CxO Corner: Mark Settle, CIO of Okta

For this edition, we have Mark Settle, Chief Information Officer at Okta. Mark has a wealth of experience, having been the CIO for companies such as Arrow Electronics, BMC Software, and IHS. Most recently, Mark became Okta’s first CIO and his role was pivotal in shaping Okta up before their IPO. He’s also an author and wrote the book Truth from the Trenches: A Practical Guide to the Art of IT Management. It’s amazing he’s able to make the time!

Read on to learn more about Mark’s experience and what excites him in the enterprise. Enjoy!

What were you doing before you became Okta’s first CIO?

I was actually completing my first book. It’s called Truth from the Trenches. It’s intended to be a practical guide to the art of IT management (and is available on Amazon — couldn’t resist the plug!). I’m continually amazed at ways in which IT organizations commit the same mistakes over and over again. The intent of the book was to warn others about the pitfalls I’ve experienced in my career. It also served as a useful form of personal mental therapy for me!

What drew you to the role?

It was easy to be attracted to Okta. The company has a great product, a distinguished and dedicated management team and a very successful track record. The opportunity to establish the systems and processes needed to support such a rapidly growing company was irresistible.

When does it make sense for a company to hire its first CIO?

There’s no ‘right answer’ to that question. Companies that are planning to go public should generally establish the CIO role roughly one year before their IPO target date to ensure that they have the financial systems and SOX policies in place to operate as a public company. Some companies may elect to establish the role even earlier if they have a particularly complex business model employing a wide variety of IT systems that need to be integrated and maintained.

You have had many different experiences as a CIO — how have you seen the role and organization change?

There have been lots of changes in IT. The IT infrastructure team was frequently the dominant group within IT because they spent the most money on data center equipment and operations. As systems have moved to the cloud, their role has become somewhat less dominant and is more focused on network management and endpoint security. The areas growing in importance these days tend to revolve around data management, analytics, security and compliance.

What has helped in your success, and what advice would you give to someone early in their career?

It’s important to build good teams. No single person — no matter how smart they are or how hard they work — can be involved in all the projects, crises and decisions that occur within an IT organization. If you don’t surround yourself with good people, you will fail. That’s a huge and sometimes difficult realization for individuals who have consistently been rewarded and promoted because of their personal success as individual contributors.

What are the biggest challenges you face being a CIO?

The two biggest challenges are developing an in-depth understanding of the business model the IT team is supporting and establishing collaborative relationships with other members of the executive team. You need both of these assets. Business understanding alone is not sufficient to ensure that you will be involved in planning and implementing major business initiatives. Conversely, relationships in the absence of business savvy will also relegate you to a supporting role — at best — when major initiatives are undertaken.

What emerging technologies are you excited about?

That’s a tough question because technology excitement should be based on the business problems that a new technology can solve, not on the nature of the technology itself. I think there are huge opportunities for business process automation within most companies. Machine learning can accelerate such automation but it’s not the only technology that can be used to reduce business process errors and latency. Any technology that allows businesses to develop more frequent, personalized and rewarding interactions with their paying customers is also exciting, whether such technologies involve mobile phone applications, eCommerce platforms or data & analytics.

From where you sit, you see a lot of emerging technology startups and vendors. How would you advise them on breaking through the noise to get to you?

I’ve discovered many startup companies through personal relationships I have with other CIOs and friends within the venture capital community. I’m less likely to participate in a briefing or dinner event if it’s being exclusively promoted by a vendor. But if the event is organized or hosted by another CIO or a VC firm, I’m more likely to participate to learn firsthand what has intrigued them about a specific company.

Know a forward-thinking CXO at a large Fortune 500 enterprise company for us to feature? Please send suggestions our way. And as always, if you’re a CXO and looking to connect with leading enterprise startups, please reach out.