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Andre Mendes' Journey From CIO to COO

By Peter High
andre mendes

Andre Mendes' Journey From CIO to COO

By Peter High

André Mendes started working at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) as CIO in late 2009. In doing so, he joined a global multimedia organization and, like other businesses in that field, technology was and continues to be central to the mission of the organization.

The BBG is an independent federal government agency that oversees all U.S. civilian international broadcasting. The networks—the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio and TV Martí, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks' Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa—serve as indispensable sources of news for people who often lack access to independent information. They inform, engage and connect with international audiences across television, radio, Internet, and mobile devices in 59 languages and in more than 100 countries.

As CIO, Mendes managed or was involved in content acquisition of video, audio, text and images from all over the world to the management, packaging and distribution of that content, which is front and center in fulfilling the organization’s charter. Because of its longstanding history and the countries and populations that it targets, the Broadcasting Board of Governors actually operates the most diverse media distribution network in the world. It operates the largest shortwave radio stations on the planet, utilizes some of the most powerful AM transmitters ever made, has an extensive network of FM installations, and utilizes dozens of satellites for TV, radio and data transmissions. It also operates hundreds of Websites, social media destinations, SMS and Twitter feeds, and the largest Internet anti-censorship operation in the world.

Partially due to the efforts of Mendes and his team, 2013 was one of the most successful years for the BBG. Its broadcasts reached a record 206 million people every week, up 41 million from 2010. Mendes was rewarded for his work as CIO by being promoted to director of global operations, the de facto COO. He attained this lofty position, in part, by approaching his CIO role as a business executive and not feeling constrained by the traditional definition of what it means to be a CIO.   

CIO Insight: You joined the Broadcasting Board of Governors as CIO, director of technology, services and innovation. This position appears to involve a great number of responsibilities. How did you compartmentalize your time between the different functions suggested in your title?

André Mendes: My duties comprised all of the technology infrastructure and global content distribution for the agency. Although it encompasses many disciplines, they are intimately related as part and parcel of the creation of a concept I call "content supply chain management," which looks at and manages these diverse areas as part of a large, highly integrated "manufacturing" environment where raw content is acquired, formatted, assembled, packaged and distributed through our very diverse ways of reaching our audience.

CIO Insight: Can you give some examples of innovation that your team produced for the BBG?

Innovation is highly dependent on the environment in which one is operating. At the BBG, innovation meant leapfrogging from a chaotic IT infrastructure that belonged to sometime in the early 1990s to a highly virtualized environment that leverages cloud-based services everywhere it can. It meant turbocharging a small Internet anti-censorship effort into a multi-vendor engine that accommodates billions of hits on a daily basis from some of the most restrictive environments in the world. It also consisted of leveraging new and better ways to leverage satellites and a new global MPLS network into a much cheaper distribution network.

CIO Insight: In January of this year, you were promoted to director, global operations. Please describe your new responsibilities.

Functionally equivalent to a COO position in the private sector, in addition to my previous portfolio, this position also entails the management of the CFO office, office of contracts, human resources, general counsel, oversight of our grantee organizations, and operational responsibility for the Voice of America and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. More recently, I also assumed the role of acting CFO.

CIO Insight: What was it about your time as CIO that made it feasible for this expansion in responsibilities?

The CIO, by virtue of the role of technology in most modern organizations, must develop a helicopter view of the organization that uniquely positions him or her for higher management responsibilities. From CRMs in the front end, to ERPs in the middle, to supply chains downstream, the CIO has to become intimately familiar with just about every nook and cranny of the organization. To me, it feels like the normal evolution of a role that has only grown in relevance in corporations, nonprofits and government agencies.

Andre Mendes' Journey From CIO to COO

CIO Insight: What insights do you have for others who might wish to follow in your footsteps and move from CIO to your COO-like role?

Learn your business, learn your industry, learn related industries, while simultaneously unlearning some of the more black-and-white aspects of the IT world. Any ambiguity that grew as you made your way to the CIO role absolutely explodes once you make it into the COO or CEO role. If you think you have politics now, wait until you get to that corner office (which, by the way, I don't have). In an effort to modernize the agency and save the taxpayers money, I introduced an open space initiative and, as part of that, I was the first one to move from my 400-square-foot office into a 70-square-foot workstation.

CIO Insight: You were once the global CIO and senior vice president of strategic planning at the Special Olympics. What was the logic of having the CIO lead all of the organization's strategic planning?

Technology is the nervous system of most organizations. As businesses drive to more internal and external engagement and control over their operations and expenses, technology must be one of the main drivers of strategy. It is a logical arrangement for a lot of organizations, but especially for nonprofits where the ability to reach donors and beneficiaries becomes paramount.

CIO Insight: Do you think more examples of this combination will emerge?

I believe the evolution of the CIO role will lead to the creation of a myriad of hybrid roles throughout organizations. Again, technology is so relevant that its combination with one or more senior management goals should feel very comfortable. It has always been true in technology startups, and it makes sense as long as the CIO clearly embraces the business nature of the new position. It is the logical corollary of the old concepts of alignment with the business. Once technology becomes the business, or the enabler of it, then alignment is no longer optional but rather a built-in requirement.

About the Author

Peter High is the president of Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He is also the author of World Class IT: Why Businesses Succeed When IT Triumphs, and the moderator of the Forum on World Class IT podcast series. Follow him on Twitter @WorldClassIT. High's new book Implementing World Class IT Strategy (Wiley Press) will be published in September. He will provide a 30-minute lecture via videoconference to any company that purchases 50 or more copies of the book.

To read his previous CIO Insight article, "CIOs Should Be Their Company's First Customers," click here.

This article was originally published on 09-25-2014