CIO Chronicles, Part 2: IT Career Advice From The CIO Of Cirque Du Soleil

Michael Kure

Welcome to SAP’s “CIO Chronicles” series that will address the questions, concerns, and thoughts of the modern CIO. Read Part 1.

We are pleased to present Part 2 of our interview with Pierre-Luc Bisaillon, CIO of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group. In Part 1, Pierre-Luc shared some of his personal insights on IT. In Part 2, he presents some sage advice (for someone so young) and recommendations for those choosing IT as their professional career path.

Pierre-Luc Bisaillon, CIO of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group

What are your thoughts on digital transformation and how it affects IT careers?

I think there are a few levels of digital transformation. First, if you combine all of the technologies available to you, such as mobile, cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), and more, you can build company models that will be disruptive in their industries. Young companies such as Uber, Airbnb, and Netflix have completely replaced incumbents across a number of industries such as transportation, hospitality, and video entertainment.

More specifically, within Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, there are several areas where we use technologies to transform processes. For example, in our casting and performance department, we’re shifting from a manual approach to managing artists, performers, and athletes to a model that is much more digital-based.

When it comes to IT careers, I believe digital transformation has a profound impact in any industry. In older, more traditional IT organizations, IT roles were functionally defined. You would have project managers, business analysts, enterprise architects, solutions architects, system integrators, and so on, all very much based on specialty, roles, and functions. In the digital world, people need to shift their mindset from a business perspective and approach it more horizontally.

Can you give us an example of new roles versus old as a result of this?

I spent a bit of time in the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) industry, which is a good example. If you’re trying to deploy a server in the old-school IT model, you may require five to seven people to interact with the server. You need someone to install it physically, someone to install the virtualization layer, then an OS specialist, a security specialist, a network specialist, and an application specialist. That’s why it takes a lot of time, sometimes up to three weeks, to get this one task done.

Today, a hardware or cloud engineer is basically a software developer who is going to write a script to release a virtual machine with all the proper network, security, and OS applications and network configurations that are needed. The result is a deployment in a few minutes.

That’s just an example of how the mindset is changing regarding the roles and possible careers in IT. The industry now needs and looks for people who understand the business and have a broader understanding of how the technologies interact together to provide a greater impact.

Related to that, what are your thoughts on the emerging IT workforce, such as millennials and digital natives?

The emerging workforce is coming with a lot of ideas, a lot of energy, and creativity. I see it as an added responsibility to managers. It’s our job to enable these younger workers and not slow them down. I’ve made it a priority here for the IT department to connect with that generation of millennial workers in Montreal and abroad. This way, we can hear and learn from them but also [convey] the incredible chances they have to be here where IT careers are blooming and companies such as Cirque du Soleil are hiring massively. I’ve made presentations at our local universities in the last few months, reaching out to these digital natives directly.

Most companies are going to face many challenges due to a competitive market. We just have to figure out how to distinguish our value proposition and attract the best talents.

What do you see as the top competencies needed for someone aiming for a career in IT?

The first important skill is business acumen. Whether that is from previous experiences or coursework, I think it is important to look at “IT for business,” not “IT for IT.” In other words, we’re looking for IT people who understand business and business people who understand IT. That’s a good way to ensure better alignment, understanding, and collaboration.

Second is a deep technology confidence. You can’t overlook the level of detail it takes to make something work correctly from end to end and that industry is getting increasingly complex. All the suppliers are coming to us with great solutions. Everybody has good ideas. But in the end, as an organization, as an IT leader, and as an employee in that field, your job is to make all the pieces work together.

The third competency is people skills – influencing, negotiating, active listening, as well as partnering. We deal with creators from around the world. And as such, we need a strong commitment, an open mind, to understand others – and make sure that the culture of the company is also protected within the department. That said, working at Cirque du Soleil is fun, eccentric. Where else can you walk by world-class aerial artists on your way to your desk or sit next to clowns in the cafeteria?

Finally, I would mention ingenuity and creativity, which are must-haves. To deliver the most value from IT, you have to go further than just buying solutions and deploying them. You have to think about creative solutions that can take your business further.

If you were to give a piece of advice to a career starter or a professional who aspires to move to a career in IT, what would that be?

The first piece of advice would be to GO FOR IT! It’s a wonderful world, and I think it is getting more fun every year. I tell young professionals to try and show initiatives and develop a strong portfolio, as it’s easier than ever to get started and build something useful with all the online services from Azure, AWS, Google Cloud, and other development platforms.

I like to see candidates who have tried these services and built something that works, but also those who have failed and broken things – that’s how you learn. In other words, I like to see people who are problem-solvers, independent thinkers, who are not afraid to try, fail, break, and rebuild. That’s way more representative of the model now in IT, where people are moving to continuous integration and deployment.

So, yes, show me how you’ve already used everything that’s available to you and what you’ve learned from it. This is probably my principal advice.

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Feature image courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.

Michael Kure

About Michael Kure

Michael Kure is a member of the Customer Lifecycle Marketing Team at SAP. He works closely with SAP customers to help tell their stories about their journey to digital transformation, and to share their experiences and lessons learned with the aim of benefiting their peers.