Western Digital executive Todd Stewart shares his thoughts on the public cloud and the internet of things, and shares guidance for fellow CIOs.

Sean Ferrel and his team at Managed Solution recently conducted a series of more than 40 C-level interviews with Southern California technology leaders. Among those interviewed was Todd Stewart, VP of global infrastructure and IT operations for Western Digital. In this role, Stewart is responsible for on-premise and cloud computing, global network, communications, data storage and data centers.

What’s the number one area of focus CIOs should concentrate on?

Stewart: CIOs are really the technology CEO of their company. The primary goal of a company is to attract and retain customers. Therefore, the CIO should be highly focused on the business strategy for attracting and retaining customers. Many executive peers remain technologically naïve – a CIO has to understand every part of the business, every function, and then be able to advise those functions on meeting those goals through technology. The most successful CIO will truly understand every business function.

What’s your take on public cloud?

Stewart: WDC is a thought leader with public cloud, we are a very large customer of AWS, and we also hold the world’s record for the largest computing job ever run in AWS (we’ve broken our own record several times). We are increasing our usage of Azure – Microsoft is really making progress making that service more relevant. Actually, Microsoft is a completely different company from three years ago, in a good way. Public cloud is one of several tools for corporate computing, but not one that solves every need – or will ever solve every need. This is a hybrid world.

What areas come to top of mind today when looking at public cloud?

Stewart: Public cloud isn’t cheap. Some things run cheaper on premise. Sometimes you have capital to spend, and public cloud is only opex. Fit the right tool to the right job, this is a hybrid world.

Do you feel IT still carries the title of a cost center rather than revenue driver?

Stewart: That solely depends on the CIO. WDC is a merged combination of WD, HGST, and SanDisk. Three years ago, WD and HGST viewed IT solely as a cost center to be minimized. Now, our company views IT as a key enabler for marketing, sales, manufacturing, business intelligence, supply chain, and productivity. This change occurred because our CIO and his team set out to understand every facet of our business, and then focused on delivering innovation at every opportunity. “Keeping the lights on”, low-value work was moved to SaaS and cloud, allowing our internal resources to focus on innovation and delivering value.

What are you (the CIO) doing to support innovation in the company and its own organization to deliver better solutions?

Stewart: Understanding and getting directly involved in every facet of the business, and then using that knowledge to craft innovative solutions that solve problems. For example, highly-complex, cloud engineered big data solutions lead to improved manufacturing yields and improved product quality; SaaS hosted applications allow people to be productive, anywhere on any device; and manufacturing application consolidation and virtualization lead to reduced cost and higher uptime for factories.

We are hearing so much about the internet of things – what does or could the internet of things for your business look like?

Stewart: We love the IoT, because all of that data ends up on our products! WDC now views itself as a key enabler of future progress. IoT will provide gigantic data sets – which our products will host – that will yield advancements in medicine, technology, economics, science, and every other field. The solution to every problem is somewhere in that data swamp, and we will be part of pulling knowledge from it. Internally, IoT has already been helping us for years in our manufacturing processes.

Are there hiring challenges based in the great economic we’re currently facing today?

Stewart: We are having good success recruiting good people. The globalization of the labor market helps somewhat, but we are able to hire leaders in the US as needed.

Has the idea of using cloud changed your mindset of using outsourced/managed services?

Stewart: Our preference for providing technology services is first to use SaaS, so we can get totally out of that business (email, HRIS, file sharing, etc.). Then either cloud or on-premise depending on the ROI and circumstances. We find value in specific managed services, such as network monitoring/NOC services or system administration. There is a place for managed services, because cloud isn’t going to do it all.

If you could give guidance to any CIO, IT manager/director about how they position their careers what would you tell them?

Stewart: Know your technology – that’s a given – but you must know your business. Get involved with them, understand their goals and challenges, and seek to address them. Most people will accept the help when it comes from a spirit of partnership and mutual success. Failure to do so just leads to “shadow IT” – they will do your job themselves.

-- Sean Ferrel, Managed Solution