CIO Focus Interview: Isaac Sacolick, Greenwich Associates
For this CIO Focus Interview, I got the pleasure of interviewing Isaac Sacolick. Isaac is the Global CIO and a Managing Director at Greenwich Associates and is recognized as an industry leading, innovative CIO. In 2013, he received Tech Target’s CIO award for Technology Advancement. The past two years, he’s been on the Huffington Post’s Top 100 Most Social CIOs list. I would highly recommend reading his blog, Social, Agile and Transformation and also following him on Twitter (@nyike).
Ben: Could you give me some background on your career?
Isaac: My career began in start-ups, and I have never lost that start-up DNA. My past few jobs have been taking the way start-ups work and applying that mentality and framework to traditional businesses that need to transform.
Ben: Could you give me some background on your company and your current role within the company?
Isaac: Greenwich is a provider of global market intelligence and advisory services to the financial services industry. I’m the CIO and am leading our Business Transformation Initiative. I’ve been focused on a couple of key areas in my role. These include creating agile practices and a core competency in software development, as well as building and standardizing our Business Intelligence platforms.
Ben: You recently started at Greenwich. As a CIO in this day and age, what are some of the challenges of starting a new role?
Isaac: When starting a new role, you’re constantly switching hats. You need your learning hat to be able to digest things that you know very little about. You need your listening hat to hear where a pain point or opportunity is so you can understand and apply your forces in the right places. It’s important to look for some quick wins while taking baby steps towards implementing changes and transformations you think are necessary. It’s like a clown picture with 7 or 8 different wheels spinning at the same time. I had to learn how our business operated and to work with the IT team to transition from one way of operating to another way of operating. An important piece is to learn the cultural dynamics of the company. That’s been my first three months here.
Ben: What projects have you been able to work on with all the chaos?
Isaac: I’ve instrumented some tangible results while getting situated. We now have an agile practice. It was one of those things that had been talked about in the past, but now we have four programs running with four different teams, each in different states of maturity. We’ve also changed our approach with our developers. They were operating in support mode and taking requests to address break fix things, etc. Now, we’ve put the brakes on some of the marginal work and have freed some of their time so some of them can be tech leads on agile projects. This has helped us make great progress on building new products. We’re a tech team focused on more strategic initiatives.
I’ve been doing similar work with Dev Ops by getting them an expanded view of support beyond service desk and having them look at considerations that our organization has that need support around applications. We’re trying to get in the mindset that we can respond to application requests in need. We’ve gone from a help desk and infrastructure model to one that adds more focus on supporting applications.
Which areas of IT do you think are having the biggest impact on businesses?
Isaac: I would say self-service BI programs. If you roll the clock back 3-4 years ago, the tools for data analytics most organizations were using could be split into two camps. You were either operate out of do-it-yourself tools like Microsoft Excel and Access or you deployed an enterprise BI solution. The enterprise BI solution cost a lot of money and required extensive training. Over the last 3 years, there has been an emergence of tools that fit in that middle ground. Users can now do more analytics in a much more effective and productive fashion. The business becomes more self-serving, and this changes the role of the IT department in regards to how to store and interpret data. There is also a lot of governance and documentation involved that needs to be accounted for. These new self-service BI programs have taken a specialized skill set and made it much more democratic and scalable so that individual departments can look at data to see how they can do their jobs better.
Ben: What’s the area of IT that interests you the most?
Isaac: I would have to say the Internet of Things. The large volumes of data and the integration of the physical world and virtual world are fascinating. The Internet of Things has capabilities to really enrich our lives by simplifying things and giving us access to data that used to be difficult to capture in real time. Take wearables for example. The Apple Watch came out and then there will be many more things just like it. I’m really interested to see the form and functionality wearables take moving forward, as well as who will adopt them.
Ben: What sorts of predictions did you have coming into 2015?
Isaac: I actually wrote a blog post back in January with my 5 predictions for 2015. One was that big data investments may be the big bubble for some CIOs. To avoid overspending and underachieving on big data promises, CIOs are going to have to close the skills gap and champion analytics programs. Another was that Boards are likely to start requesting their CIOs to formally present security risks, options and a roadmap as companies become more active to address information security issues.
By Ben Stephenson, Emerging Media Specialist