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Name: Steven Salaets
Company: Rimini Street
Job title: CIO and EVP of Global Shared Services
Date started current role: March 2020
Location: San Francisco Bay area
Steven Salaets is responsible for the overall leadership, strategic direction and execution of global IT, human resources, facilities, security, quality, and internal audit. Salaets has more than 20 years of global experience in operations, security, compliance, risk, information technology, and human resources management. Prior to joining Rimini Street, Salaets held various management positions at Moody’s KMV and Wind River — leading global standardisation and integration projects, managing global teams across APAC, EMEA and the USA, defining enterprise architectural solutions, and running global IT and security offices across the globe. Salaets is a recognised leader in the IT and security industry and has received several industry awards. Most recently, he was recognised with a 2019 Stevie International Business Award for IT Executive of the Year. Salaets is a member of, and regular contributor to, the Forbes Technology Council and regularly speaks at events with other industry leaders.
What was your first job? My first job was as a dishwasher at age 16. On a lucky day I was allowed to clean vegetables.
Did you always want to work in IT? Without realising it, yes — my dad was a programmer and I was 6 years old when I started tinkering with an Apple computer my dad bought to run his business. As a teenager, I was running bulletin board systems out of my basement. I was also building computers and networks for people.
When I was 18 I ended up going to a computer store to see if I could get sponsorship for my bulletin board system, and while I was there I fixed a motherboard the owner was working on. They hired me on the spot!
What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? Bachelor’s degree from the KU Leuven Faculty of Engineering Technology in Leuven, Belgium. I am CISSP (ISC)² certified, and at some point was also a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE).
Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I started with corporate jobs after college. I was always very focused on the infrastructure side and then transitioned into security; due to my know-how, I was seen as a “hacker” of sorts. Then, when the Sarbanes–Oxley Act came about in the early to mid-2000s, I really started to focus even more on security and compliance because it became a necessity.
I then took a bit of a detour: I built an HR department from top to bottom, including every single function — training, recruiting, payroll and so on. I did that for a few years and learned a lot about organisation design and people.
Today I am the CIO at Rimini Street as well as overseeing Global Shared Services: HR, IT, Security and Facilities.
As a result of the detours into compliance and HR, I have a much broader operational perspective.
What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? We’re very focused on low-code and no-code initiatives, which has been an up-and-coming trend to build apps easily. We’re heavily invested in this space because it gives businesses the flexibility to build the systems they need without necessarily depending on expert coders. We have a few use cases that we are looking to address with this platform.
We’re also in the midst of consolidating our HR systems into one platform, which will ultimately lead to operational efficiencies. This is a very strategic investment for us as to how we manage our workforce going forward.
What are the CEO’s top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Our CEO is focused on strategic platform investments, with the goal of transforming the company into a billion-dollar company. To do this we’re looking to reduce redundancies by consolidating certain things where it makes sense, and generally not accepting the status quo – we want to mature across the board. We’re also focusing investments on better systems for both customer experience and employee experience.
We are doing this by reducing operational costs, technology overlap and redundancy. We don’t accept the status quo and are always looking at how can do things better, more efficiently or by maturing our organisational processes. We are making strategic investments in innovative new systems, tools, processes, reporting, analytics, data, websites and portals.
Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The conventional CIO is responsible for keeping the lights on, but this has shifted heavily in the last few years. As an illustration, the CEO of Panera Bread recently said, “we are a tech company selling food,” because the whole company runs on technology. In this modern era of business, the CIO oversees the end-to-end enterprise digital strategy, but they need to be empowered to transform.
As part of that, the CIO has become responsible for overseeing end-to-end enterprise digital strategies. CIOs need to be empowered to drive these digital strategies and allow the business to move forward into the next era.
Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? We invested heavily in AI to better manage customer support, and so far, the results have been excellent. We created a patent-pending AI support platform that gives out experts proactive intelligence to accelerate client service and decrease the time it takes to resolve cases. After implementing the system, we improved our time-to-resolve by an average of 23%. The system was developed by our in-house innovation team, and they’ve developed a reputation for designing ground-breaking, proprietary support tools to assure we have the most responsive delivery model in the enterprise software support market. Using these tools, our average global client satisfaction score has jumped to 4.9 out of 5.0, where 5.0 is “Excellent.”
Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Our IT KPIs are based on operational excellence, customer service and the success of delivery. We look at these once a month to determine if they’re the right metrics and whether or not we’re missing anything.
We tend to take a broader view where appropriate and measure the value of the project versus just the sheer cost. On the backend, we look at measures based on maturity to determine if we did things right.
What does a good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? We’re very entrepreneur-minded, and the people who fit in well can move fast whether they’re successful or not. If we’re going to fail at all we fail fast, learn from it and move forward from there.
That said, moving to a billion-dollar company makes this dynamic challenging. Teams and the organisation as a whole need structure, but you also want to empower people to be innovative. So our culture and operations are changing a bit, as we are making that shift from entrepreneurial to a structured, larger company mindset.
What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Overall, the way people interview is changing. There is a lot of talk in HR about what type of personality fits in well and weaving those types of questions into the process. The Great Resignation is real – some positions have been open for more than a year, particularly those that call for niche skill sets, we have been having a hard time finding security engineers, ETL developers and ServiceNow engineers.
What’s the best career advice you ever received? A former CIO I worked with would sit down in a one-on-one meeting and have me think about what’s possible. It could be things that were previously unheard of, this was 2005 and he would talk to me about things such as wireless charging for your phone, or gigabit internet in every home and all of the possibilities around things like this. Then he would shift to translating that to business value and how to put it all together. It allowed me to shift from being an engineer coming up with great technology solutions to being business-focused and solving business problems with technology.
Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes, we have formal succession plans in place and it’s something we look at yearly, to ensure we are investing in successors and are developing them as they grow in their careers. This includes giving them the exposure they need to grow. For example, we do quarterly business reviews with C-level executives around the organisation, letting various leaders on the team participate and at times lead these conversations, giving them exposure to the C-suite and further developing them.
What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Beyond the technology, understand the business issues, how you can solve problems with tech, and what the end value is. You also need to build a strong team around you — no one can do it on their own. Finally, stay current. You need to be up to date on tech at every moment.
This was easier before the pandemic when you could easily attend in-person events. I used to require my leadership team to go to industry events at least once a quarter to make sure we were staying on top of the current trends. These days podcasts, webinars and reading are the way to go.
What has been your greatest career achievement? In my 14 years at Rimini Street, I’m proud of what we’ve built. We started from the ground up and got it to where it is today. We brought in a few million annually when I joined, and now we’re closing in on becoming a billion-dollar company with roughly 1,700 employees and over 3,000 customers. I’m also very proud of the Rimini Foundation. We have supported 350+ charities in 6 continents around the world and our employees have donated over 3,250 hours of volunteer hours. The impact this is making to communities all over the world is amazing and something we are very proud off. It’s an honor to be part of the Rimini Street team and all we have built together.
Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I honestly don’t think about what I could have or should have done – I try my best to learn from things and keep moving forward. Just enjoy what you are doing and evolve as we go along. I do sometimes laugh and remember that when I was 21, I thought I had it all figured out. Then you see how much you change and grow over the years and come to realise you didn’t know anything.
What are you reading now? I love to read — right now I’m reading Working Backwards by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, which is an insider’s view of Amazon’s approach. One quick insight I found particularly interesting is that they write a press release for things they want to release 5-plus years from now; I thought that was fascinating.
Most people don’t know that I… Am a huge Metallica fan, I must have seen them live 20 times. I also love puzzles and can work on them for hours. I recently started one that has 9,000 pieces, but unfortunately, I think I lost a few.
In my spare time, I like to…Travel, play video games (especially “Call of Duty”), and spend time with my family.
Ask me to do anything but… I’m not a fan of heights; planes don’t bother me, but I’m not jumping out of one.
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By IDG Connect