Seven months into her role as CIO of SaaS company Zendesk, Colleen Berube has finished an audit of the 250 different technologies used to run the business — 85 per cent of those are managed outside of IT.

Speaking to Which-50 between sessions at the company’s Showcase event in Melbourne last week, Berube explained her challenge is to “put a loose net” around those systems while still giving the business the freedom and flexibility it needs to move quickly.

“A big part of my role is to be responsible for the business systems and we want to continue to be adaptable, flexible and agile as a company. I’m looking at how to scale a model that has let the company grow really quickly,” she said.

“So, how do you put a loose net around it and keep the flexibility and autonomy that we had, but make sure that we’ll continue to be able to scale as we grow between 30 and 40 per cent per year.”

Zendesk was founded in Copenhagen 13 years ago to solve customer service and ticketing problems with cloud based subscription software. Today the company has 3,500 employees, 145,000 customers and a $700 million revenue run rate. At the same time, the product has also expanded from simple customer support tools to a family of customer experience products.

Modern IT

Managing a growing portfolio of business-led tech investment is part of the modern CIO’s role, but just don’t call it shadow IT.

Zendesk CIO Colleen Breube
Zendesk CIO Colleen Berube

“I don’t ever use the phrase shadow IT. My experience is that technology leaders who are still using that phrase have kind of missed the inflection point in terms of the change in IT,” Berube said.

She explained, “if you go back even 15 years ago, the reason that you had IT organisations was because it required technology professionals to implement technology. The world has changed a lot since then and there’s an awful lot of things that used to be done in IT that frankly, don’t need to be done in IT anymore. It doesn’t really require technology professionals.”

Rather than trying to hang on to the role they’ve always played, IT organisations need to evolve and learn to operate differently in a state of accelerating change, Berube said.

“It used to be you could put systems in and you could be sure you would have them for five or six years. That’s just not the case anymore. It’s more about how you create organisations, ways of working and systems that are flexible and can change?”

Those 250 systems running inside Zendesk will now become part of what Berube describes as a comprehensive enterprise architecture, which can evolve with the business goals over time. That includes be able to easily spot redundancies when looking for cost savings.

The approach also ensures there is the common flow of data across the systems and security and compliance obligations are met.

“The biggest risk you have with a complex environment like this is that the data doesn’t translate between the systems, you lose information and you can’t readily access the information and use it to be a data driven company.”

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