Last name: Brian Winters
Society: ECI software solutions
Job title: CIO
Start date of current role: May 2019
Site: Dallas/Fort Worth area
As chief information officer, Brian Winters ensures that ECI delivers on its promises. He leads the delivery of ECI’s cloud-based SaaS solutions, the constant evolution of the company’s cybersecurity posture, and the management of the company’s information technology operations. What motivates Winters? His focus on the success of ECI’s clients internally and, most importantly, externally. Winters is a seasoned technology executive with a passion for delivering to customers. Along with his customer-focused mindset, he brings over 15 years of leadership experience where he held technology leadership positions at companies such as Solera Holdings, Top Image Systems and eGistics. Winters specializes in building and managing the infrastructure and operations needed to deliver critical services securely through the cloud, and positioning private equity firms to maximize value.
What was your first job? I grew up on a farm in central Kentucky, so my very first job was working the farm, tending the cattle and tending the fields. My first paying job was working at Long John Silver when I was 14 – it was the only place that hired me at that age. My first ‘real’ job was when I started my own business at 20 – back when I thought I knew it all and running a business was easy.
Have you always wanted to work in IT? No. I thought I wanted to be a history teacher. I developed a love for computers in high school because of video games, and it turned into a career. At that age I didn’t even know that computing was something people did for a living, I just knew that I wanted to spend as much time as possible working on and with computers.
What was your upbringing like? Do you have certifications? What are they? I have a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems and a CISSP certification from ISC2. I’ve held a host of other certifications throughout my career, but let them expire because they became useless.
Explain your professional background. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I took out an SBA loan when I was 21 and started my own wireless ISP. I thought I was going to be the next Bill Gates, but after five years of competing with cable and phone companies, one of my clients offered me a job at a start-up, so I sold the company to a competitor and I started my official career in IT. From there, I followed a fairly normal path up the corporate ladder, going from individual contributor to manager, a few director and vice president positions, and then my first CIO position. Although it didn’t turn out exactly the way I imagined, I think owning my own business (which I call the school of hard knocks) at such a young age helped me stand out among my peers. and accelerated my opportunities for rapid advancement in IT.
Which business or technology initiatives will be the most important in driving IT investment in your organization in the coming year? ECI is a cloud service provider, and our customers trust us with their critical business data, so we spend a lot of time focusing on security improvements. We continue to evolve toward a zero trust model that drives much of our business now and into 2022. We are focused on improvements such as expanding our MFA capabilities and continuing to narrow the scope of the network through micro-segmentation.
What do you see as the CEO’s main priorities for the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? We are very acquirers, so we put a lot of thought, time and energy into buying and integrating businesses, especially on the technology and security side. We are doing a good job in this area now, but we continue to drive innovation in this area to support the company’s desire to accelerate M&A activity.
Does the classic role of the CIO include responsibilities that he should not assume? Should the role have additional responsibilities that it does not currently include? I think the role of the CIO is constantly evolving and varies a lot from company to company. I agree that in some companies the CIO role has a scope that doesn’t make sense – which is usually the result of a leftover operational scope that doesn’t fit neatly into other areas or that no one is responsible for. no one else wants to manage. It’s a shame because it can really distract from important priorities. As agility and lean have taken over R&D and product teams, and with efforts like DevOps blurring traditional lines, I believe CIOs must constantly redefine their role in their business or risk becoming the office of the “no” and not to deliver the business. value.
Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it focus on customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? We have been engaged in a digital transformation process for several years. If you define digital transformation as “the integration of technology into all facets of the business”, I would say that we are largely there and working on continuous improvement. My approach is to focus on both customer experience and operational efficiency. I find that they very often lead you to the same result if you are transparent and ask the right questions. Usually, if these two goals are at odds with each other, it’s because we haven’t properly defined the desired business outcome. Not every department needs five nines of uptime – and a big part of the operational efficiencies and cost savings we now achieve is understanding the costs of those extra nines and making informed decisions and based on data on where to invest.
Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? I would say, like any business, we have focus areas where we have well-developed KPIs that have been iterated over and over and are well understood. On the other hand, we also have areas where the KPIs are rudimentary and are still being improved and refined.
What does a good corporate culture look like in your organization? How do you grow it? ECI has a very strong culture that focuses on our mission to enable small and medium-sized businesses to run their businesses more effectively and efficiently. I think the mission attracts a certain type of person. We try to avoid tech extremists who think there’s only one “right” way to build something and instead try to focus on people who want to be part of building it. something meaningful and who understand that diversity of perspectives is important and that sometimes the “perfect” solution is not the “right” solution.
What roles or skills do you find (or think are) the most difficult to fill? Security positions are the most difficult for which it is difficult to find qualified people, and I think this trend will continue. CrowdStrikes and other MSPs around the world are grabbing all of this talent at crazy “unicorn” salary scales and in the next five years, I think it will become even harder to hire these roles. As a result, many companies, especially smaller ones, will need to largely migrate to an MSP model. DevOps and SRE roles are also hard to find for the same reasons.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? What you do in moderation, your team will do in excess – both good and bad. One of my mentors passed this wisdom on to me one day when I did something stupid like come to work in shorts and it’s stuck in my head ever since. It’s 100% true and I think about it constantly.
Do you have a succession plan? If yes, discuss the importance and challenges of developing high performing staff. Yes. It’s not as solid as, say, a company like Toyota where it’s a very formal process, but we have a training and development office with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever worked with. We have several formal programs for high performers, including mentoring and training programs. I think the biggest challenge in succession planning is that the supply and demand for good IT resources has shifted to the point that we’ve entered an era where people can and do get significant pay raises by moving in a new company every 2-3 years and most companies are still hesitant to offer this opportunity to existing employees. So when an employee is faced with a headhunter calling them for an opportunity right now with a 30% raise or waiting for someone above them to leave the company to move up with a smaller pay raise is an easy choice.
What advice would you give to aspiring IT managers? Don’t waste your time working in companies where IT is not considered a core part of the business. If you’re interviewing, ask the interviewer if the CIO is capable of driving change in the company or if they feel like their hands are tied. If the latter, find another opportunity – you are not going to learn and grow in this environment and in the long run it will not help you build your career.
What has been your greatest professional achievement? I guess the answer here would have to be one of the acquisitions I was part of, the cloud delivery capabilities we built, or a digital transformation story, but I personally get a lot of joy from the mentorship side and work development and I think my greatest career achievement would be the great friendships I have developed over the years helping the great people I work with get where they want to go.
Looking back with 20:20 back, what would you have done differently? I spent my early career chasing salaries rather than looking for opportunities that I thought would really help me grow or gain new experience. I would do it differently.
What are you reading right now? I just started A seat at the table by Mark Schwartz. It’s an interesting vision of the CIO’s role in an agile/lean world.
Most people don’t know that I… I bought a dilapidated little house when I was 19. My first week in the house, my foot fell through the bathroom floor. In the end, it ended up being condemned by the city because it was built on a former pencil factory and the lead levels in the dirt were several thousand times the safe limit.
In my spare time, I like…Play video games, build ridiculously useless home automation, and dabble in my home lab.
Ask me to do anything except… Attend another meeting. 😊