Learn from a CIO: 6 Lessons from Google CIO Ben Fried

October 6, 2016 (1310 Views)

Managing costs. Keeping up on technology. Balancing business needs with the bottom line. CIOs have a lot on their minds, but perhaps the biggest and most constant question is: How do I do my job better? To help answer that, we took a deep dive into how Ben Fried, Google CIO, gets the job done.

  1. Open IP

Using open source code can be less expensive, more secure and more collaborative than relying on proprietary software from outside vendors. Google is a leading member of the open source community via its Android operating system. And Fried has talked often about how Google’s use of open source allows Google to enable agile development among its engineering staff: “Any engineer at Google can look at the source code of almost anything going on in the engineering department,” he said. “We believe in transparency. Transparency leads to quality; it creates better products, better work.”

  1. Make security a practice, not a policy

Any company can put together a list of security policies that their employees should follow. But a CIO who values data security knows that there also needs to be a practice in place to verify that it’s being followed. “Any third-party cloud providers that our employees use must pass our thorough security review and agree under contract to maintain certain security levels,” Fried has said.

That rigorous security doesn’t stop the company from having a BYOD policy at work (though of course Google encourages staff to use devices running the company’s Android operating system).

  1. Reach for the cloud

Moving infrastructure, resources and applications to the cloud is one of Google’s over-arching technology missions. And Fried takes a proactive approach on how the cloud can turn infrastructure assets into readily available apps. As he said earlier this year: “Even before we had a cloud division to commercialize the offerings, we’ve been able to move much of our infrastructure to Google’s cloud, and what I’ve learned is that if there’s anything you can run in the cloud you probably should, because so many of the really big opportunities for sustained impact come from what we build ourselves.”

It’s handy that Google has its own cloud to migrate to, but a company doesn’t have to build its own data center to get the benefits Fried is talking about. The cloud grants companies freedom and flexibility to think and move quickly and strategically. As Fried has said, “Moving problems to the cloud means moving them out of your mind.”

  1. Outsource strategically

Leveraging outside vendors doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Fried’s staff has made strategic decisions on occasion to stop using outside suppliers for some technology solutions, such as when it stopped using Dropbox in favor of developing Google Drive. Yet Google has also outsourced when that move makes the most sense, assigning non-core technology projects and processes to several outside firms. (There have been media reports about these moves, though Google has not spoken publicly about them.) It could be said this is all part of Fried’s effort to manage Google’s IT base and strategy effectively—and that finding the right mix of what to keep in-house and what to outsource is essential to that effort.


  1. Seed progressive culture, reap productivity

Fried is famous in the IT world for empowering his staffers and giving them a voice in the company’s technology direction, rather than just dictating commands from on high. Under his direction, Google’s engineers also follow a 20-percent concept, in which they can spend one-fifth of their time on a project that sparks their curiosity and passion. This encourages collaboration throughout departments, as well as creativity and a progressive culture. The result is a team that’s more engaged, more committed—and more productive than one that’s simply tasked with following orders.

  1. Cultivate your Inner strategist

“There is a unique fusion; a deep understanding of technology with a deep understanding of your organization’s business and mission,” Fried has said. “And that, fundamentally, is where IT needs to be.” Gone are the days when IT chiefs could limit their interest to the land of technology. Today, CIOs are full participants in the c-suite, helping to make business decisions and drive results. And that means IT moves must be made through a strategic lens.

So, there it is. A quick strategy from Google CIO, Ben Fried, on how to improve yourself within your position as CIO.

Questions? Fire away!

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  • Dan O'Shea

    Dan O'Shea has covered the telecom and IT sectors as a journalist and technology analyst for more than 20 years. His reporting and analysis have appeared in Entrepreneur magazine, Light Reading, FierceTelecom, Telephony and elsewhere. He is based in Chicago.

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