved quality, digital maturity drives outcomes that fuel business growth and, eventually, a customer’s success.

Some key metrics in terms of quantifying value for my team have been tool adoption and usage, business processes automated and hours saved, sales productivity, number of critical vulnerabilities, automated security threat detection, and internal CSAT from stakeholders.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Culture within the team and company is very important to me and is a deciding factor on where I would enjoy working and with whom. I do not specifically look for a ‘culture fit’; instead I am of the opinion that we should look for a ‘cultural add’ – folks with diverse perspectives and backgrounds that are empowered to voice their thoughts and opinions, which makes the team stronger and creates a sense of belonging for all.

A great culture is cultivated by ensuring employees have strong belief in the organisation's vision, what they are out to accomplish, and how that will help their customers succeed. With this belief, a set of strong company values, and an understanding of their responsibilities they can focus on producing high quality work (excellence) and excellent collaboration within the organisation – with an ultimate goal of achieving objectives and creating customer value while growing and developing organically within the organisation.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? One of my goals is to transition Celigo to a data-driven business and democratise data. Data roles are very crucial for our team to help scale our business and operations with rich insights and predictions on where business is headed. I am looking for Data Analysts, Data Scientists as well as data engineering and architects to join the team to build Celigo’s data products. I am seeing a tough market out there as several companies are looking to fill similar roles and finding the right candidates may be easy.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Put your head down, work hard, don’t be afraid to take risks and fail and never stop dreaming big. At first I struggled to understand the ‘put your head down’ part of the advice but my mentor at the time said “if you are not willing to do the grunt work and spend the time to empathise with and learn various different aspects of a business, then the journey ahead will get harder and you will have less appreciation of the complexities that exist”. I took my time and have since then rotated through various roles across my path and these were rich learning experiences that helped develop my well rounded experience.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. I believe in having a strong succession plan both for my own scale and growth as well as for my teams and organisations. If done as a reaction to an organisational change, succession will be very challenging. It needs to be a proactive approach of thinking through how an organisation's leadership needs will evolve in the future, identifying future leaders, and identifying activities to strengthen leadership capacity. I have used several methodologies previously to build out strong leadership teams. I found the nine-box framework and process very effective in identifying top talent who are high performance and have the potential to scale and take on additional responsibilities.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? We operate in very fast-paced environments these days. With the influx in start-ups and innovation in technology it has become essential for upcoming IT leaders to connect to and stay close to trends in technology and build the right network to grow by sharing and learning. I highly encourage new leaders to make this part of their ongoing learning and to explore various roles along their path. Belief in and trust yourself. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and keep an open mind to opportunities (look at challenges differently).

What has been your greatest career achievement? I have had many successes and achievements throughout my career. What stands out for me is successfully navigating the challenges of the Covid 19 pandemic - these were testing times for teams to be resilient, be focused, and take care of each other and our families. I am proud that I was able to create an environment of high trust and care within my teams. I had one of the highest engagement, collaboration and DEI results during this time which wasn’t an easy feat to achieve.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? No journey to being a successful CIO comes without mistakes and learnings. I have made plenty of them and I feel fortunate that they occured. I wouldn’t change anything and I have no regrets, but I do wish sometimes that I’d trusted myself more and not discounted my intuitions.

What are you reading now? The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. The book takes the form of a `How to' which, instead of providing strategies to overcome life's obstacles, invites the reader into a world of opportunities. An open mind is essential if you are to consider where the ideas might take you.

Most people don't know that I… have a very spiritual side to me. I pray very regularly. Being a Muslim and praying five times a day is not easy when one has a busy schedule. Taking the time out to pray is a way for me to reflect, de-stress and also be thankful for what I have been blessed with. It helps me be more emotionally and mentally stronger and aware.

In my spare time, I like to…be outdoors with family and friends exploring what nature has to offer us. I do a lot of reading and play basketball from time to time to keep me in game shape and rhythm.

Ask me to do anything but… be an order taker and block creative thinking and innovation.