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3/6/2013
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CIO Profiles: Steve Mills Of Rackspace

IT infrastructure on demand is shaking up the hosting services industry, says this CIO.

Career Track



Steve Mills CIO, Rackspace

Steve Mills
CIO, Rackspace

How long at Rackspace: About three years at this hosting services company.

Most important career influencer: Professor Murat Tanik, my favorite computer science professor during grad school. He taught me to think about how diverse concepts might be related and sharpened my ability to spot patterns and solve problems. He also really stimulated my passion for computer science and IT.

One thing I wish I could do over: I moved into a new leadership role and found out that one of the IT systems I inherited was having performance issues. There was no clear data available to show how severe the problem was, and the responsible team believed it was on track to fix it. The problem got worse until it became a full-blown crisis as our peak sales season approached. I assembled a tiger team and escalated fast and hard with our key vendor to get the right people on site to solve the problem. In the end, it was a close call for our business. If I had a do-over, I'd dig into the criticality of the system and ask the team for data showing system performance over time, a list of known issues and a concrete resolution plan.

On The Job


IT budget: About $35 million capital and $35 million operational

Size of IT team: 205 on staff plus approximately 150 contractors

Vision


What I want from tech vendors: I need them to listen, learn and be honest and realistic about their capabilities. Many technology vendors are still more interested in selling than in listening to what our real challenges are.

The most common cause when IT projects go wrong: IT starts a transformational project without enough ownership from business teams. If business teams don't feel like they own the project and are getting big benefits from it, they will fight the changes and the project will fail.

The most disruptive force in my industry: IT infrastructure, platforms and applications delivered on-demand using a utility model. Innovations in this area are disrupting basic business operations for many big, longtime industry leaders in the enterprise software and hardware markets and creating big opportunities for new entrants that have embraced cloud as a delivery mechanism and business model.

The most overrated IT movement: The consumerization of IT. People use technology more in their personal lives than they did a decade ago, but this feels like a consequence of Moore's Law applied over a few decades. The fact that people can now use the same tools at home and at work is a big opportunity. It's up to the IT shop to stay ahead on relevant technologies and keep updating tools and approaches to make the workplace productive and fun.

Personal


Degrees: Southern Methodist University, MS and Ph.D. in computer science; Texas Tech University, Master of Engineering in systems engineering; University of Southern Mississippi, BS in computer science and math

Favorite pro sports team coach: John Wooden, an amazing coach whose leadership principles were a lot bigger than basketball

Best book read recently: The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton Christensen

The fastest way into my doghouse: Surprising me with bad news when we could have acted earlier

If I weren't a CIO, I'd be ... a teacher

Ranked No. 38 in the 2012 InformationWeek 500

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