Sue Bergamo: ‘I never allowed being a woman in tech to stand in my way’

1 Sep 2017

Sue Bergamo, CIO and CISO of Episerver. Image: Episerver

Sue Bergamo is the first woman to be a member of Episerver’s C-suite. For our Five-Minute CIO series, she talks about her career and why she believes real IT leadership is about listening.

Microsoft veteran Sue Bergamo was recently appointed CIO and chief information security officer (CISO) at Episerver, a global provider of a single platform to smartly manage digital content, commerce and marketing in the cloud.

Bergamo is the first woman to join the C-suite at Episerver, a company founded in Sweden in 1994.

‘It is not a gender thing for me, it is a relevancy thing, and I never stopped. I would never take no for an answer. Over the years, people tried to push me down, and I found a way to get back up and keep going’

She brings more than two decades of leadership experience in strategic planning, product management, IT operations and infrastructure, cybersecurity, data management, application development, and process redesign at Fortune 500 companies including Cigna, CVS Pharmacy, Liberty Mutual and Staples.

How did you begin your career in technology and progress to the C-suite?

I started at the ground floor, literally, pulling cables, slugging it out with operating systems and networking. I was a system administrator when I started. I fell into it when I went to college and computers were really just coming into the real world.

I made a wonderful career and then, over time, I just volunteered for more opportunities, I raised my hand for high-visibility projects and I got a reputation for getting things done. With that came promotions, and I just always said to myself, ‘Stay bleeding-edge’.

The opportunities either came my way or I found them and the next thing I knew, I was at the C-suite and it’s a great place to be.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology roll-out across your organisation and what improvements it will bring to the company?

I’m responsible for all the corporate systems, the network, the data centres – things that run the business of Episerver. I work hand in hand with our product development team but I am not responsible for customer-facing products.

There is a lot to do on both sides of the coin. It is an exciting role. I’m thrilled to be the first female C-suite here.

Episerver is growing in leaps and bounds. It is just an exciting time to come on board. We’ve had some recent acquisitions and I am doing integration work on those.

But really, what I am focused on is helping Episerver to grow by growing the infrastructure in terms of its computing environment, as the company continues to make tremendous progress in the marketplace.

From the CISO perspective, what kind of threats does Episerver face and what steps do you take to defend the organisation?

We take security very seriously. I won’t give away any trade secrets but, as my buddies in the industry tell me, as a CIO and CISO, I must be conflicted. But I am not. I know exactly what I am doing.

In this digital marketing world and cloud marketing industry, we are one of the most sought-after industries from spammers and hackers. We have a lot of information that people want: email addresses, marketing content etc. That makes us a prime target and so, we are very, very diligent on security.

We are a global company and we look globally to make sure we are not only protecting our clients’ data, but also protecting our networks from unscrupulous resources.

How is your organisation preparing for GDPR?

GDPR is a huge issue. We are absolutely all about being compliant for GDPR, as well as most organisations, in May 2018. GDPR is a major initiative for us. We are a global company, doing business throughout Europe and the world, and we have to be able to comply with privacy laws, no matter where we are working.

In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CIOs/heads of technology should achieve their goals?

It is fundamentally important to listen. You have to listen to your internal customers. They will tell you where their pain points are. You can always make a business case for a budgeted item – a new technology or an overhaul to an application or something else – but the key is listening and understanding the criticality of what the internal customer is trying to do and achieve.

It is about making the business case and doing what is relevant.

If there is a new technology that can be introduced – or sometimes it is people or processes – look for the root cause and then go after it and try and resolve whatever pain point it is as best as you can. That’s how I do it.

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

We don’t outsource IT here. I have a global team. It’s not hundreds of people but it is a consolidated bunch of individuals, and we focus in each one of our global locations. We have a follow-the-sun approach; we are global and the time zones work for us. We can manage all of our locations with the IT group we have.

What metrics or measurement tools do you use to gauge how well IT is performing?

CIOs need to measure. We have various monitoring and helpdesk tools, and so it is not just around uptime – that’s just one statistic – but it is also our ability to open tickets, close tickets, notice what’s hanging around. I am really big on alerts. I believe in making sure we are not only paying attention to alerts, but that we are resolving them so that they don’t happen again.

I try to make IT as routine as possible and so, it is the abnormalities we should be reacting to. The rest should not be reactive at all, it should be proactive.

I look at efficiencies within the resources, the capacity of those resources, the workload, cross-training – things like that to make sure that the group is as productive as possible.

The issues of gender imbalance and sexism in the tech industry have reached a boiling point. As a woman in technology, how obvious were these obstacles as you progressed through your career?

I work in a male-dominated industry so, just by sheer numbers, I am a minority. But I never allowed that to stand in my way. If I had something to say, I would say it. My style is more around being relevant but also, I believe in the team. Not one person has all the answers. Collectively, we make a better decision.

And so, I got good at my craft so that I was relevant, and I think that the best personality trait I have is transparency and honesty. So, when I say something, people believe me because I walk the talk.

It is not a gender thing for me, it is a relevancy thing, and I never stopped. I would never take no for an answer. Over the years, people tried to push me down, and I found a way to get back up and keep going.

How can we encourage and enable more women to excel in the tech industry?

I am going to take the gender out of it. It is ‘tech for all’ in my mind. Our children in the US aren’t really focused on technology and this is partly why companies are going elsewhere to find the people they need.

Let’s talk to our sons and daughters about having a really terrific career that’s going to continue to grow, that’s going to continue to be advancing.

Look at the technologies that are out there today versus 20 years ago. AI is a reality, robotics – it’s exciting. So, encourage our children to get into technology. It’s a great career path and I’ve proven it.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years