Electronic Arts CIO: Consumerization is a game changer

Credit: Box

Electronic Arts CIO Mark Tonnesen sees the change that's coming to IT, and he's changing the role of the IT department from one that "racks and stacks on-premise software to a more flexible model that drives innovation"

When Tonnasen took the stage this week at the BoxWorks Conference in San Francisco, he talked about how consumerization was changing the gaming company and the challenges he faced in moving his coming from a traditional IT shop to a more modern and agile one.

When he came on board in February,  he looked at his role in IT as one that could help drive the business -- not just provide infrastructure. So he started by looking at the game development cycle. It took a 7 to 9 month effort to develop a game, then bring it through QA and eventually to market.  The game then had a predictable arc. For the first month or two sales would be great, then they would drop off further and further the closer they got to the next release.

He wanted to find a way to keep interest in the game after the initial burst of popularity, so he looked for creative ways to maintain interest in the product, such as downloadable content, new levels, and leader boards to keep customers interested throughout the product lifecycle.

But he said it required a concerted effort to change the mindset of his entrenched employees who were used to doing things a certain way. "They want to write software and build systems and deploy them and [changing] works against their nature," he said. Tonnasen's challenge was to shift their thinking. IT  was now a solutions provider -- and that was a significant shift from their previous role and it was not always easy to manage.

He said another factor affecting their business has been consumerization. He realized if he didn't stay ahead of it, then users would start using ad hoc services, which are completely out of the control of the company. He said consumerization is not just here, it's way ahead of CIOs and they need to recognize what's happening and provide some oversight.

And it's not just users. Tonnasen says partners are also clamoring for more accessibility and flexibility. "If we can't achieve better, faster, cheaper, they are going to get it themselves." He says the beauty of services like Box or any cloud service is that it allows them to focus on their core business of making games.

In a CIO panel run by Box GM Enterprise Whitney Bouk, Gary Reine, operating partner at General Atlantic said when he was at GE in the early 2000s they recognized a need to produce a collaboration platform, but nothing existed at the time. They ended up spending tens of millions of dollars building one themselves.

As Tonnesen points out, Box is far better than anything he could develop on his own. He also said it makes sharing files much easier, and that's core to his business where moving a FIFA build is 70 GB. He said a lot of time got wasted moving that around the network and by leveraging the cloud, it makes it much easier to share these files and move them to the necessary parties to do their jobs.

He says he wants to completely rethink how to test, develop and deploy a game, and he believes that means, he can get the company to move faster, free up resources, and build continued engagement with customers instead of seeing long drop off between releases.

And for EA that's the name of the game.

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