The five minute CIO: Kevin Cooney, Xilinx

10 Oct 2014

Kevin Cooney, CIO of Xilinx

“IT organisations are essentially proactive service organisations and if you don’t have good people and don’t invest in your people you will fail,” says Xilinx CIO Kevin Cooney.

Cooney, who has been the CIO of Xilinx for the past decade, was last month recognised by the Innovation Value Institute (IVI) for his achievements in the field of IT and his contribution to the indigenous and multinational IT sector.

Xilinx, a global fabless semiconductor maker, employs 300 people at its EMEA headquarters in Dublin and has engineering operations in Dublin and Cork.

Cooney joined Xilinx Ireland in 1995, where he subsequently became a board member and IT director of the Irish operation. He was appointed global CIO in 2005 and managing director of Xilinx Europe in 2009.

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

Xilinx is a global company; we have people in 40 countries. We have five major regional locations. The corporate headquarters is in San Jose and our software is predominantly led from Colorado and then our regional headquarters are in Singapore, we have a big location in Hyderabad and in Dublin. And then we are in Japan and all the major countries you would expect throughout the world.

But Xilinx is an interesting company because essentially we were the founder of the fabless chip model.

We essentially outsource everything. We do some high-end new product introduction test in-house but everything else is outsourced.

And so our business model as well is heavy focus on distributor. We have one major global distributor and then we manage our top 100 accounts directly ourselves.

And so key in terms of the broad user base at Xilinx is all about connectivity. It’s all about ease of use. For my engineering organisation it is all about compute power and storage because as you can imagine chips are getting more dense, we are now at least publicly on 16 nanometer and the amount of compute power that you require is incredible. Our software product, which helps to run and optimize designs of our chips, is multiple millions of lines of code, which is developed around the world, some of it here in Dublin. All of those engineering organisations need to be connected to have a single set of products and a single software build.

When you put on top of that then all of the business applications that surround that and collaboration. Essentially you need an infrastructure that’s global and able to handle that type of an environment and that’s essentially what we have.

Virtualisation, we continuously look at our lifecycle model, continuously looking at different types of storage, doing work on flash storage now, in our engineering environments compute power is important to us. Clustering is important in terms of the hardware we would apply.

All of the things you would expect from a hi-tech innovation-led company in terms of its infrastructure.

What are the main points of your companys IT strategy?

The overall ethos for me is about value proposition. I have four key themes that funny enough, I took over as CIO ten years ago and put these together then and I look at them every year and I still haven’t changed them.

The first one is keeping Xilinx compliant and secure and that continues to grow as a challenge, especially the security piece.

The second one is what classify as providing a dial-tone quality service. So to give you an example, if you pushed a button on your phone the dial-tone comes on, but if it doesn’t come on you would be shocked and surprised. Well, my community of users should expect the same thing about their IT infrastructure; no matter where they are in the world they should be able to connect into Xilinx and have a secure speed of access, whether it is email, calendar, PowerPoint, uploading or downloading designs. That’s what I mean by dial-tone – when they come in to work wherever that work is, sometimes its in the office, sometimes outside the office, they are environments that should work. That’s a cost and challenge but if you want to be a player and if you want to get to the third element, which is delivering business value, through business applications, engineering solutions and process change, if I’m spending all my time talking about why clusters are failing or email isn’t available or they can’t get access from wherever they are, then no one is going to talk to me when I want to me when I talk about business value and business process solutions.

The reality of a CIO or IT organisation is the first two are absolute givens and failure to operate in the first two means you are going to fail period. The first one I think is worthy of a few minutes of conversation and many come back to that. But the second one will eventually outsource itself to the cloud. Colleagues here and in North America don’t always agree but it is clear in my mind at least that the infrastructure as a service that’s just going to be in the cloud, only a question of how much is going at what pace but eventually most if not all of that will disappear.

The third piece is business value and that’s where your value proposition comes in. What really is your IT organisation all about? If it can’t add value to the company and the enterprise through innovative business process change, through business applications, through partnering with the various functions to be able to deliver functionalty to enhance and provide consistency and productivity for the organisation then I don’t think you have a value proposition.

The fourth theme is really about people. IT organisations are essentially proactive service organisations and if you don’t have good people and don’t invest in your people you will fail. If you don’t invest in good people they will leave and if all you are left with aren’t the best then your value proposition will fail. You need to invest in your people.

This is all underpinned by value proposition. What’s my value proposition, what’s my value to the enterprise, am I bringing value, how do I measure that value, how does the business partnership I work with see that value proposition. If I can’t bring it they’ll go somewhere else.

Can you give a snapshot of how extensive your IT infrastructure is?

We have a population in-house of about 3,500 and so then because we are just a fabless organisation, we don’t have the bulk of a manufacturing enterprise. They are essentially engineers driven by innovation and the other half make up various business functions. IT operates around 300 people depending on where you are at any given point in house, it’s a reasonable chunk. It operates at 8pc of the population depending on where it is.

Do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

Absolutely. I would categorise Xilinx as a mid-size organisation with revenues of around US$2.5bn. When you look at mid-sized organisations and I talk to people here and in the Valley, what you tend to find is you do very little of your own development.

I would say that CIOs are as much chief integration officers as they are chief information officers or chief innovation officers, any and all three fit the bill in my opinion. I think that the focus of most of my organisation is around business process change, project management, integrating solutions and if I have to do bespoke development I will outsource it. It doesn’t mean I don’t have people with those skills but they are on the margin to ensure that we get the design right, that the architecture is correct and that we effectively manage the project correctly and then we can use resources in other locations, some in low cost locations, we would do that.

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on deep technical issues compared to the management and business side?

I don’t consider myself to be a technologist. I know enough to be dangerous but really I have people who are much smarter and effective at that than I am. I’m paid to make sure the value proposition we bring to the business helps the business to be more productive, effective and efficient and that’s where I focus my energies.

There are things I take a personal interest in, mainly around the next generation of strategies so in the last year my own focus has been on the cloud, cloud governance and how the cloud is going to evolve.

Also mobile, developing an enterprise mobile strategy that is more than just about smartphones.

I take a strong interest in security because that is becoming very important for companies like Xilinx. We are a leader in our business, we are a hi-tech company. My board would be increasingly interested in understanding our security strategy and profile and what we are doing to keep Xilinx secure as I’m sure are many companies when I talk to CIOs, more important in the boardroom.

Architecture is another area I take a strong interest in, not so much the bulk of it but ensuring we are continuing to re-invigorate architecture environment.

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

So I mentioned cloud, mobile and social. I am convinced that cloud and mobile will change the way IT services the enterprise, no doubt in my mind whatsoever. Cloud adoption rate is way faster than anything I had anticipated.

It’s also speeding up decision-making. More and more solutions and invariably the best solutions are now really only available in the cloud and that is causing organisations to change their model because the reality is what you are trying to do is find a solution that best fits your business need and if that solution is in the cloud that’s what you have to do.

IT”s job is to figure out a way to do it. The user and the business doesn’t care, they want the best solutions.

If you are going to be an enterprise and a player in IT today and into the future, you better have a strategy and a governance structure for cloud. You have to understand the implications from a business point of view and a security point of view.

Cloud has been on the plan for 20 years but now I think mobile is really driving it.

To me mobile means you are always on no matter where you are. From a business point of view it is the CIO’s job to deliver a strategy that supports that.

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