The five-minute CIO: Brian Lillie, Equinix

22 Jul 2016

Brian Lillie, CIO, Equinix

“It’s true there is a war for talent but it really is a war for the right talent,” said Brian Lillie, CIO of global data centre giant Equinix.

Equinix is a data centre behemoth with data centres on 145 sites in 40 markets on five continents.

Earlier this year, Telecity Group – which has data centres in Dublin – was acquired by Equinix in a mega M&A deal worth $3.8bn.

Future Human

Lillie joined Equinix in September 2008 and has been focused on building business value through strategic and innovative product development and information technology initiatives. Global product examples include the innovative and groundbreaking Equinix Cloud Exchange portal and API platform, the Equinix Customer Portal, Equinix Marketplace Portal, and the Equinix Internet Exchange Portal.

Before joining Equinix, Lillie held several senior-level positions at VeriSign and Silicon Graphics.

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

This role has grown and been really defined as both internal classical IT – all the functions you would associate with apps and infrastructure, information security and the classical role of CIO – and it also includes enterprise and customer software product-related development. I think there is a real power in having both of those functions under one roof.

In fact, we have renamed our organisation Global Technology Services because it combines both the IT as well as product technology together. What is nice is that even though they separately organised within the team, they learn from each other and push each other.

For example, when the enterprise IT team observes the product engineering team deploy a commercial software like Oracle or Salesforce and implement it for customers, they become more savvy and connected at a business process level. But, on the other side, when the enterprise team are writing software that is bespoke they tend to gravitate towards open source and technologies that are more cutting edge. Each side of the business is exposed to technologies and techniques that can be deployed on the product side and vice versa.

It has gotten to the point where, not only are they collaborating and communicating that way, but they learn from each other.

Our scope is to support all 5,400 employees in 21 countries and 150 data centres as well as our customers.

What are the main points of your company’s IT strategy?

The most important function for me every day is to live and focus on creating an environment for people to succeed. If I focus on what is underpinning it, there are four pillars of excellence.

The first pillar is operational excellence. The rule is: you don’t get to innovate if you can’t operate. Because the innovation side can be alluring and sexy, sometimes the operational piece gets ignored. In our organisation, we say operations is job No 1. You don’t get to do those fun things unless we are operating at a level that supports the business. What is tied closely to that is information security excellence. These days, it is a race against the bad guys. You’ve got to take it seriously and you’ve got to invest and you have to be vigilant.

The second pillar is transformation. How do you help the business to move forward or enable a customer experience transformation. For us, it is about bringing the customer closer to the centre of everything we do.

The third pillar is innovation. Our core value is ‘find a better way’, whether it is a business process or technology innovation or idea generation, we need to capture the right ideas, unleashing the creative ideas of employees. Ideas come from everywhere, people at their core are creative and innovative and, if we can tap into that across the enterprise, I believe that’s where the next operational breakthrough can be found. Just find a better way to do business.

The fourth pillar is organisational excellence. Without people, you really can’t do anything. It’s true there is a war for talent but it really is a war for the right talent. This is talent that is capable, confident, bright; serious and savvy people. People who really want to represent and carry the values you believe in. I have passed on hires where they are absolutely brilliant in terms of technology but I just don’t think they carried the values. And I’ve hired people with the values who I thought would be phenomenal citizens at Equinix even if I felt they were short on the technical background, knowing they could learn based on their curiosity and hunger.

Those four pillars of excellence underpin everything you should try and do as a CIO.

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

I have about 430 people. I have seven leaders that work directly for me and they are talented and conscientious about their areas. I have a head of enterprise infrastructure, a head of enterprise apps and a head of enterprise information security on the classical CIO side. Then I have a head of product engineering, a head of global network operations and then a head of network architecture and engineering on the product side. Because we are an interconnection-oriented company – in fact we are defining software-defined interconnection – the seventh leader owns strategy, programmes and analytics.

The last is a relatively small group but, within that team, there is a strategy and budgeting team. It is such a critical function because what sits in there is strategy. We make sure we have a strategy process that maps to the corporate strategy process across all the functions within the large organisation. They drive strategy, process and budgeting.

Each leader has a budget but it is centrally rolled out so we can see where we can have an overage in one area but may have room in another. That is really important when managing a big budget.

We also have a headcount to manage. We have visibility to every single head and in fact, I make it a rule that, for anyone who gets hired into the organisation, I am the final interviewer.

We have hired some real rock stars from the big global giants as well as the universities – very bright, hungry people who are also accomplished and humble.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

If you think about big data or specifically look at internet of things, these are truly the wind in our sail.

The IoT is the industrial internet which has expanded into the consumer world as well as B2B, enterprise-to-enterprise. There are enterprises building their own IoT platforms and the industrial internet is creating massive amounts of data. When you think about the connected car and the fact that Caterpillar and others are building these massive vehicles that are completely self-driving, I think IoT is as significant as cloud as a trend and we are only at the early innings.

Another big trend that is continuing to grow and develop is mobile. Devices will become truly ubiquitous around the world, not just talking or text but full-motion video is going to drive demand for carriers to carry, but it has to land in a terrestrial data centre where the data is likely to be served but also processed to turn around answers to questions in real time. Think of Siri on steroids.

The third one people feel is passé now, but what we really are into now is cloud. Cloud is only at early innings. When we think of IoT, cloud and mobile internet video, these are secular trends that are driving data centre growth around the world and connectivity growth.

A fourth trend is software-defined-everything. In summary, software is eating the world.

But you still need a physical data centre and, when you think about data sovereignty and regulatory requirements, you need a distributed data centre where the people and the data are. But, in terms of software-defined everything, it is how consumers and businesses want to consume services now via software.

This physical world will be overlaid with the software world and it will all be driven by automation and intelligence. Further out,  it will move from software-defined everything to big trends like artificial intelligence and virtual reality. VR is going to become very important when you combine with an ageing population and enable remote healthcare. We already see it in the sports industry where it is changing the experience from an end-user perspective.

We feel we are very well positioned to support all of those digital trends all over the world. They really drive our business.

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