For our inaugural entry, we are pleased to present Part 1 of our interview with Pierre-Luc Bisaillon, who recently joined the Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group based in Montreal as its chief information officer (CIO).
This busy dad, avid athlete, and musician is also a seasoned executive with more than 20 years of experience in the technology industry. When you consider all of that, along with his formidable background in strategy, consulting, and entrepreneurship, we hope you are eager as we are to hear Pierre-Luc share his industry insights from the perspective of a truly modern CIO.
Before we get into your role as CIO of Cirque du Soleil, please tell us something about yourself. What do you enjoy doing in your free time – in the little free time that you do have, that is?
Well, first and foremost, I’m the father of three kids, which keeps me very busy. But I always like to have some amount of sports and music in my life as hobbies. I regularly play squash, which is my biggest sport, but I also enjoy downhill skiing in the winter, and Ultimate Frisbee in the summer. I’ve also been playing bass with the same band for the last five years, which is a great creative outlet.
That is awesome! Let’s get into your responsibilities as CIO for the world leader in live entertainment.
I see my responsibilities as CIO of Cirque du Soleil falling into three categories.
First, as you would expect, we are responsible for the technology infrastructure – which includes typical network, telecom, and data center services, as well as end-user computing. We do have interesting challenges in this area since our touring shows move every three months and sometimes have to install network equipment in hard-to-service areas such as parks and parking lots. And we need to deliver a high-performance network every time!
The second area consists of all the typical corporate applications that we deliver to the business for managing the finances, talent, procurement, etc. Again, here we have interesting challenges with processing revenues in a large number of currencies and accounting for employees traveling around the world at all times, ensuring that immigration paperwork is always accurate.
And the third one is probably where we’re a little different, or more creative, so to speak. We work closely with our costume department, and as you know we design, create, and develop all the show costumes at our Montreal-based IHQ, and our casting and performance team who recruit our new artists. These are areas that are unique to us, but when it comes to IT, we try to bring more innovative solutions to our business.
Apart from your corporate mandate, do you have something like a personal mission – something that you think you would like to leave behind?
If there was one thing that has guided my career, and even my personal interests, at a very high level, I’d say it’s the use of technology for the greater good.
I’ve always been around technology. And I’ve always believed, even back in the early days of the Internet and the World Wide Web, that technology should be used not only for the benefit of business but for the community and for the people. That has always been my true North Star.
How did you get into this line of work? What was your first IT-related role?
I like to describe most of my career as a triangle between strategy, technology, and entrepreneurship. Most of my different assignments have been at a different focus of that triangle. But to your question, my first IT-related role would be working at Dell as part of the professional services global team back in 2007.
In my last position there, I was a sales executive and closed a significant deal selling laptops to a large organization with 20,000 employees worldwide. It was a big deal, yet it also made me realize the difference in value (and margin) between hardware and services. This thinking eventually led me to make a career move to get closer to cloud computing, as I saw this as an important trend.
If you go back to my educational background, I graduated in electrical engineering from McGill University in Montreal. I worked for a few years for a graphics card manufacturer, which was arguably borderline IT. If you think of IT a little bit in a wider sense and don’t restrict yourself to a corporate IT department, then you can say that I’ve always worked in technology from the very beginning of my career.
Can you share some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an IT leader?
That’s the million-dollar question! I would say it’s the constant evolution of what IT means for business. Today’s IT organizations really have to evolve from old-school distant services to a much more engaged, maybe distributed model, from the very fact that everyone in the business is now an IT consumer.
Every employee in the business is more IT savvy than ever before in professional history. The model of what we do and how we do it is in constant evolution. We must stay ahead of that and make sure that our mission to provide value to the organization is crystal-clear.
How we react to the industry, how we answer to our employees, and how we react to the business are the biggest challenges I have today.
And the achievements of which you are most proud?
I would say that I am very happy with my transition to this CIO role. When you move to a new role and a new organization at the same time, it’s important to get some quick wins, but also to take the time to learn about the organization as a whole, its culture, its processes, its ways of working. I’m thrilled by the challenge to take the IT organization here to the next level.
You’ve been CIO for less than a year. What’s the most important lesson learned as a CIO thus far?
One important lesson is that “an individual best idea doesn’t always win.” To be successful, you must understand your environment, the people, and the systems around you. Trying to develop perfect solutions in a vacuum is not helpful. Instead, it’s better to expand the scope, talk to more people, consider more factors, and make some compromises.
One of the principles I aspire to is to “focus on influence, not control.” It’s sometimes easier said than done! But I think that’s essential to be successful as a modern IT organization.
Thank you for that career advice! Now, looking ahead, please give us your outlook on how the role of CIO will develop in the future.
I think everything is going to evolve over time. But quite simply, the role has to fit the organization – where it is in time and how it uses information technology. It must fit the needs of the organization. For example, is the organization trying to improve processes, transform processes, or transform an industry? What is the impact of the digital ecosystem on this company and industry?
I mentioned this previously, but I think a CIO has to be experienced in technology, strategy, and entrepreneurship. The CIO has a role of determining how an entire organization can leverage technology to generate impact, not so much how to run an IT department. And I do believe that in general, this role will continue to have a great impact on business strategy.
Which technologies do you think will have the most impact on the future of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group?
Many current and newer technologies will help us attain our objectives – from modern data and analytics to ERP and digital marketing platforms.
Yet even if technology changes a lot, our ambition to remain the global leader in live entertainment does not. I believe some things will not change, including human-to-human live entertainment as something that is going to be core to where our society is going.
Join us for the next installment of the CIO Chronicles, where we present Part 2 of our conversation with Pierre-Luc about the emerging workforce in this digital world and the top competencies required for a successful career in IT.