CIO Spotlight: Scott Youngs, Key Information Systems

CIO Spotlight: Scott Youngs, Key Information Systems

Name: Scott Youngs

Company: Key Information Systems (KeyInfo)

Job title: CIO

Time in current role: A little over five years

Location: California, US

Scott Youngs is CIO for Key Information Systems (KeyInfo) where he is responsible for co-creating the Data Center Services offerings. He has been in IT since 1984, including positions with North Carolina State University Chemical Engineering Department, Bechtel, Northern Telecom, Exxon and J.D. Power and Associates. Prior to joining KeyInfo, as Director of Operations at ISWest, Scott designed and oversaw the building of their newest data center facility in Agoura Hills, California. 

What was your first job?  My first job was a maintenance man at a mobile home park in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I would crawl under homes, check heaters and do a lot of painting and cleaning. My first IT job was the following summer, when I worked at North Carolina State University in its IT department. They needed fearless kids to run mainframe cables past a mini nuclear reactor and a room with big magnets that were pretty dangerous. We would have to solder the individual wires into the DB9 connectors, plug in the terminals, and make sure everything connected.

Did you always want to work in IT? No. I wanted to be a professional soccer player or golfer. I played some semi-pro soccer and even played against some World Cup players. I had always been the fastest person on the field, but then I played against real pros and learned what separates them from the really good amateurs. So, I decided I had better get a real job. My father worked for IBM, so we always had the latest and greatest in technology at the house, and I did enjoy it.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I went to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as an applied math major because there was no computer science major back then. I got into a particular math class taught by the dean of the School of Mathematics, and I could not handle it. I am actually a three-time college dropout; it just wasn't for me. I decided I needed a real job, so I went to work for Northern Telecom to assist with the troubleshooting of their giant phone switches. I eventually worked for ExxonMobil, got married and started a family. It became too difficult to carry a full-time class load with a job and a family. I have no certifications. I discovered that I was hiring people who had all these certifications, but no real-world abilities. I just don't believe most of them translate, though some do. I am focused more on the management side.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Once I decided college was not for me, I went to work for Northern Telecom, and eventually moved to California and was fortunate enough to land a job as a help desk and mainframe operator for ExxonMobil. I knew almost nothing about mainframes, so it was a really fun job and a lot to learn. This was before current day networks even existed. Following Exxon Mobile, I worked for JD Power & Associates as a network administrator, and eventually director of IT. Back then, the company only had around 150 employees, so I was lucky enough to grow with the company. Eventually they brought in a new CIO that had a different vision than I did, so I left around the time my son was born and took nine months off to figure out what exactly I wanted to do. I was very frustrated with corporate America. Eventually, a little startup called ISWest was looking for a network manager, so I came on and helped them go from startup to small business. I was able to leverage what I learned at JD Power & Associates to help ISWest grow.   

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organization in the coming year? Getting more into cloud architecture and the systems we need to support more clients, which include our partner programs with Zerto and Veeam, licenses and things like that. With the recent acquisition by Converge Technology Partners, this will be more of a refining year. We want to get these processes and procedures down to grow. But the biggest thing is figuring out how we can handle more clients.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Our biggest push is management of our cloud offerings and increasing the managed services around our cloud products. We're going to win on the services side because not all cloud providers have boutique, hands-on service, specifically when it comes to disaster recovery as-a-service, and to some degree, backup.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? CIOs need to be involved in the marketing and branding of the company, and that hasn't always been the case. In the past, it was very siloed. Now, everyone has to do more, and that is true of the entire C-suite. As an executive, you're involved in HR, budgeting, and non-technical parts all the time, which is to be expected in management. When you deal with the management side of things, your staff can be very high-touch, and you encounter situations that you wouldn't think you have to deal with, but you do. When I look back on the past 28 to 30 years, I think that one of the main things a CIO role always should have included educating people about how to deal with different personalities.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasize customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? We're fairly digital already, so it's really more about what small tweaks can we make to the systems we already have. There's not a lot of paper floating around at KeyInfo except for maybe a few invoices that come in. The challenge is just how to get it all working properly. We have already transformed, we are just changing the digital platform. Our biggest focus this year is the acquisition and getting everything working properly.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? The main KPI we track internally is service uptime or continuity. Our clients only care that the service that they pay for is online, not so much that a big company name (IBM, HPE, etc.) is backing it. The other one is monthly recurring revenue. We have to hit those metrics to advance the business.

What does good culture fit look like in your organization? How do you cultivate it? We're a small company - only 62 employees - so you have to interact with pretty much everyone on a daily basis. When we hire, personality and work background are the main things we consider. We want people who are not only good at what they do, but who also have a good personality. We don't want the engineer that hides behind the door. There's no time for people to be grumpy with each other. We want people who like to have fun and work hard. When a hiccup happens, our managers deal with it right then and it's done.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? We struggle with finding CCIE engineers that are willing to do pre-sale and post-sale work. The other part of the struggle is finding someone willing to come work for a 60-person office, when there are big companies competing for this talent pool's attention.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Pay attention to your people. Engage with everyone that works with you personally. There's a style of management called "manage by walking around." It involves getting up out of your chair walking around and talking to people. When things go sideways, you want to be able to have that personal relationship with colleagues so you can ask them to do something they normally would not want to do. Ask co-workers about what is happening in their lives, and then ask them the business question. That was the best advice I ever got. Get up off your butt and engage with everyone in your organization.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes. You are only as successful as the people you surround yourself with. Surround yourself with successful people, and you will be successful.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Pay attention to your people. It's so important.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I believe my greatest achievement was the successful office migration and new site buildout when we moved JD Power's offices. We moved 350 systems in a weekend, and pulled it off without one issue. We had done the proper planning and buildout ahead of time to make sure it all went down as flawlessly as possible. Another great achievement, at ISWest, was that we got the onboarding process for colocation down to a science. It was so streamlined that when we had big fires back in 2011, the Santa Monica mountains headquarters was going to be overrun by fire. They needed a communication system to keep in touch with all the rangers up in 45 minutes. We got them up and running in a secure location in 45 minutes.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have practiced harder and gone on the PGA tour. No, really I wouldn't change anything. All of the experiences I have had have shaped me into the person I am. There was one thing that stands out. I did have a situation with a division in a company that really wanted to do their own thing, and I didn't put my foot down when I should have. We implemented a system that went horribly wrong and turned into three days of sub-optimal productivity. We really had to scramble, when I should have trusted my team more.

What are you reading now? "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett. It's fiction. I'm also on Google, Reddit and check out a newsletter called the Hustle - it's short and concise. I read Fast Company sometimes. I used to read more but right now I am focused on spending time with my youngest child until I am an empty nester in a few years.

Most people don't know that I… was in a movie called "Skillz." I played a boxing referee and had one line.

In my spare time, I like to…play soccer and hang out with my kids, play golf, and watch movies.

Ask me to do anything but… root for Duke University (that's part of being a UNC fan.) Also, gardening. I do not like to garden. Oh, and tell my wife she's wrong. I definitely don't like to do that.


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