Chuck E. Cheese’s CIO on Talent, Communication, and Cloud Migration

Chuck E. Cheese's CIO Chris Boult shares insights for the retail and hospitality industry on moving to the cloud, educating business peers, and what to look for in IT talent.

People who have a soft spot for Chuck E. Cheese’s because of great childhood memories know that CEC Entertainment has always been a smart, forward-looking company. Growing up in the Midwest in the mid-80s, every A on a report card meant five free game tokens—customer loyalty sewn into the very fabric of the school year. The animatronic band made of animal characters was cutting edge for its time, and thankfully played Elvis and other oldies—perfect for convincing a certain hesitant grandmother to bring you there.

Fast forward to 2013. When it became clear that the future of business technology was in the cloud, CEC Entertainment became Workday customer No. 294—the same year that some of us longtime visitors started having children of our own. Now, the company is a full-suite customer with Workday Human Capital Management, including payroll management, and Workday Financial Management.

Chuck E. Cheese’s CIO Chris Boult was kind enough to share his insights and advice on moving to the cloud with Workday North America CTO Joe Wilson at an event co-hosted by Workday and IDG. It seems that especially in the retail and hospitality industry—where dedicated IT personnel are few to non-existent and tradition often trumps innovation—making a case for moving to the cloud is often the first and hardest step.

Here are the highlights of the dialog between Boult and Wilson:

How do you get buy-in when moving to the cloud?

I’ve had the opportunity to deal with different scenarios but CEC Entertainment is a forward-thinking organization, so I’m fortunate. I’m one year in, and I’ll give credit to the leadership team here. Prior to my arrival, CEC had already started the transition to a cloud-based environment. So for me coming in as the newbie, selling SaaS and other cloud solutions to my CEO and the rest of the executive and board members isn’t actually very difficult for a number of reasons.

One, we have a quite young executive team—they grew up with the cloud. Two, they’ve seen the success that we’ve managed to achieve through cloud-based solutions. We’ve been a Workday customer since 2013, and they’ve seen the value of that versus the on-premise (mainframe) solution we had in the past.

In previous roles, it was a very different scenario for me. We had many legacy apps, many of which were 15 years beyond end-of-support. We were looking at the various scenarios of lift and shift to a private cloud. But that’s a difficult business case to make, so then you look at the numbers around moving to a different platform. But it’s hard to make those numbers work too. Do you upgrade based on an ROI that doesn’t really work? You get into the difficult situation where you get paralysis—year after year you’re revisiting a problem with no good answer.

In the meantime, core systems start to fail with no possibility of recovering. At that point, you’ve got to present the risk-based reasoning to the executive team. If you’ve done your homework, going to the cloud is likely the clear choice.

You’ve been doing this for more than 20 years. How has the composition of the IT organization changed?  

The role of many of the professionals in the IT organization has morphed over the years, and necessarily so. Integration skills, data-federation skills, and an understanding of cloud implementations are key to what you need on your team. But here’s what’s most important: An understanding of where data resides, why it’s important to the organization, and how people can leverage it to generate business advantage.

I’m not necessarily talking about data scientists. I’m talking about people who understand how the data is used at the organizational level, and how the different lines of the business work. And then you need someone who can actually work with the operations team, the marketing team, and the finance team, to better understand how to build data models that will meet their needs. And it is hard.

We’ve been talking about unstructured data for several years now, particularly when it comes to how to leverage it. But outside of getting a group of consultants to come in, there are very few people within organizations who know how to leverage unstructured data and then mesh it with the structured data to drive business advantage.

The IDG “State of the CIO” survey found that IT controls 55 percent of technology spend. Who is making the other 45 percent of technology investment, and where are they investing?

I’m actually in a fortunate position, where we have a very collaborative environment—because these days most of the spend from a technology perspective is either coming from the IT budget or the marketing budget. We divide up much of the technology spend with the CMO and marketing team, and we make joint decisions on those investments.

“Cloud migration always starts with getting out of the ‘IT bubble’ and educating my peers and the board in terms they understand.”—Chris Boult, CIO, Chuck E. Cheese

So you collaborate that way on the spend, but there are issues around data governance and security. So who’s “in charge” of those things?

Let’s take a step back and look at the culture of the organization because every organization is different. I’ve worked at some places where the country manager is essentially king. They have their own internal IT organization but there’s also a global IT organization trying to put its stamp on standards, data center, migrations, et cetera. And often, it ends up in a very bad way because the general managers of the countries report up to the CEO, and they own the purse strings. And if you’re in central IT and you try to fight that, there’s only one outcome.

I think for all of us, it’s important to take your IT hat off and understand how the executive team works, how it’s expected to work, and how the organization works culturally outside the boundaries of IT. Unless you understand that, you won’t be successful within the boundaries of IT.

When it comes to a cloud migration, what’s your biggest piece of advice?

For me, a cloud migration always starts with getting out of the “IT bubble” and educating my peers and the board in terms they understand. We live in a cloud world, but if you sit in a room with some non-IT people, they often don’t understand what the cloud is. And they certainly don’t understand what the advantages and the risks are.

So you’ve got to make sure they understand in business terms. Every board, every governance committee, and every audit committee is concerned about IT risk, security risk, data breaches, and the impact to the organization. So you want to make sure that it’s well articulated and supported by your plans to address that.

For example, talk about your incident response plans. How am I going to address not just something that may happen internally, but what happens if that data is out in the cloud? How am I going to work with that cloud provider to make sure that our reputation is not tarnished?

For me, bottom line, it’s all about taking the most important technical issues and putting them into a business conversation that the C-suite and the board understand.

Posted in:  Technology Innovation

More Reading