Smart Enterprise Magazine

Volume 6, Number 2, 2012

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Innovate F While technology is a differentiator for most innovative companies, some firms count technology as the key to their success. Here's a look at how three successful companies keep new ideas coming — and what other CIOs can learn from them. | By Minda Zetlin or some companies, ongoing technological innovation and creativity aren't just nice to have — they are what keeps the doors open. Recently, Smart Enterprise sat down with the CIOs of three such companies to hear about how they encour- age and support innovation. One similarity among the executives: All three stressed the importance of recruiting the right people. Companies can't focus on IT innovation if they don't have the best talents on their teams. In addition, CIOs said they try to create an environment that encourages and supports innovation. It also helps when they can define and focus on a core mission that sup- ports innovation, and use detailed analytics to help uncover what customers and partners want. Here's a closer look at how each keeps innovation alive. Zynga: Infrastructure Matters Ask an active Facebook user what Zynga is. Most will recognize it as the developer of Facebook games such as FarmVille and Mafia Wars, which can also be played on mobile devices and Zynga.com. Combined, these games and others draw an audience of nearly 70 million daily users who post their achievements on social media. Others recognize the company as one that raised $1 billion in a 2011 initial public offering — six months before Facebook went public. The company's success stems from two innovative decisions. First, Zynga executives recognized a gap in the market. Previously, online games were played, for the most part, while sitting alone. At Zynga, the social aspect has become one of most important aspects of its games. With this idea solidified, the company's second bold decision — using Facebook as a platform — was almost a given. This was a smart move, says one expert. "People who are on Facebook are socially active by definition," notes Phil McKinney, author of Beyond the Obvious: Killer Questions that Spark Game- Changing Innovation. "Zynga was the first company out of the gate to figure out how to take advantage of social platforms." Zynga's IT team drove success by creating a solid and versatile backbone. "It's really about enabling social behavior by understanding our players," says Debra Chrapaty, Zynga's CIO. "We're very sensitive to being able to reach multiple devices. We want people to be able 18 SMARTENTERPRISEMAG.COM to play when they want, on the device that they want." Zynga also wants games to load within a few seconds and play smoothly, no mat- ter where a player is located. To make this a reality, the company spent the last year building one of the world' s largest hybrid clouds. "We went from being 80 percent hosted in Amazon's public cloud and 20 percent in our private cloud, to 80 percent in our private cloud and 20 percent in Amazon's cloud," Chrapaty says. With its own cloud, internally known as zCloud, Zynga can use its innovative skills to cut response time to a bare minimum. "As we move more of our environ- ment into the zCloud, we have a greater ability to move those levers that give us quicker response time," Chrapaty says. "We're cus- tomizing it for our specific environment. Amazon's a terrific environment, but having the zCloud allows us to move more of those levers." Having this level of control over game delivery allows Zynga to ensure quicker response times and a better playing experience, she says. "I don't want to completely outsource availability because it's part of the player experience," Chrapaty says. "We've made a number of advances around data caching and data management that we think are critical to our ability to deliver. At the same time, they drive down costs, which is especially important now that we're a public company." Zynga's attention to infrastructure is not limited to how it serves its games. "The culture that enables us to create a great player FROM THE EDGE PHOTOGRAPH: MIGUEL S. SALMERON/GETTY

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