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Revlon CIO ushers in corporate cloud and sweeping culture changes for IT

Former Revlon CIO David Giambruno reveals how he expertly led his team through a drastic transition from a vertical to a horizontal organization.

Standing before an audience of his CIO peers, David Giambruno was ticking off the attributes of the corporate cloud his team built at Revlon Inc.: that it manages an average 14,000 transactions per second, is automated to move applications around the Revlon ecosystem 15,000 times per month and handles a data change rate of 40 terabytes per week. Then, to bring things back to reality, came the punch line. "And I make lipstick," Giambruno said, drawing the intended laugh.

David GiambrunoDavid Giambruno

The self-deprecating humor is a Giambruno trademark, according to people who have worked with him. But Giambruno, who recounted his achievement at last fall's Gartner Symposium and has since left his CIO job at Revlon to become CIO at Chicago-based The Tribune Co., is dead serious about his message: Building a corporate cloud required more than cosmetic changes.

The project became a defining one for Revlon IT, transforming the department from a vertical organization into a horizontal one and ushering in a radically different way of working. There were technology hurdles along the way, to be sure. But Giambruno's biggest challenge? "People," he told SearchCIO. Getting buy-in from his own team as well as the business was tougher than he'd expected. So he made a tactical decision: Rather than overwhelm everyone with change, he took the crawl, walk, run approach.

Know what you're capable of

Giambruno, who served seven years at Revlon before moving on, has developed a well-honed philosophy of the IT role in business, and he likes to spread it around.

At a GigaOM Structure presentation shortly after his Gartner presentation, Giambruno explained that the Revlon corporate cloud, which was self-funded, paved the way to implement, as he phrased it, the "Southwest philosophy of oneness." "We only have one of everything," he said. One storage area network (SAN), a high-speed network connects different storage devices together; one directory is used to organize information; one domain name server is used to manage IP addresses; and so on.

In his view, IT at Revlon was never going to be a revenue-producing piece of the business. His job -- along with the 124 members of his global team -- was to figure out how technology could help the business do its job more effectively and efficiently. That doesn't mean the quest for oneness came easily.

The corporate cloud tied systems together but it also ushered in a new way to maintain those systems. To ensure the technology ran as smoothly as possible, the IT's organizational structure needed to reflect its tightly integrated architecture, Giambruno said, and that required revising job descriptions.

"A server team, a SAN team, I don't have any of that. I have an operations team; I have an engineering team; and they all sit together," he said in the fall. "But when you tell employees that what they did doesn't matter anymore, that's really hard. You can't be in their face. You have to take them on a journey and change their frames of references."

The crawl, walk and run approach to cloud deployment

To build that new frame of reference, Giambruno "chunked" the work his team needed to do into smaller pieces and gave them a deadline for completion. He started his team off with "crawl" projects, or what he considered low-risk projects, before moving them up to "walk" projects, or medium-risk projects, such as moving departmental apps into the corporate cloud. Finally, his team worked on "run" projects, or high-risk projects, such as moving ERP systems to the cloud. When an employee hit his deadline, he could move on to the next chunk of work. "If you put too much in front of people, they spend enormous of amounts of energy trying to figure out their way there," he said during a Gartner presentation.

Honing the message

It's no secret David Giambruno likes a good turn of phrase. When he was CIO at Revlon, he and his staff used to call his favorite phrases "G-isms." "I joke that I'm now just a consonant," he said.

A few of Giambruno's G-isms:

  • I live in a world of crawl, walk, run.
  • Adaptation is a thing that never stops.
  • You need to be highly structured to be highly flexible.
  • Running north of six 9's.
  • Build the trust and build the capability a little bit every day. I'm not a fan of big bang.

Stepping stones made tasks more tangible. And it did something else: Giambruno's team became accustomed to change rather than maintaining the status quo. "Ironically, once teams learn to do that, once they learn change is OK, it becomes systemic," he said. Along with getting his team to accept change, Giambruno also encouraged them to see that the project in front of them was, to a certain degree, experimental. Giambruno knew he didn't have all of the answers, and he encouraged his team to explore, test out the system and push it until it broke.

"If my team doesn't fail, it bothers me," Giambruno has said on more than one occasion. "I need to know what it can't do."

It also helped that he had employees like Ben Gent, who worked the help desk at the time and expressed interest in the direction Giambruno was headed.

"Having curious people to me is probably the most important attribute a team can have," he said. "That's how you drive change." For the eager Gent, Giambruno unloaded "mind-numbing" SAN manuals on him and asked him to figure out how to build the network in a whole new way. "He came back to me and said 'You're right. We can do this,'" Giambruno recalled. "That was one of those moments: If the help desk guy can get it, maybe we can do this."

Be a leader, not a manager

In addition to his strong opinions on the role of IT, Giambruno is equally adamant on the role of the CIO. Seeing an employee's curiosity as an advantage is one of those things he chalks up to leadership, the word he used to summarize how he helped his team transition to cloud computing. "There's a difference between managers and leaders," he said. "Managers can fix people's weak points; leaders take people's strengths and use them to build a team."

Exposing strengths and understanding weaknesses doesn't just apply to employees; it should be an internal exercise as well, Giambruno said. "If you're not somewhat self-actualized, I think it's hard to be a leader. My team knows I'm terrible at certain things … and they call me out on it."

Giambruno is aware, for example, that he's good at strategy and bad at the details. That's where his head of infrastructure, a black belt Six Sigma, comes in to help "dot the i's and cross the t's and make sure processes are clean," he said.

Details attended to, Revlon began to see tangible benefits of the corporate cloud. Systems were up and operational 99.9999% of the time. Project throughput increased 425% while the number of people working on those projects stayed the same. And because the system provided better efficiency, IT could provide better service to the business.

"We saw this big inversion of trouble tickets versus help tickets," he said. Rather than always fixing things, IT had time to talk to the business about new applications and processes. The corporate cloud also spurred some unexpected breakthroughs for Revlon IT.

At one point, Giambruno and his team realized the corporate cloud acted as a central repository for all company data and applications. If they normalized the data, they could build mobile applications and give the business greater access and visibility into the data. Giambruno and his team spent 18 months doing just that -- normalizing the data as well as creating a system to flag any incoming data that couldn't be automatically classified.

"We called it chewing glass," Giambruno said. "It was brutal. To me, that was one of the greatest [moments in] leadership because it sucked on my people. … Now they look at it, they see the capabilities take off, and they know we can beat the snot out of anybody."

Let us know what you think of the story; email Nicole Laskowski, senior news writer, or find her on Twitter @TT_Nicole.

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