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My First 100 Days as a CIO: Spark a Paradigm Shift

Darin Morrow, VP & CIO, Cricket Wireless

My First 100 Days as a CIO: Spark a Paradigm ShiftDarin Morrow, VP & CIO, Cricket Wireless

The term “First 100 Days” comes from President Franklin D. Roosevelt announcing his plan to end the Great Depression. From then on, the phrase was used to measure a leader’s initial success that defines the future.

Sixty days ago, I started as the CIO of Cricket Wireless, one of the nation’s fastest growing prepaid wireless companies. I oversee a team of 130 Cricket IT managers and 400 vendor employees. An opportunity underscored by my industry’s sudden popularity. Like many businesses that cater to cost-conscious America, we’re in the middle of a customer boom.

In the past decade, America’s major wireless carriers acquired, launched and re-launched prepaid wireless companies, pouring enormous resources into their designated fighter brands to boost competition in an already fierce marketplace. It quickly redefined prepaid wireless for customers nationwide.

By 2014, my Prepaid team merged with AT&T’s new acquisition, Cricket. Two once competing prepaid players quickly turned into a national player. I left shortly after the merger for another opportunity within AT&T. Meanwhile, Cricket quickly added hundreds of stores and millions of customers.

During my first 100 days, I’m looking at a much larger organization than the one I left that has accomplished a lot. Now, I’m focused on how we approach strategy, organization and the underlying technology that we need to move forward.

Simple. Smarter. Stable.

Here at Cricket, our guiding words are “Simple. Smarter. Better.” For the IT organization, that means “Simple. Smarter. Stable.” That’s what I want my teams to take away and infuse into the work they do.

• Simple: Simplifying solutions drives out complexities.

It solves for low-volume edge cases and makes code and deployment easier.

Smarter: Implementing things like automating regression test and shifting defect resolution to left.

• Stable: Keeping our customers and sales representatives up and running is key. We must do everything with the business in mind.

Our responsibility as CIOs is to get our companies to the future, faster   

As a leader, you have to get people to buy into the overall strategy. You have to have a well-thought out and well understood plan that everyone can follow. For seamless employee collaboration, I have to set the tone. The team needs to know who we are and where we’re going. I’m constantly communicating our vision through lunch and learns, informal meetings and one-on-one conversations. 

But it doesn’t stop with communicating the vision. Every week, I send employees a note describing where we are in our journey. But even with a vision, you can’t stop when the environment changes. Sometimes you’ve got to change the plane’s engine in-flight.

I’m shifting the paradigm inside my IT organization.

Seamlessness transcends every aspect of our work. We want it in the technology we use, employee collaboration and customer experience. When AT&T started a prepaid wireless subsidiary in 2012, I was part of the original IT team charged with building its infrastructure. Seamlessness is easier to achieve in corporate start-ups with smaller employee numbers and close proximity on your side.

Coming back, I’m looking at an organization that is five times bigger than when I left. Now you have all the original IT problems, plus new ones. How do you navigate a river that’s wider than it used to be without stopping up the river? Size is always a multiplier factor. The more people get involved, the more complicated things become.

My first observation was that it’s easy for a large organization to fall into a typical IT tower with silos of information. Cross communication is harder the larger you get. It quickly became clear what I needed to do: Bring back the start-up mentality that encourages innovation.

I aligned our focus teams on delivery, test, and operations and created a new organization that defines and continuously improves our process. IT Enablement manages our processes, work intake and tools to create seamless collaboration. We’ve also defined our agile delivery methodology to embed end-to-end test resources into our teams.  

We’re thinking modularly in organizations and technology.

So if we’re at the forefront of technology and the possibilities it creates, can we plan better? If we’re aware of the advancements that will transform business before they occur, can we be more proactive instead of reactive?

To simplify deployments, we needed to find ways to incorporate into our solutions both open-source and microservices’ architectural concepts. Quickly performing software delivery in smaller modules was critical. We also had to help move our company towards advanced software defined network.

Microservices architecture will keep us agile as the company grows. Offering products like DIRECTV NOW proves we can be more than a traditional prepaid wireless carrier. That’s where IT comes in. We have to anticipate and not slow down with growth. That means using innovative technology and design structures in our interactions and planning.

Technology sets the boundaries of possibility. We enable what the business can offer and how customers can use its products and services. And because of our relationship with innovation, we can often see it before it happens.

The first 100 days is a significant, but an invisible mile marker.

Cricket’s IT department was—and continues to be—at the center of an ongoing evolution. Many CIOs inherit teams with a storied past. Our obligation as leaders is to empower our employees to write a new history.

While it’s important to create change, seamlessness and simplification never go out of style. They require continual dedication, investment and new thinking. Whether you’re in your first 100 days or your first 1,000, tomorrow is a fresh start to prepare for your company’s future. Our responsibility as CIOs is to get our companies to the future faster—by acting today—with streamlined processes, integrated workforces, and the latest technology.

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