Changing how we think about technology with Karl Mosgofian

This week I’m joined by Karl Mosgofian, the CIO at Gainsight.

We discuss how the role of the CIO and IT has changed…and continues to change. Karl talks about his perspective on the CIO’s role in business transformation and customer engagement. He talks about the changing landscape of how solutions are used within a company and the role of the CIO. He takes it further by outlining his perspective on why the CIO needs to look beyond deploying and operating tools to how they are used.

Podcast Episode

Links

Karl Mosgofian Twitter: https://twitter.com/karlmosgofian

Karl Mosgofian LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/karl-mosgofian-4594a2/

Gainsight: https://www.gainsight.com

Transcript

Tim Crawford:

Companies are looking for new ways to transform their business, to remain relevant and differentiated within their industry. Technology now plays a central role in this transformation. Hello, and welcome to the CIO In The Know podcast where I take a provocative, but pragmatic look at the intersection of business and technology. I’m your host, Tim Crawford, a CIO and strategic advisor at AVOA. This week I’m joined by Karl Mosgofian, the CIO at Gainsight. We discuss how the role of the CIO and IT has changed and continues to change. Karl talks about his perspective on the CIO’s role in business transformation and customer engagement. He talks about the changing landscape of how solutions are used within a company and the role of the CIO. He takes it further by outlining his perspective on why the CIO needs to look beyond deploying and operating tools to how they are used. Karl, welcome to the program.

Karl Mosgofian:

Hey, it’s great to see you.

Tim Crawford:

Karl Mosgofian, CIO at Gainsight. To get us started why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and your role as CIO at Gainsight?

Karl Mosgofian:

I’ve had a long career in IT, mostly in the application space, but also pretty much everything at one time or another. I’ve been a CIO now a couple of times. Was very lucky to get into such a great company as Gainsight. A lot of startup energy and category creator, and in the customer success space which I think is just a fantastic place to be today. And as CIO here, I am responsible for security, IT operations, and applications. So pretty standard set of responsibilities. I would say with the exception that I’m responsible not just for sort of standard IT security but also for the product, which has been-

Tim Crawford:

Interesting.

Karl Mosgofian:

Really interesting. And I’ve really enjoyed learning a lot in that space and having that responsibility as well.

Tim Crawford:

That’s great. And I do want to ask you, as we get through the conversation, a little bit about IT and the rest of the business. But let’s start off by more of a softball topic. A lot has changed in the last year plus now for all of us. If we look at that from a CIO perspective, I mean, what has changed from your perspective in terms of the role of the CIO and the role of IT?

Karl Mosgofian:

It’s interesting. In terms of the what’s happened in the last year specifically, it has been a sort of a challenging year logistically but also I think in terms of what CIOs have been asked to do. I know that for me, responding to COVID and this sort of large numbers of people working from home as opposed to in the past, which we already had a lot of people working from home. So for us, it wasn’t a complete shock to the system, but still, it really meant not just thinking about technology but also culture usage, right. When everybody started to … I remember looking at the stats on Slack usage going through the roof, right. And, obviously, suddenly everybody’s on Zoom. And the question was not just how do you make sure that people have a platform for doing video teleconferences? It was things like how do you help people deal with Zoom fatigue? It was topics that have not necessarily always been considered IT topics, but the fact is that we’re the technology people and that encompasses more than just, hey, here’s the buttons you push.

Karl Mosgofian:

Sometimes it has to do with, here are the ways to use this technology without burning yourself out. Or, here are the norms of usage in a tool like Teams or Slack so that they’re actually adding efficiency and not actually taking it away, right because those tools can be a two-edged sword. And so sometimes if people are just are using tools in ways that actually get in each other’s way, you’re actually losing productivity. You’re going the wrong direction. So I found it very interesting. IT has been much more involved with things outside of quote-unquote, traditional IT technology stuff.

Tim Crawford:

So how does that work? I mean, you have some responsibilities within the core product of the business, but then also within IT. Talk to me about that relationship. And this doesn’t have to be specific to Gainsight, but just the importance of that relationship from your perspective of IT, non-IT, and where things like trust come in, and the role of IT and how people look at IT. How has that changed as well?

Karl Mosgofian:

I think it’s … First of all, I think when this topic comes up the thing I always try and keep in mind is some things I think have changed a lot and some things I don’t think have changed a lot. And it’s good to understand both of those, right. The fact that things are in the Cloud now doesn’t mean they’re simple. It doesn’t mean you don’t need business analysts helping to tran, right.

Tim Crawford:

So I don’t just take my credit card, swipe it, and I’m good to go.

Karl Mosgofian:

Exactly. No, not at all. And so things like the role of a business analyst and helping translate business requirements into technology solutions I think in some ways it’s even more important than ever because it used to be, at least the technology solution was some sort of monolithic ERP system or something. Now, it’s 100 different SaaS applications that need to be integrated, and you need to understand how the data talks to each other, and what means what, where. It’s a super complicated world and it’s very easy to get started. So the business group can in fact swipe their credit card so to speak. SaaS application, right. And that’s creating a little bit of a different dynamic.

Karl Mosgofian:

But the thing is that at some point they’ll come to IT, right because they’ll run up against something. It’s like, hey, this isn’t what we do for a living, this is actually really hard and we need somebody who can actually do that. And so I think in some ways IT is more important than ever, but the role’s a little different and it’s less of a controlling everything role and more a facilitator. And really with a very strong partnership. So you mentioned trust, it’s huge, right because if you don’t have that, frankly, the business won’t come to you and they’ll get themselves in all kinds of trouble.

Tim Crawford:

But I mean, are there techniques maybe that you have found that are good things, lessons to learn about building trust with those outside of IT?

Karl Mosgofian:

Well, the approach that I’ve taken that I think has worked pretty well is really that thinking of yourself as a facilitator more than a sort of a dictator, right. And I found that that’s worked really well. I think once people understand that you’re not trying to take over, you’re not trying to take away their freedom of being able to try things and move quickly, you’re really trying to help them, then you start to build some trust and you can build on that and start saying, “Well, maybe you don’t actually need to do all of this stuff. What if I did some of this?” And at a certain point people are like, “Yeah, that would be great.”

Karl Mosgofian:

I’m actually finding that what used to be 10% of someone’s time to administrate some little application in my group is now becoming almost a full-time job. And that person is frustrated because they never really signed up for this in the first place. Or, they love doing it, but they want a career path, right around working with applications and I can’t give it to them, I just have this one thing. In any case, probably the right place for them is IT. And so those things can happen naturally when you have trust.

Karl Mosgofian:

But I think when … If you try and come in with too heavy a hand and say, “Okay, there’s a new sheriff in town.” And this is very much I think something you need to think about when you’re a new CIO, is sort of what sort of tone you set early. But I personally liked it to have a light touch and build that trust and then you can bring stuff in as opposed to trying to sort of take over and risking people getting up on their hind legs. And then once they’re in a defensive mode, it’s just very hard to ever get past that.

Tim Crawford:

It’s that command and control, right. That mentality that … I can recall growing up with it within IT and that might’ve served us well in the past, but it’s not going to serve as well moving forward. When you think about moving forward, one of the things that companies are having to go through during this time is business transformation. And we hear a lot that’s talked about with digital transformation, but I want to start with business transformation. How much do you think that plays a role? And what do you think the role of the CIO is in that business transformation or shifting how a company engages with its customers? And I’ll get to customer engagement maybe in a minute so maybe we could tease those apart. But changes the way it operates, changes the way it thinks, the way it approaches problems. And what’s the role of the CIO in that?

Karl Mosgofian:

Again, I think it’s a huge role and I think there’s two things that are why the CIO is so important in that. The first is, it’s hard to think of any business transformation right now that isn’t going to involve technology, right. I mean, it may or not be digital transformation quote-unquote, but there’s just almost nothing that happens in the modern company, right that’s not driven by systems. But I think even more importantly, the CIO has a vision across the whole company. And I think in almost any organization you look at, you would find that each individual group is good in their space, right. And where all organizations struggle are the cross-functional business processes, except that it seems like everything’s cross-functional now. I mean, that’s the thing about the modern enterprise is that it’s much less siloed than it used to be.

Karl Mosgofian:

And so when you start saying, “Hey, we’re going to do this business transformation, we’re going to change how we sell. We’re going to change what markets we go after. We’re going to change how we operate.” That’s not one department, that’s a bunch of departments. And really the only department or person or executive in a company often who has a real understanding of business process in each of the groups and how they all connect to each other is the CIO and then the IT group. And so I think that that’s incredibly important because the number of failed or struggling projects that we see because of those problems at the interlock between different groups or different business processes or different systems is tremendous. That’s a huge risk. And IT is the mitigation for that risk, making sure that, in fact, a group is not off trying to do something that really needs to be a cross-functional effort.

Tim Crawford:

I love the way you think about that because this is … This ties into two things that I’ve talked about in the past. One is, IT is one of the few organizations that has visibility across the entire organization. The next closest is probably HR or finance. But then the other piece to that is when you think about externally facing, and you think about the process of how your company operates. And this will get to something I wanted to ask you about with customer engagement is, Tim Crawford to marketing in some cases is a different Tim Crawford to sales, is a different Tim Crawford to support.

Karl Mosgofian:

Absolutely.

Tim Crawford:

And those silos tend to hurt us because Tim Crawford is just Tim Crawford. And when I engage with a company … This gets to what I wanted to talk to you about with regards to customer engagement is, how do you think about that and how does the CIO step into … Or, what is the role of the CIO from your perspective in terms of helping that conversation or helping improve that situation? And I know this is front and center for you and your role there at Gainsight. But what’s your perspective on that because I think this is an important aspect?

Karl Mosgofian:

I think it’s super important. And I think it’s interesting too because I feel like there’s sort of an evolution in IT. You start by saying, “We need a system to process transactions, right, and to pump work through a system.” And then at some point, people are like, “Well, this is great, but the data’s terrible,” right. This is all you built, this gleaming, beautiful machine, but the works are being gummed up by the fact that my customer data is terrible, right. And so then you got to dig into things like data quality, which in some ways is harder. I mean, this it’s ironic I think that something like just keeping your customer master clean, which seems not as hard as building a whole CRM system, is often the Achilles heel that kills the whole thing.

Karl Mosgofian:

It’s one of the reasons that at Gainsight, when we build our product, a big part of it was a way of modeling customers that enables people to handle that and say, “You know what, we’ll normalize things in our systems so that even if your data is a little crazy and disconnected at least in Gainsight you’ll have a clean 360-degree view of customers.” But Gainsight’s not the only way to do that. But I think everyone’s either needs some sort of tool like that or needs to be thinking about it on their radar because if it’s not biting you today, it probably will. That whole issue of trying to connect all of those different data sources. And again, in the new world, it’s almost only getting harder because there are more systems that have customer data and product data and all these different pieces of master data that need to be synthesized and managed and governed. So super important.

Tim Crawford:

How do you keep your tabs on who the customer is and how the customer is evolving as the CIO because typically, or historically, that would have been maybe the role of marketing or the role of sales? But it seems like the CIO needs to be part of that as well. How do you keep plugged … Keep yourself plugged into that equation?

Karl Mosgofian:

Well, I guess for me, it’s a little bit easier at Gainsight than it might be in a different situation because I actually have an external role. So I have an internal set of responsibilities, but I also have a responsibility to connect with the CIO’s of our customers, which is fantastic. It’s part of my job that I really love.

Tim Crawford:

That’s great.

Karl Mosgofian:

And it also really lets me have my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the market. What are people struggling with out there? So I’m pretty close to our product. Certainly a lot closer than I’ve ever been at any other company that I’ve been at. And I’ve really enjoyed that. That’s sort of cheating in a sense that if you’re not at a company that … If you’re not at an IT company that actually … CIO’s know what your product is and are concerned with it.

Tim Crawford:

Right. Or a company that sells to the CIO.

Karl Mosgofian:

Yeah, exactly. You don’t necessarily have that advantage. But I think there is a tendency I’ve seen over my career, for actually both sales and marketing, but especially marketing to sort of do their own thing from a technology standpoint. There’s quite often they’ve got a little mini IT department in marketing. And I think in the past, to be honest, I’ve sort of let that be a bit of an excuse to say, “Well, okay. They seem to be fine and I’ve got plenty to do so I’m not entirely sure what all the heck they’re doing over there, but not sure I need to,” right. And I think now I can’t get away with that anymore.

Karl Mosgofian:

And in the modern world, I think that … If I think about my career in IT, it’s very much been a movement from sort of back office to front office. And I think that just reflects the priorities of companies. And at the technology space that front end, we had ERP’s and then we had CRM, and then we had a whole explosion of tools and technology, and just much more sophisticated thinking about who our customers are, and how we market to them, and how we manage the funnel. I mean, that stuff used to be much simpler and it’s not anymore. And the new fangled stuff works great, but it’s complicated and it’s important to have some understanding of it.

Tim Crawford:

And it’s technology. It’s not just … It’s not a spreadsheet, it’s not on paper, it’s technology. And so if you bring those pieces together, right, companies are having to change and evolve through business transformation. We have to think about how we’re engaging with our customers. Oh, and by the way, our customers are changing especially in the last 12 to 18 months. How do you evolve that? And then guess what’s underpinning all of it is technology. So why wouldn’t the CIO be involved? Or, having the right CIO is going to be critically important I would think.

Karl Mosgofian:

Yeah. No, absolutely. And the other thing that we talk about a lot at Gainsight, specific to our product is this whole question of Tech-Touch, right and how do you segment your customers. And you make sure that … There are certain customers that need white-glove treatment, but there are other customers with a long tail, where it would kill you to do that. And so you really need good technology solutions to make sure you’re staying well connected with your customers. But frankly, you’re not just sending out some dumb stock email to a million people that they all ignore, right. I mean, you really want a pretty sophisticated system so that you’re communicating to people in a digital way, right, in an automated way. But that’s frankly smart. That’s responsive. That’s dynamic. And also ideally that can include human touch, right. So we, for instance, in our … We use Gainsight ourselves a lot, right. And so in Gainsight, we set things up where someone will get an email let’s say about a new feature that we’re trying to drive adoption on. And we’ll have a whole workflow laid out that says, “We send them this email, we send them this other communication a week later, we send them this.” And then at some point, we say, “Well, we haven’t” … No one’s opening this, nothing’s happening. So now we’re going to actually route an action to a person, right. So it’s a combination of Tech-Touch and human touch so that you’re being very efficient, right, but you’re also not saying, “Hey, I’m just going to do an email blast of a million emails and hope for the best.” That’s not really enough either, right so.

Tim Crawford:

There was a saying that people would use all the time, spray and pray. You just go out and you just try and launch this and hope for the best. One of the things you talked about with regards to that is Software as a service and Cloud. And there’s a proliferation of that, that is taking place within the organization, not just in IT. And you mentioned that with marketing they might be going off to do their own thing, but maybe there’s a way to loop that back in. How have the SaaS-based solutions impacted the CIO?

Karl Mosgofian:

It’s huge. And it’s a bit of a sprawling mess in some ways. Although, I had a recent thought which is that I was thinking back to what my landscape looked like 20 years ago. And what it looked like was a couple of big core platforms like SAP and CBOL, at that time probably, and then a ton of internal custom applications. And so in some ways, I think our world is very different, in some ways I think it’s not, right. When people say, “Wow, you’ve got 200 SaaS applications that’s enormous.” I think back and I remember when at one point I think we had something like 100 Lotus Notes applications, right. Custom little mini things. So I think in some ways it’s always been like this. There’s always been all these very specific pockets of need that are not addressed by some giant monolithic platform. And the difference is now those are all individual SaaS applications as opposed to a bunch of custom applications. So there’s good and bad about that.

Karl Mosgofian:

But I think the biggest difference really is sort of what we were talking about in terms of the fact that the business is now so much more empowered not only to fire up an application but even in some cases to do some of their own integration which used to be the last frontier, right. And you could say, “Look, you guys go knock yourself out, but you’re going to have to come talk to me at some point.”

Tim Crawford:

When you want to connect back in.

Karl Mosgofian:

I’m the only one who can pump data in and out. And now people are like, no, watch this, I fired up this little easy-to-use integration tool. And when I first started hearing about them my response was, “How the heck are you pulling the data because you don’t have admin rights to anything.” And they’re like, “It’s fine because I’m just pulling the data that I had access to myself.” I was like, “Oh, okay. So actually you can go quite a long ways on that.” The businesses groups are empowered. That means that we need I think to take a much more partnering approach with them. But I think in the end it’s good. I mean, I think it’s driving us all to a better world than the extremes of either sort of the wild west of business groups being completely on their own or IT trying to completely control and manage everything that’s going on everywhere all the time.

Tim Crawford:

And you talked a little bit about how you bring these applications in. And I know we’ve had conversations in the past about this. You bring applications in and you lay them down and you move on to the next. But you’ve started to identify some changes to that. And one of the areas is collaboration. Everyone’s on Zoom or Teams or Webex or just any number of platforms. I think everyone now in some way, shape, or form they touch Zoom specifically or Teams probably for most of their interactions. But you’re looking at this a little differently than just simply, how do I deploy these collaboration tools, whether it’s video conferencing or something like Slack? Can you talk a little bit about that because I think that’s really interesting how you’re thinking about this?

Karl Mosgofian:

To me, collaboration is a … It’s a broad topic. And so there’s the obvious things like Slack and Teams and there’s things like Zoom. But I think if you go to any company right now you’ll find this group is using Trello and this one’s using monday and there’s like a bunch of these different collaborative technologies and Google Docs or Office 365 are being used in all different ways, right. Things like Box. People are doing all kinds of collaboration inside those tools and not necessarily just a file repository, right. And I think the big danger there is not that we don’t have enough tools but we have too many tools and people don’t know what the heck to use for what and then they can’t find anything, right because it’s … Everything is all spread out.

Karl Mosgofian:

And so I think IT really has a role in providing some sort of rationalizing that toolset and helping people understand which tools to use for what being careful not to try and mandate too much because I think you get into trouble with that. You can do some of that, you can have some standards, right. You shouldn’t be running multiple Slack and Teams and 10 other things like that. But I think when it comes to the smaller project management things, different groups do have different needs, right.

Karl Mosgofian:

In this group, Smartsheets really works well for them, and for someone else, Trello really works well, and they’re pretty different tools. So that’s okay. I’m not trying to sort of force-fit everybody into the same tool, but when a new person joins and they look at a landscape of 20 different tools, I also want to guide them and say, “Hey, if you’re doing this, this is the right tool to use for that.” And I want it as much as possible reduce the number of tools without, again, without being too heavy-handed about it. But because I just think it just creates this chaotic environment and everyone is frustrated. And again, these tools are supposed to help make your world better not be negative productivity.

Tim Crawford:

Right. So this is not getting it down to the right one tool to use, but rather to say, get it down to the right smallest number of tools to use.

Karl Mosgofian:

Yes. I think the dream of one tool is it’s a beautiful dream and we should probably still be trying to move in that direction, but not at the expense of frankly, making everybody just ignore us and go do their own thing anyway. So that’s the danger, right. If you’re too draconian about this people will just ignore you and then they’ll have even more tools.

Tim Crawford:

But how do you do that? How do you start to understand … Walk me through how you would approach that problem.

Karl Mosgofian:

To me, I really think the key thing is to actually have someone own that. So I would make the observation that traditionally a lot of those tools have been owned in an IT operations group. And their job is to install the tool and make sure it’s running. But they’re not necessarily spending a lot of time thinking about adoption, and usage, and norms of how you use the tool and naming conventions, right. It’s funny what a big deal a simple thing like naming conventions can make, to making a box folder more useful, right. And so really the thing that I’m trying to do is actually create within IT. Actually have a person who is a collaboration person, frankly.

Tim Crawford:

Interesting.

Karl Mosgofian:

Who owns that. I feel like in the old days we had sort of the major silos or sort of applications and then sort of IT operations. And I feel like that there’s a new silo called collaboration and it’s somewhere in between. And it’s not just an infrastructure thing. Although there’s a big chunk of that. You got to make sure that stuff is working.

Tim Crawford:

Sure. Sure.

Karl Mosgofian:

It’s not like a pure business process thing. It’s really its own thing. So I think it’s super important to figure out somebody on your team who can really own that and run with it, who has a passion around it. And again, who’s interested in not just in pumping tools out but in helping people really get the most out of them.

Tim Crawford:

Does that change when you think about this navigation that we’re all doing of work from home versus return to work? I mean, how does that layer in here?

Karl Mosgofian:

Yeah. I think it just makes it more important, right. People have … It’s the huge cliche now that all this has done is accelerate trends that were already in motion and I think that’s absolutely true. But it just ups the ante, right. So tools that were nice to have before are now must-have. And tools that you could get away with them just working okay, just okay is not enough because when you were sometimes dialing in to a meeting using some sort of telecom software something and it wasn’t that great, okay, you didn’t do it that often, and so it was a little frustrating, right.

Karl Mosgofian:

When you’re all day long in Zoom, Zoom better work really well. And those tools better be really good. So I think that’s the thing, it just puts so much more emphasis on it. And so the good thing about that is I think people are now starting to really appreciate the importance of that collaboration technology and that it’s something you need to make some investment in, you need to put some resource on, you need to take it seriously otherwise you’ll just have a bunch of tools that you won’t really necessarily be running a super productive organization.

Tim Crawford:

That’s great. That’s great. Well, we’re going to have to leave it right there. Karl, really appreciate your time today and sharing your perspective as we think about the changing role of the CIO.

Karl Mosgofian:

This was really fun and it’s always great to talk to you.

Tim Crawford:

For more information on the CIO In The Know podcast, visit us online at ciointheknow.com. You can also find us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Please subscribe and thank you for listening.

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