US DNA CIO Interview Alan

Interview with Alan Rosa, SVP, Global IT at Marriott
DNA of a CIO

Alan Rosa, Senior Vice President, Global Information Technology, is responsible for leading IT Delivery in creating and executing a strategy that enables nimble and flexible computing services for our global operations. Prior to joining Marriott, Alan led the Global Infrastructure Operations and Solutions Delivery team for the Walt Disney Company based out of Orlando, FL. Alan has also spent time at Johnson & Johnson where he led the Global Infrastructure Core Engineering functions as well as General Electric leading the Infrastructure and Delivery functions at NBC-Universal as the Vice  President of Data Center and Enterprise Technologies. He has worked in the Information Technology field for over 20 years and is a veteran of the United State Navy.

How long have you been a CIO/CTO (or other senior leader in IT)?
I was promoted to VP in 2008 while at GE. I had been in various IT leadership roles since 2000 leading up to becoming an SVP in 2016.

Have you always aspired to become a senior leader in IT?
I never really looked at the world that way. I was always most interested in the quality of work, finding opportunities to contribute and always enjoy what I am doing. When I stop having fun, it is a sign it is time to change what I am doing or maybe where I am doing it.

Was IT always your career path?
Yes and no. I was an electrician in the Navy and did PC and network support while putting myself through college. I always contemplated law school but did not pursue it until 2008 when I was deep into my IT career. I went to law school at night, and experimented with moving into Law fulltime. I found the pace to be slower and the work was different from what I had imagined, so I continued my IT career path. Ultimately what made the difference for me is the fast rate of change and the unique business challenges we solve in the IT field.

Have you ever second-guessed your career path?
No – when I considered a shift into law I saw it as an evolution of my commitment to the IT field contemplating working within the legal side of technology such as contracts or intellectual property – speeds and feeds ultimately won out.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
People. I enjoy coaching and engaging with people. I like to be able to help with big problems and appreciate getting into the details of solving complex issues. I am actually an introvert but I like to engage with people one on one where I can make an impact. Walking around and connecting with my staff is my favorite part of the day.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path?
I really never see anything as an obstacle. It’s a little bit of a different take on things. Due to my background and how my career has grown, I feel fortunate to have worked with great companies and even better people. Sure there have been things that have come up which required me to think through some stuff but overall it's part of the journey – nothing to complain about.

What technical skills are integral to the role?
If you know the people and the business you support, the hard technical skills are less necessary but having a strong technical background sure is helpful. I am continually learning and building my technical knowledge through every engagement but understanding people and your business go hand in hand. As a senior IT leader that should be your focus but technology is still fun nonetheless.

What soft skills/characteristics are integral to the role?
You must have good people skills and a high degree of empathy. Having a good balance of EQ and IQ (emotional quotient and intellectual quotient). Networking skills are critical as well. 

How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business?
It is important to have an appreciation for the business of your business. You need to understand what they need to do and accomplish but do not need to be a subject matter expert in all areas. My focuses are generally on the finance and sales side – how do we control costs and drive revenue, but if I can open a door to explore other avenues of the business it’s a good investment of time.

What is the one thing you have to have to be a CIO in your opinion?
You have to really be people oriented. Be someone that people want to follow. Having an educational background in business is very helpful – my advice to folks considering graduate in school that want to be a CIO is getting an MBA from a good school. 

In your opinion, how important is networking?
Networking is critical for understanding the market but also for the feedback on how you are doing. I engage someone in my network every day. Speaking with different companies and individuals is a great way to gauge yourself and your ideas against the broader market – silo’d thinking seldom leads to good results. Also, is key for our career progression. I have been hired by people I networked with and have hired many people from my network.

Is there anything you would have differently looking back at your career path?
If I had to do things over I would have taken another assignment developing applications before returning to infrastructure and security. I managed an application development group for a few years earlier in my career, and while I wasn’t necessarily excited about that type of technology work I did learn a lot.

Compared to 5 or 10 years ago, how would you say your role has evolved?
Technology has changed dramatically. There is a greater degree of complexity with business and technology issues.  Also, the way we work has changed. It is much more common to utilize the third party outsourced solutions and spot sourcing (piecing together solutions with many partners)

What advice would you give to the next generation of professionals aspiring to become an IT leader?
Develop a business background. Sample many different roles and responsibilities. Sabbaticals are good. Get to know yourself. Don’t stick your head in the sand.

As an IT leader, what keeps you up at night?
- Security and fraud risk.
- Outages and availability.
- Staying aligned with the business by keeping the communication open.

What are you doing to keep growing your career?
Continually learning by participating in trade shows, conferences, proof of concept, etc. Also, investing in my network: staying in touch with my market and connections.