Managing SaaS in the Modern IT Org

By Erika Malzberg September 27, 2018

The rise of modern IT and SaaS software management are dramatically changing the role of the CIO.

This was the subject of an exclusive panel discussion as part of Dreamforce 2018. Eric Christopher, CEO of Zylo, led a panel of progressive IT leaders including Zuora’s CIO Alvina Antar; Mindy Lieberman, VP Business Systems for Okta; Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix; and Yousuf Khan, Former CIO for PureStorage.

Here are just a few highlights from this fascinating and memorable discussion on how complex SaaS products are for modern organizations to manage, how to practice “safe SaaS,” IT hiring, measuring the ROI of SaaS platforms, the CIO role in business transformation, and more.

SaaS being purchased throughout organizations

Being asked about different business units purchasing SaaS is like being asked what I think of my son who’s going to college drinking. The questions isn’t whether it’s going to happen, but how to make it safe. Anyone with a credit card is a de facto member of the business organization. So how can we enable them to make purchases that are sane? How do we help them to practice safe SaaS?” – Mindy Lieberman, VP Business Systems for Okta (@mindy_lieberman, @okta)

“Purchasing a solution may have downstream implications. A lot of solutions aren’t just serving their own business. It may seem like an upstream application, but it may impact downstream systems. No one wants that responsibility. But IT loves that responsibility!” – Alvina Antar, CIO Zuora (@alvinaantar, @zuora)

“Sometimes it’s a wild west when it comes to how many SaaS applications a business has. The conversation isn’t about what people are buying but how to bring these applications into the organization and architect it together. How do we take the data from this application and share it out? How do we integrate it into core mechanisms?” – Yousuf Khan, Former CIO for PureStorage (@yakhan, @PureStorage)

Measuring SaaS ROI

“There’s an increased focus on opex spend. CEOs can see spending increasing, but we need to look at the ROI on that.” – Yousef Khan, Former CIO for PureStorage (@yakhan, @PureStorage)

“My focus is around my investments. These days, everyone is a platform. My question is are we actually using every platform to its full capacity? Are we staying current with ever-changing SaaS solution. You buy the license, but then you may be only using 20%. This utilization aspect is what we should be measuring.” – Alvina Antar, CIO Zuora (@alvinaantar, @zuora)

“The biggest mistake people make with SaaS is not staffing it, both for implementation and for day two. It lays dormant and never lives up to the value of the investment. We need to be focused on squeezing all the juice out of every deployment.” – Mindy Lieberman, VP Business Systems for Okta (@mindy_lieberman, @okta)

“We measure employee productivity and have an instrumented environment that measures everything. We try to find meaning in these signals and relate that to our investments. We connect ROI to productivity through data and work to move the needle. Even little tweaks to the dial make a difference as you scale.” – Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix (@WendyMPfeiffer, @nutanix)

“Most SaaS applications don’t provide ROI very well. The SaaS companies that will be successful are those that say what they target towards in terms of saving your company time or money. That’s what I focus on from a buying perspective.” – Yousef Khan, Former CIO for PureStorage (@yakhan, @PureStorage)

Proliferation of SaaS platforms and feature explosion

“SaaS vendors who provide platforms need to change up their strategy. The current strategy isn’t serving CIOs or companies. I don’t want my ERP to be a collaboration platform. I need APIs that allow me to integrate. Licensing models that allow me to choose components that are best in class.” – Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix (@WendyMPfeiffer, @nutanix)

“Message to SaaS companies: Focus on your competitive advantage and stop cluttering the market!” – Alvina Antar, CIO Zuora (@alvinaantar, @zuora)

“Successful SaaS companies are the ones that have built out an ecosystem. That is going to be a key component as you look to bring in SaaS: how do you grow it.” – Yousef Khan, Former CIO for PureStorage (@yakhan, @PureStorage)

“What we’re struggling with is interaction design. That entire user experience. Applications need to play together nicely in enterprise environments, even if they’re feature-rich. We need investment in our own space as SaaS providers into the environments into which we’re being delivered.” – Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix (@WendyMPfeiffer, @nutanix)

“Give me the APIs to allow for the partners that I choose to work with to integrate.” – Alvina Antar, CIO Zuora (@alvinaantar, @zuora)

“As a SaaS provider, we’re going to listen to customer feedback and prioritize features, etc.” – Eric Christopher, CEO of Zylo (@echristopher, @getzyloe)

SaaS data

“We need to instrument everything we do to collect data. That’s the bridge that’s changing the role of CIOs. Machine learning. We can effectively apply machine learning when we’re able to collect rich data from all our tools from all the environments.” – Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix (@WendyMPfeiffer, @nutanix)

“There’s so much data coming in, we can’t even make sense of it all. You need to make sure that you get the best data in the hands of people who can actually do something with it and make it actionable.” – Mindy Lieberman, VP Business Systems for Okta (@mindy_lieberman, @okta)

Business transformation

“Business transformation is in every conversation. The reality is that our role is positioned to drive the digital agenda within our organizations. The role of CIO is a different position because of this transformation. Businesses are looking at new ways to run their business, new revenue streams. And they do this through transforming the way they run their business. It’s risky. They need confidence from the person running internal tech to make sure that agenda is sound and there’s a plan and strategy.” – Alvina Antar, CIO Zuora (@alvinaantar, @zuora)

“IT is one of the very few roles that has the vantage point across an organization. There is a forcing function that says ‘how can we make this seamless and automate as much as we can?’ That role is growing. That’s IT.” – Yousef Khan, Former CIO for PureStorage (@yakhan, @PureStorage)

“You need to start with excellence in architecture. This is about building a digital infrastructure that can scale, that’s secure. That whole art and science is at the core of IT — and at the heart of SaaS architecture and infrastructure.” – Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix (@WendyMPfeiffer, @nutanix)

“Companies are living organisms like bodies. They’re always changing. The deal with digital transformation is that we’ve figure it out and are saying it out loud. But as long as we’re alive, we’re transforming — else we should die.” – Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix (@WendyMPfeiffer, @nutanix)

“The first wave of transformation was mobile and social. The second wave was around SaaS. That helped drive a lot around company’s digital transformation. The third wave will be on the front of technology: machine learning, IoT, etc. There’s a forcing function for companies to transform. It will not be about ‘Do we have mobile strategy?’ it’s about how can we automate so we can scale and compete.” – Yousef Khan, Former CIO for PureStorage (@yakhan, @PureStorage)

“Enterprise tech lags consumer tech in pace of innovation and usability. Why do I need to take a 4-week adoption plan for my next app as compared to consumer apps?” – Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix (@WendyMPfeiffer, @nutanix)

The “tech experience” (customer and employee experience)

“We are responsible for the experience of everyone in the company and how they relate to tech. If you lower the friction bar, you’re going to unlock potential: not just of your IT team but of your whole company.” – Mindy Lieberman, VP Business Systems for Okta (@mindy_lieberman, @okta)

“All companies are going to compete in experience wars. For enterprise it’s about customer success: deployment and ROI. Companies have to build experiences which are phenomenal and unforgiving.” – Yousef Khan, Former CIO for PureStorage (@yakhan, @PureStorage)

“We need to invest in providing a seamless experience for employees. It’s about employee productivity.” – Alvina Antar, CIO Zuora (@alvinaantar, @zuora)

“I really like tickets! It’s validation. They enable you to get as close as possible to the customer experience.” – Yousef Khan, Former CIO for PureStorage (@yakhan, @PureStorage)

“We measure FTR (first time right) and NPS (net promoter score) of our employees. First time right – how employee would describe the way that you would deliver the thing. And what was that experience like. We actively measure and take action on those things.” – Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix (@WendyMPfeiffer, @nutanix)

“My favorite tickets are proactive tickets. I like to see the employee base go up and tickets go down.” – Mindy Lieberman, VP Business Systems for Okta (@mindy_lieberman, @okta)

“In a high-growth company, employee experience needs to be top of mind, on par with the customer experience. We need to hire new employees and immediately enable them to perform. We should have a playbook based on persona and what every tools employee needs to be successful.” – Alvina Antar, CIO Zuora (@alvinaantar, @zuora)

Diversity in IT hiring

“It starts with creating a diverse team: diverse backgrounds, gender, disciplines, age groups. Becast the problems that we’re solving are multifaceted and multi-layered. Knee jerk reactions aren’t optimal. We need to actively look for diverse sources of talent. Bring in folks who have passion for wanting to succeed. I find these folks in underserved communities” – Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix (@WendyMPfeiffer, @nutanix)

“Passion comes from within. It’s your background that fuels your passion, and that’s what drives a standard of excellence within an organization. Diversity of thought is critical as we’re driving innovation in organizations.” – Alvina Antar, CIO Zuora (@alvinaantar, @zuora)

“There are two things I look at when building teams. Collaborative ability: the problem you come in to solve isn’t the problem you solve. And someone who’s a good listener who can ask the right questions.” – Mindy Lieberman, VP Business Systems for Okta (@mindy_lieberman, @okta)

“Technical skills are important, but machines can write the code. So it’s the ability to collaborate and synergize and make the sum bigger than the parts that we’re looking for.” – Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix (@WendyMPfeiffer, @nutanix)

“Talent acquisition is the #1 problem right now from an org building viewpoint – not just for IT but across the board. I look for strong work ethic and people who are interested in solving a problem. You need to look to hire people to give them a chance. If you think more creatively about job requirements, you’re going to increase the pipeline.” – Yousef Khan, Former CIO for PureStorage (@yakhan, @PureStorage)

“People don’t want to wear one hat. I wish we would get rid of titles. It’s just limiting. We need to be empowered to solve problems. Don’t worry about whether this problem fits in your span of control. We all need to work and solve the problems together and not in silos. ” – Alvina Antar, CIO Zuora (@alvinaantar, @zuora)

Learn more about the new role of the CIO as business transformation leader from Zuora CIO Alvina Antar.