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Meet the Tech Exec Brandon Johnson, CIO, Resources Global Professionals

MEET THE TECH EXEC

Brandon Johnson

CIO

Resources Global Professionals

What’s the #1 area of focus CIO’s should concentrate on?
While CIO’s have to be agile and help organizations move quickly from one focal point to another, cyber security concerns are growing faster in importance than many other areas for most CIO’s.  Technologies such as IoT and Bitcoin are going to exacerbate this further.  While these are great commercial enablers, they create fertile ground for folks that would seek to exploit system vulnerabilities.  As a result, CIO’s are more heavily tasked with implementing coherent strategies to address these increasing threats. For us at RGP, it’s certainly top of mind and at the very top of that list is ensuring that our clients’ information is protected in addition to sensitive company information.  Cyber security is a constantly evolving landscape.  It used to be somewhat ancillary and now be must a clearly defined, mainstream capability within the organization.  RGP approached the challenge through a global information assurance program, well-defined roles and responsibilities, and playbooks to address specific scenarios such as ransomware or breach of sensitive data.
Prior to RGP, I served as an officer in the Marine Corps for 20 years.  I was an aviator, and took the approach used for aviation mishaps where you have well-defined incident response plans that are regularly practiced, and applied this to cyber security incident management.  If an incident occurs, you have a very prescriptive time sensitive approach of what to do in the first five minutes, first half hour, and so on.  This allows you spend time gaining control of the situation, resolving the issue and communicating, not trying to invent the process to manage the incident.  It’s important that you dry run these and practice so the first time you do it is not game day.
Perhaps more important than a specific focal point for CIOs is the philosophy they use for driving value in their organization.  I use a lead-partner-serve approach and I think it’s universally applicable to CIOs today.  In the past, the CIO role was essentially “to serve” by providing excellent services and ensuring the organization is well supported.  This is still essential, and is the foundation of what we do, but is really the base of the pyramid.  More recently the role has elevated into partnering with the business.  This means understanding the needs of the business and providing the best possible solutions for them.  Working together with business functions as a peer has been a big step forward for many organizations.  At the top of this pyramid is leadership.  The CIO leads by innovating and creatively applying technology to generate business or organizational value.  He or she is often in the best position to see how new technology can benefit or disrupt the business, sometimes well before the business itself sees it, and it’s imperative that the CIO helps the company assimilate new technology and evolve.  The CIO should be leaning forward to help the business see these new possibilities, and with the lead-partner-serve approach, it’s the leadership role that is most important for a company’s success
What’s your take on public cloud vs. On-Premise vs Hybrid?   
The world is moving toward cloud based enablement of technology, we should be proactive, embracing it and leveraging it.  At RGP, we are moving the majority of our services to the cloud.  In fact, I believe most vendors will phase out on premise solutions, and if you are not going in that direction you are probably walking against the wind.  Of course there are cost-benefit and timing aspects to decisions to move to the cloud, and rushing to these solutions without a strategy is not a good idea.  That said, there are many compelling reasons to move to the cloud.  My view is that cost is not usually the primary driver, rather it’s reliability.  I also believe that, in practical terms, security is generally better in the Cloud than it is on premise for most organizations.  Cloud-based technology providers are often more comprehensive in their approach to security than organizations whose core businesses are not rooted in technology.  I think the conventional view held by CIOs on this issue will shift over time, and objective data will tell you that more breaches are due to locally exploited vulnerabilities than cloud providers getting hacked.  As for RGP, we currently have both on premise and cloud based solutions, but we are moving deliberately toward the cloud.  Our IT roadmap shows virtually every technology driven capability has a path which leads to a cloud solution.
 What did you want to grow up to be when you were a kid?
I still haven’t grown up! OK, in all seriousness, I’ve loved technology from a very young age. I grew up in Durango, a small town in southwestern Colorado and I remember taking a computer lab tour at the local high school.  There were drum plotters, 8 inch floppy disks, and green screen monitors.  All of it seemed futuristic (at the time) and fascinating.  I began programming at a young age and through my high school years wrote software programs for local companies.  I always believed that technology would be a part of my life and livelihood in some way.  I attended the University of Texas at El Paso, got my undergrad in Computer Information Systems, and then was a commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Marine Corps.  I enjoyed a terrific 20 year career that intersected technology in many ways.  I was afforded the opportunity to pursue graduate degrees in information technology along the way, and from an operational perspective I had a wide range of roles.  Among these I served as a tactical jet aviator, did a tour in the intelligence community, and in my last role I managed the technical support for Marine Corps tactical information systems deployed worldwide.  All of it was great preparation for my current role as a CIO.

Are there any hiring challenges with millennials?
It’s interesting; in CIO roundtables, this is often a topic of discussion.  There’s a view that Millennials are completely different than other employees and need to be treated in a very different way.  While the Millenial generation is somewhat different than Gen X, my generation, I think every generation has differences from the one before it and they are not as great as popular culture would have you believe.  It’s important to understand the real differences and figure out how to best address them.  We all want to acquire the best talent regardless of demographic, and there is no doubt the millennial generation brings great talent along with different work patterns and ways of problem solving.  To best harness that talent, I think you need to provide the opportunity to do meaningful work within the organization and to clearly show the value they add.  While this approach is good for every demographic, I think it needs to be front and center for millennials.  Previous generations often didn’t expect to be told why and how their contributions matter.
As important as it is to create an environment that embraces millennial talent, it’s also important to help them adapt to the organization and adopt the values of the team.  I also think we should be careful of assigning values to the ‘millennial’ label.  I have two millennial daughters that are of working age and they loathe the term ‘millennial’ and the baggage that comes with it, particularly the perception that all millennials need special handling and certain things to be happy.
From a technology perspective, millennials are digital natives and they think in terms of the capabilities that are in front of them and can harness them quickly.  It’s worth noting though, that they eventually build their own set of habit patterns and deviating from these becomes harder.  Every generation is flexible and adaptable initially, and then becomes set in its ways.  I think Generation Z is the new group to be thinking about as they are starting to enter the workforce.  Millennials are becoming part of the old guard now, and things are different for Generation Z as the pace of technology for them is even faster.
We always need to be evolving to work with and get the most from the next generation.
 Do you feel IT still carries the title of a cost center rather than revenue driver?   
It depends on the company.  I don’t believe our company views it as a cost center way, but more as a potential revenue accelerator.  We are fortunate to have a CEO who is a technology advocate and in some cases, a technology evangelist.  I believe she would say technology plays a vital role in making sure that our clients are well served, that our people are enabled to deliver maximum value, and that it ultimately helps deliver great value to our shareholders.  I do think that industry opinions are shifting and technology is now more often viewed as a value and revenue driver than in the past.
What are you, as the CIO, doing to support innovation in the company to deliver better solutions?
I’m going to address this question slightly differently; I think there is a common misconception that innovation is a predetermined path that leads to a specific outcome that you know in advance.  From my perspective, using technology to improve an organization may or may not be innovation.  To truly innovate requires some experimentation, and not being afraid to fail.  In practical terms, you need to be able to put resources toward things that you don’t necessarily know will deliver immediate value, but have some belief that they will lead to far better outcomes than you could imagine.  Within RGP, the CEO directly supports innovation by allocating some resources to test new ideas and technologies.  Another aspect of innovation is that anyone in the business can innovate.  Our role in IT is often to enable that innovation.  As technology becomes more and more democratized, it is directly accessible to every individual and part of the business.  We’ve embraced this shift by creating processes to facilitate the use of new technology.  For example, if a part of the business wants to use a cloud based solution to help them with a particular project or problem, IT has a means to quickly vet the solution for them.  We help assign ownership, understand the data life cycle, make sure there’s not a duplicate solution already in use, and make sure the cost implications are understood.  We are not the gate keeper, but rather the enabler.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
I’m not sure I have a good answer for that. The problem with any superpower is how do you use it wisely and how do you handle it?  I may be overthinking this, but I don’t know that I would want a superpower.  I still need to figure out how to use the talent I have!
We’re hearing so much about the internet of things (IoT) — what does or could the IoT for your business look like?
As a professional services firm, we’re less directly impacted by IoT than other industries are.  It is, however, very much a component of our clients’ business.  Understanding IoT from a client facing perspective is an imperative for RGP in order to help our clients with their challenges and opportunities created by IoT.  Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges it creates is with information security.  The Internet of Things exponentially increases the attack surface area which creates a massive cybersecurity problem.  A second obvious impact is effectively managing the massive volume of data generated by IoT devices, and then effectively deriving value from it.  Each technology affects industries in different ways, whether it’s 3D printing, drones, blockchain technology, or IoT, but we are all affected to some degree by all of them.
What are you, as the CIO, doing to support innovation in the company to deliver better solutions?
I’m going to address this question slightly differently; I think there is a common misconception that innovation is a predetermined path that leads to a specific outcome that you know in advance.  From my perspective, using technology to improve an organization may or may not be innovation.  To truly innovate requires some experimentation, and not being afraid to fail.  In practical terms, you need to be able to put resources toward things that you don’t necessarily know will deliver immediate value, but have some belief that they will lead to far better outcomes than you could imagine.  Within RGP, the CEO directly supports innovation by allocating some resources to test new ideas and technologies.  Another aspect of innovation is that anyone in the business can innovate.  Our role in IT is often to enable that innovation.  As technology becomes more and more democratized, it is directly accessible to every individual and part of the business.  We’ve embraced this shift by creating processes to facilitate the use of new technology.  For example, if a part of the business wants to use a cloud based solution to help them with a particular project or problem, IT has a means to quickly vet the solution for them.  We help assign ownership, understand the data life cycle, make sure there’s not a duplicate solution already in use, and make sure the cost implications are understood.  We are not the gate keeper, but rather the enabler.
If you could give guidance to any CIO or IT Director about how they position their careers, what would you tell them? 
It’s probably a non-traditional view point but, pick great organizations that have great values.  Then seek to invest yourself in making that organization greater by applying your hard work and talent. The rewards from this approach will pay off and enable you to progress in your career.  Work at being a good leader and remember that the most important responsibility you have is shaping the people you have the privilege of leading.
What are your technology predictions of the next 5 years?
I think you’re going to see the continued rise in the importance of managing the cyber security problem. It’s going to grow exponentially, due to shifts like IoT and crypto currency, requiring a lot more resources and creative thought to solve these problems.  I believe we will see technologies like RPA (Robotic Process Automation) move very quickly into the mainstream.  RPA is applying AI to machine learning to high volume repeatable tasks done by humans allowing them to focus on higher value work.  Lastly, I think block chain technology will continue to move forward, and at some point, will fundamentally change large portions of our economy, likely financial oriented industries, real estate, etc.

MEET THE TECH EXEC INTERVIEWS

Managed Solution is conducting interviews as part of an outreach initiative to share trends and engage technology enthusiasts in the southwest.