Sonus Networks CIO Bill Scudder is an innovator with a long view toward the future—and the past; taking a cue from historic figures like Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, he’s looking to turn IT into a strategic asset
By Jill Laybourn
It is often said that history is doomed to repeat itself, but in some cases that isn’t such a bad thing. As is the case with Bill Scudder, Vice President (VP) and Chief Information Officer (CIO) for Sonus Networks, whose passion and studies of historic playmakers have positively influenced his leadership style. Scudder is inspired by leaders and visionaries ranging from Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy to Rudy Giuliani and John Wooden of college basketball fame.
Doing What You Love
Scudder went to college to become an engineer, but soon after graduation realized that he could take his affinity for computers and turn it into a career. “I really started right away doing programming and development and applying engineering skills to the computer area and software development,” he said.
In 2008, Sonus Networks, a leading provider of next-generation communications solutions for service providers and enterprises, hired Scudder as CIO in order to, he said, “fundamentally transform the IT [information technology] function and to help drive innovation by improving how Sonus communicates and collaborates across the entire global enterprise, including using its own solutions internally.”
Sonus’ Board of Directors mandated change, and Scudder went to work devising an IT vision and strategy. The vision was to make IT a business partner, enabler and strategic asset. Additionally, IT needed to become customer service oriented, spending less time on data center technology and more on its customers. Scudder wanted the group to make investments aligned with the needs of the business and then improve the time-to-value for these investments.
Also, they were to eliminate “islands of automation” and move all applications and infrastructure to the cloud as quickly as possible. Finally, Scudder’s vision was to cultivate a set of IT Business Analysts who were process experts and better versed in Sonus’ end-to-end business processes than anybody else in the company.
With such lofty visions, Scudder had to start small and get the IT Department away from its classic legacy approach. The focus of the IT team was how much computer equipment could be added to the data center and what software they should be developing. Scudder recognized that the department had to become more forward-thinking and business minded.
“There was very little interaction between the IT team and the actual people in the business; they were so cut off from the business that I recognized that wasn’t a good thing,” Scudder said. “[The IT team was] really just focused on doing what was right for IT versus the right thing for the business.”
Scudder first had to convince his team that a new way of thinking and doing was the right approach for them and the company. And, as was the experience for many of his historical role models, Scudder found his vision was met with some skepticism.
“My vision was pretty much at odds with what they were used to, and I came in with what, to them, were some radical ideas,” he said. “In fact, concepts like server virtualization, cloud applications and ‘follow-the-sun’ help desk structures were already widely accepted in the IT world.”
Scudder was not dissuaded by the reluctance. He had a plan. In his words: “I laid out a vision and strategy and then communicated this often and broadly through all parts of the organization. I also thought it was important to take some small baby steps so people could start to buy in and see some progress. Our first implementation of a cloud solution was a 20-person Salesforce.com application, which did nothing more than track deals and provide some workflow approvals. But this started the ball rolling, and people inside and outside of IT could see the possibilities that this approach offered. Today, 95 percent of our business applications and usage are on cloud applications.”
To help get his team aligned with his vision, Scudder often sent members to trainings or took them to seminars. “I was really trying to modernize the group,” he said. “I generally had a talented team, but they just hadn’t been exposed to modern IT strategies.”
In some cases, Scudder brought in people with a fresh perspective and modern view. “I brought in key people from the business that had IT aptitudes and who might not have been classically looked at as IT people. They tended to approach problems from a business perspective first and then look for the IT solution.”
‘To Infinity and Beyond’
It has been five years now, and while Scudder’s initial vision for the IT Department and the company has greatly come to fruition, it does not mean he is sitting back and basking in past accomplishments. Like all great historical leaders he has studied, his sights are set on the future.
“There continue to be opportunities for streamlining, simplifying and automating business processes,” Scudder said, “which helps to improve the profitability of the company and makes us easier to do business with from a customer perspective. We’re really into understanding and improving Sonus business processes. For an IT group, that is pretty exciting.’
A Head for Business
Being business minded was some advice that, fortunately, Scudder received early on in his career. “I was at a Christmas party, and I introduced myself to the CEO [Chief Executive Officer] and his wife as ‘Bill Scudder, the computer guy.’ The President of the company stopped me and said, ‘No, you are a businessperson.’ He made me look at my role in a different way just by saying that.”
Today Scudder is all about the business when he is speaking to executives. He avoids IT jargon and recognizes that “if there are IT solutions to be applied, then they must be applied to business problems, not just IT solutions in a vacuum.”
“I happen to have a tool bag called IT—some cool technology that I can leverage to help the business,” he added. “I don’t lead with the IT tool bag though. It is really about the business problem first.”
Imitating the Greats
Along with being visionary and business minded, Scudder also has gleaned some great leadership skills by studying historic figures. The great John Wooden is one of Scudder’s history makers, so it is no surprise that Scudder tries to lead with a coaching mentality.
“I try to coach the staff and point out ways for them to improve,” he said. “I try to get them to see that they can do more, take more risks and take more challenges. I really love that part of my job, seeing people grow. I also stress the value of teamwork.”
And like Teddy Roosevelt, Scudder, too, believes in remaining calm. He wants his team to feel empowered and like they can share their ideas and even challenge him when necessary.
“The point is to not be a shouter,” Scudder said. “It shuts people down.”
Another essential part of Scudder’s leadership philosophy is getting out of the office. “I try to touch base and talk to my managers once a day,” he said. “It is somewhat social, somewhat supportive. Talking about their current challenges, it helps me find out the status on projects and determine where I can help.”
He also tries to make a pilgrimage to all of Sonus’ offices around the world. “It is important to be ‘present,’” he noted, “and show you will make those long trips.”
Scudder, VP and CIO at Sonus Networks, clearly is repeating history. He embodies strong role models—Teddy Roosevelt, John Wooden and beyond—and with his passion for history, who knows what useful ideas, philosophies and strategies he will be inspired by and inspire by next? One thing is for certain: Anyone studying the history of Scudder would fare well to repeat what he or she has learned.
Jill Laybourn is a freelance writer based in Colorado.