Ben Fried Google CIO2

"The role of the CIO is to empower your staff with the technology they need to be productive and get the job done," says Google CIO Ben Fried. Fried may be in a unique position as chief IT guy walking among an organisation of IT giants, but at Google he is still in charge of making sure staff have the tools to do their jobs. 

"IT departments need to understand they can't hold their users captive. We have a user-centric philosophy at Google based on the idea that our users are sophisticated," he says. "As such we believe in trust and transparency - we make it easy for our staff to get the tools they need."

Fried showed CIO UK how at the Google offices sit a number of computer stations where staff can ask for any technology they need, which is subsequently delivered. Each employee receives a receipt showing them how much they cost the company, leaving the employee to decide whether there is value in the software and hardware they are using.

We met Fried not long after Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, a former colleague who left Google last year, banned mobile working having checked VPN logs which revealed employees were not logged on to work applications as long as they were supposed to be.

Fried said that although flexible working policy was a business decision and not necessarily in the realm of the CIO, "it is in their mandate to enable people to be fully functional when they are at home".

"The beauty of enterprise technology based on consumer technology is that it works really well from a house," he says.

Naturally, this follows on from the Google way of giving their employees whatever technology they require with virtually no quibble. "We want our staff to go home and use the computer we gave them rather than their own. And if they do, maybe they'll do a little bit of extra work as well."

And a recent forced mobile working experiment in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which battered much of the US Eastern seaboard, showed that the idea of requiring all staff to be in the office at all times was redundant. Google's offices in New York were closed for five days following the October cyclone, and Fried said that the company's telecommuting staff were "approximately as productive as when they were in the office" when comparing certain rudimentary figures, like the number of videoconferencing hours logged.

"Collaboration is becoming increasingly important and the tools are there for people to work with each other," he said. "But there are things that are hard to do collaboratively when not face-to-face."

Fried is in his first CIO role at Google, and has been in the job for five years. But he does believe current IT trends can help other CIOs perform their jobs in increasingly efficient ways.

"The cloud is a term that's been abused tremendously," he said. "But it's really about scalability; the ability to do things on an enormous economy of scale which offers a huge opportunity for enterprises.

"I'm a new CIO and have met other cautious CIOs, whose caution is born from taking risks which have subsequently led to unknown costs. But the cloud has no hidden sysadmin costs - you pay for your usage.

"That leaves the CIO free to focus on adding value rather than worrying about operational costs."

It leads Fried back to asking how we inspire users with technology?

"You either let people use what they want, or restrict them to tools you choose that don't let them be competitive in the marketplace."