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CIO: Adaptability essential to modernize IT structure

Darin Morrow discusses how he achieves one of his primary goals as Cricket Wireless CIO: Ensuring the company's IT structure defines and continuously improves business processes.

When Darin Morrow took over as CIO at Cricket Wireless in early 2017, he sought to revolutionize the company's internal operations by revamping its IT vision.

Morrow made changes to the technology the company used and how employees collaborated with each other. Communication between business and IT was also essential to Morrow's tech strategy, especially because aligning departmental goals optimizes customers' experience, he says.

Morrow said the business benefits were twofold: Streamlining communication about how to improve IT processes ultimately saved the company money, while updated user interfaces enhanced customer satisfaction.

As a result of the changes, Morrow says Cricket's IT structure defines and continuously improves internal and external business processes. In this CIO Voices Q&A, Morrow explains how bringing a startup mentality to large organizations benefits both business and IT outcomes.

Darin MorrowDarin Morrow

From a CIO strategy standpoint, what are the biggest takeaways from your experiences with implementing changes to Cricket's IT structure?

Darin Morrow: The biggest changes are preparing the IT structure for the future competition. Building a highly scalable, yet nimble IT structure that can adapt to the ever-changing competition is always the largest challenge. Balancing strategic and tactical goals within the IT environment is key.

Small teams tend to become cohesive much easier than organizations. You constantly have to create small teams that can go fast, but the end-to-end organization must be nimble. To overcome that hurdle, we 'trade players' by taking a seasoned member of one team and trading [them for] another team member. This helps each team gain perspective from their decisions on the other team. Understanding the end-to-end architecture is key as well -- training and teaching the critical aspects of the business and technology, as well as the reasonable-risk tolerance for each piece.

An additional obstacle is making the correct decision when taking calculated risks. Being nimble does not mean 'go fast at all costs.' Customer experience and system stability are key as well. Knowing which reasonable risks to take and how fast we can go is critical.

Anyone at any level can, and is encouraged to, communicate with anyone else across the organization.
Darin MorrowCIO, Cricket Wireless

How do you think implementing a startup mentality can help large organizations continue to be successful businesses in the digital age?

Morrow: Our ability to collaborate and make decisions quickly is critical. This is how we implement the 'startup' mentality. We simply get the facts on the table along with our homework and make decisions together. A give and take and partnership between business and technology makes it happen fast.

Why is it important to align departmental goals to optimize customer experience, and what is the CIO's role in pushing that alignment along?

Morrow: Our goals are not technical; they are business goals. As we improve customers' experience, simplifying the customer and user interfaces to make it simpler to interact with us, it becomes pure math: The customers are happier and the business saves money. It's important for my team to know how all our departmental goals have to relate to the business goals and strategy.

Our leadership team here at Cricket shows commitment to transparency and open communications on a regular basis. Anyone at any level can, and is encouraged to, communicate with anyone else across the organization. Hallway meetings are an everyday sight. We purposely avoid communication barriers and constantly work to remove any of them that have been built inadvertently.

What new technologies will be most disruptive to companies' IT structure and processes in the next few years, and why? How can CIOs tap into these technologies to improve business processes and customer experiences?

Morrow: I believe the most disruptive technology today is the move to open systems, cloud technologies and microservices, along with their continuous integration and continuous deployment. The products will continue to evolve with the internet of things. Consumers have an insatiable appetite to be connected, but even more they want to constantly evolve the way that they are connected and the way that they interface with that connectivity. Making our systems more nimble and adapting to change is key. We must adopt the new technology stack. Gone are the days of buying systems and standing up data centers to house them.

The CIO sets the strategy and the vision for the organization. There is a need to clearly understand our business [and] the business goals, align our IT strategy to achieve those business goals and strategies, as well anticipate the changes in the future. With that vision, we can lay the foundation -- whether it be microservices or data driven technologies -- that allows us to continue to adapt and be nimble.

How has the increased digitization of business changed the CIO's role in the typical business? Have they become more involved in business strategy development?

Morrow: At Cricket, technology has always been a partner. In my role, I seek to know the business, not just technology. For me to provide advice about good solutions to meet the business goals, I better know how the business runs and know how my team can achieve or enable that. A CIO in the age of digitization has to understand our customers, the balance sheets, supply chain, marketing, sales operations and everything in between.

This was last published in January 2018

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What are the benefits of incorporating startups' best business practices into larger organizations?
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So nice! Technology is a tool to solve problems, but the people that execute with this technology are the ones who matter the most. The nimbleness lets us to be adaptive and that will help evolve to the next gen. And these resonate throughout this article.
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I agree - although AI and machine learning are becoming more integral to business processes, people are still an essential part of making sure these types of technologies work and remain customer friendly. Maintaining that human element will be essential to ensuring new tech implementation is successful, especially in regards to customer satisfaction.  
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