Google found its new chief information officer, Ben Fried, on Wall Street--and at least on paper, it looks like a good fit.
Even though Google is a Silicon Valley company thousands of miles away from the buttoned-down brokers of lower Manhattan, the two domains have more in common technologically and culturally than one might think.
Wall Street companies and Google have different objectives, but both have a similar modus operandi. They use lots of cutting-edge computer equipment, often with plenty of in-house customization, to get ahead of the competition.
Most companies buy off-the-shelf software, but Wall Street firms like to write their own. Indeed, one of the areas under Fried's purview at Morgan Stanley was managing source code. Google takes this custom engineering philosophy a step further, building its own hardware, too. That's an important cultural commonality.
"They have a very similar attitude: 'Dammit, we can do it better than anyone else,'" said Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice.
For Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and the like, top-notch computing can mean placing a stock trade order a smidgen faster than rivals, yielding a handsome profit for as long as the advantage can be maintained. For Google, it means an up-to-date search engine that can return results alongside targeted advertisements in less than a second.
Wall Street and Google also must make their technology work across a scale seldom seen, with thousands of servers working in tandem.
That means information technology budgets are high, technology turns over quickly, and IT executives have more power and responsibility than they do at the average company.
"It's very unlike Main Street or Rust Belt or retail, where everything is about cost. In finance, it's all about the service delivered," Eunice added. "We're not talking ERP and CRM--six months to begin looking at it and five years to put it in," he said, referring to the sluggish and expensive deployments of enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management computing systems.
Google and Wall Street are quintessential examples of what Sun Microsystems Chief Technology Officer Greg Papadopoulos calls redshift companies. Essentially, these are the companies that use technology as a competitive advantage, not a necessary and costly evil.
Another influential thinker in the domain is Nicholas Carr, whose 2003 Harvard Business Review article "IT Doesn't Matter" riled up computing companies who saw things differently. The article posited that buying computing technology wasn't a good way to get ahead, because everybody else already had done so, too.
In the years since he published the article, though, many companies have decided that indeed some IT, at least, doesn't matter. Salesforce.com, for example, hosts CRM software on its own servers and sells its clients access to the systems. This "software as a service" approach is catching on, as Carr discussed in his 2005 sequel, "The End of Corporate Computing.
But Google isn't likely to outsource anything. Like Salesforce.com and Amazon with its pay-as-you-go Web services, Google's ambition is be a site where software as a service runs.
Its Google Apps service offers word processing, spreadsheets, calendars, and e-mail in an online form, and its new App Engine is now available as a general foundation where programmers can house their own Web-based applications, piggybacking on some Google technology.
In short, it looks like Google wants to expand the influence of its computing infrastructure. What better place to be a CIO?