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From Service Provider to Growth Leader

Martha Heller | Aug. 20, 2015
John Marcante, CIO of Vanguard, on the new role of IT

Ultimately, we’ve structured the senior team with the objective to break out of traditional IT silos and work collaboratively – which is critical as functions like development and operations start merging.

How are you building speed and agility into your IT organization?

The amount of time between a disruptive idea and massive adoption is shorter than ever, so as CIO, it is vital to create an environment that is flexible and nimble and can test and learn and fail fast. You do that by automating as much as possible, implementing Agile, and taking a minimal viable product approach. It is about not trying to get everything done. It is about continuous delivery and releasing software at a moment's notice.

We are pushing the envelope on flexibility, “test and learn,” and “failing fast and cheap,” and the accompanying technologies that enable that approach – cloud, modular applications, and scalable services. We haven’t conquered these yet but we are committed to that direction in our roadmap for IT.

What is the single greatest obstacle to achieving this nimble “test and learn” environment?

The largest obstacle for big companies is culture. Eric Ries's book, The Lean Startup, provides lessons learned from Silicon Valley startups for large companies. The book is about how to set up a culture where you don’t need to be perfect and where "failure" is not a bad word. Big companies have to start valuing a culture that builds off of learning from failure. That is a new way to think, and large companies are trying to figure out how to get there.

A few months ago, our chairman took the executive team to Silicon Valley for a week. He said, "We’re going to spend time with venture capitalists and startup companies and Stanford University. We are going to bring these ideas back to Vanguard."

This “test and learn” approach has caught on like wildfire at Vanguard. In fact, our head of product development is applying the Lean Startup approach to R&D. I can rattle off a ton of IT initiatives where we are applying those lessons, but when you see those concepts take off in product R&D, you know you’ve really hit on something.

What advice would you give to a new CIO?

Run IT like a business. Create a vision, have a purpose, and have a strategy to bring the organization into the future. Don't wait for others to dictate your strategy. That's the old service provider mentality. We used to say, "The business needs to figure out what they want first, and then we’ll be able to deliver it." That does not work in a world where technology is the business. IT has to lead.

About John Marcante


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