Tony Safoian (00:00):
I’m so extremely excited to have the CIO that we’ve been working with very, very closely for several years now. And he had an organization you may have heard of, especially maybe a little more so in the news lately. And they’re one of the best brands in all of media entertainment. Please welcome Dave Duvall, the CIO of Discovery Communications.
Dave Duvall (00:37):
Hey, Tony. How’s it going? Very happy to be here.
Tony Safoian (00:40):
Super happy to have you here. We didn’t really time this around any big news, but we’re excited to hear about that in the press. And I know that a lot of the stuff is still under development, but it just seems really exciting and fun for us as consumers of entertainment. So congrats on that. And yeah. Looking forward to working with you through the ebbs and flows of that.
Dave Duvall (01:10):
Yeah. Yeah. We’re very excited about what the future’s going to bring for the company and excited about that transaction. Still a long road to go before we get to any sort of closure of that deal. So for now we’re real focused on our current business and on Discovery+ and on lots of internal… We’ve been doing a lot of big internal project with you guys around Google Workspace and just all the excitement there. So we’re, yeah, I mean, plenty to do in the meantime for sure. But we’re very excited about the future.
Tony Safoian (01:38):
Definitely. Well, look, I want to always take the opportunity to really give the audience background on my guests. You yourself have had such a fantastically exciting and long career at Discovery. I looked up your background and I think you started as a systems engineer or something like that many years ago. And just to see that ascend to really the preeminent role in the IT organization, first of all, what an amazing journey. Congrats. Second of all, can you help the audience understand how that all came to be and how you navigated such a large organization so successfully through to… Also in the midst of tremendous challenges and transformation in M&E over the last couple decades?
Dave Duvall (02:27):
Yeah, I think, well, one it’s been 18 years here as you said, so it’s been a good long ride. So, one part I’ll say it the way you phrased it with navigating and getting to this place in a large company, one bit that helps is start at it when it’s a much smaller company. So I think, 18 years ago when I joined, very different company than what we are today, right. Back then pure cable business, just a handful of networks in the states. A launch but it’s still pretty small international business and a simple model and almost all of the company there in DC, which is where I still am today. And yeah, I think, started there, as you said, staff role, systems engineer role, which was actually a loftier title than where I started. I started in the [inaudible 00:03:21] doing monitoring and tooling, and it was a operations role. It wasn’t quite a shift based role, but it was a lead role and focused on the operations tools and stuff in that shop.
Dave Duvall (03:31):
And so I’ve done a lot of things within the group over the years. Did systems engineering mostly in the… Back in those days, Windows and Intel space and started VMware and all that era of transformation. So going from physical to virtual world way back in the day. I moved into management a few years in. I was bad manager just to be straight about it. My first foray into management I think like a lot of the folks who are engineers that first time you’re managing others is really hard. Letting go, being the builder and being an advisor and figuring out your place.
Dave Duvall (04:12):
So I did that a bit. Then I did a little enterprise architecture work which I liked, because I could step away from people management for a moment, got to the tech a little more. And then I stepped back into management when a leadership opportunity, like a director level role opened up in the group and I’ve kind of been just doing more and different jobs since then as the company changed shape. So like, as you said, we’ve been very busy, especially last 10 years or so at the company ever since we went public, a lot of acquisition, lot of changes, lot of broadening out of the business, international expansion first, and then we got into sports and we acquired Eurosport… Oh gosh, I’m losing track of time. Six plus years ago, it’s been a long walk.
Dave Duvall (04:59):
And then more recently we got into free to air networks in Europe. So just straight up broadcast networks. And of course we did a big acquisition of Scripps Networks in the US a few years ago and for those who aren’t close to the media industry, Scripps Networks was the home of HGTV and Food Network and Travel Channels. Really amazing, Friends and just iconic. So that move really, for us shored up. We really wanted to own the nonfiction, real life space, the content space. And so those brands are amazing and that team was amazing. And so that was a big challenge and transformation moment for the companies to come together. We got this big transaction pending now that we’re very excited about getting into. That whole thing will start again. But yeah, it’s just been every moment, I think I am a bit of a unicorn right now in that you don’t see a lot of people who really stick with one place for a long time.
Dave Duvall (05:55):
Every moment that I got any itch to say, “Oh, should I look around, should I do something different?” It felt like the company changed so drastically. There was just a new opportunity there. I didn’t have to go looking elsewhere. It seemed like there was always something landing at my feet that was new and exciting and different. And we’re a month out from the Olympic games right now. It’ll be our second Olympics broadcast on Eurosport and that’s an iconic experience, right? There’s not [crosstalk 00:06:26] participate in that from a broadcast and content perspectives. It’s just a really cool place, really cool place.
Tony Safoian (06:31):
First of all, amazing, right. Just an amazing journey. But thank you for actually taking a moment to acknowledge how management is hard and that you are self-diagnosed bad manager your first time around. Obviously, pretty safe to assume you’re an exceptional manager now and I think kudos to you to do the work required to get there because I think what a lot of companies don’t realize in our career planning strategies for our top talent, like our top individual contributors and what maybe a lot of individual contributors don’t realize all the time, it’s not natural to think that management is an art and science of its own and requires investment and training and practice to get good at.
Dave Duvall (07:29):
Yeah, it took me a long time to realize maybe longer than I would’ve liked, one, the art of finding good direct reports and finding a team that you trust and how to build a good team and that you’ve got to have a good eye for finding folks to compliment your skills, fill in the blanks on the things that you’re not good at, learning how to trust other people to do it. Because that I was that big step, right.
Dave Duvall (08:01):
That management step was always… I knew what I wanted to build but as an engineer, I was tasked with getting stuff done and I was great at that. I love doing that. I felt comfortable in that. I was less comfortable in now managing a team and I’m asking them to build, I’m overseeing, I’m accountable for the whole group. And so that tendency to get pulled down into the details too far was really strong. And I didn’t have the skills back then to really fight that in a way that was productive. And it wasn’t that I was such a bad manager that I think my team didn’t like me. My team liked me. I burned out.
Dave Duvall (08:37):
I got to like, it wasn’t healthy for me and so then I sought out that enterprise architecture stuff to say, “You know what? Let me get away from the people management for a bit. Then get into what does it feel like to be an enterprise architecture and steer the strategy a bit more.” Do I like that? And then I felt like I knew I liked that. I knew that elevation of an engineer skillset to strategy and a bigger picture I liked. And then I looked for that opportunity to say, “Okay, maybe I’ll like a bit more that mid senior and that walk up to senior management of getting more strategic, like organization engineering, company strategy engineering. Is that going to scratch that itch? And ultimately, yeah, I really like that. I felt like that was where I could really help the company and felt like where I could make a difference. And yeah, it’s been a fun ride since then.
Tony Safoian (09:27):
How would you describe the culture within Discovery in general, but really more specifically the IT organization, because not only do you get to be a contributor to that culture, you can essentially drive the culture now from really lead from the front. How would you describe your culture today and how it’s evolved and your style related to leading that organization?
Dave Duvall (09:54):
Yeah, I’ll start with the company and then come back to our team. But the Discovery Company culture, especially since David Zaslav has been the CEO, it’s a very direct, flat, open, utterly open culture. David’s famous for, he will go to anyone in the company who he thinks will help contribute to the moment or the idea. And he really believes and acts in a way that is genuine. And he’s got this mentality that’s sort of this strong belief… Before discovery, he was at NBC Universal for every… Founded CNBC and kind of a Jack Welch accolade, right? And so he’s a firm believer in the man, if you have a problem, you tell everyone as fast as you can. Right. It’s just an open. Nobody ever figured a hard problem out by keeping it to themselves, right?
Dave Duvall (10:52):
So there’s this very open blameless culture. Not an unaccountable culture, but a blameless culture, right. It’s still a hard accountability culture, but that sets a great tone at the top. And we’ve seen that through the [crosstalk 00:11:07] through the pandemic of all the care for our employees, all the flexibility, all the great things we’ve been able to do for our workforce over the last year and a half. And then our team has been… It’s gone through some change states. When I first got to the company, we were still… Discovery was figuring out how to be a big company, right. We were still feudal IT, department led IT, not even a central corporate core. So I’ve been around to see the corporate vibe get established and figure out how we want to run an enterprise tech.
Dave Duvall (11:38):
And then the last five years, we’ve really focused on more of an aggressive innovation curve. And I had a great boss before my current boss. We had a CTO at the time and had an IT and broadcast kind of together under one leader. And he was great. He pushed us hard. Absolutely. We started a lot of our experimentation in a cloud media processing. Cloud play out like really pushing into public cloud hard and changing the tone of what we wanted the IT service to be. And I think, I carry that mantle forward really with the current IT culture where we’re trying to be… We’re very customer obsessed internally. We really think hard about and really click into and we saw that you guys saw that with us with this change moment we did for Workspace. So how we manage change inside the company? We’re pretty aggressive with change.
Dave Duvall (12:27):
I mean, heck with your team just now we did drive and Workspace rollouts during pandemics with the workforce totally remote. Nobody in the office. We split it up. We aren’t crazy. It took us longer, I think, than we would have if we had not been impacted by a pandemic, but we still got it done. And I think that’s indicative of the culture. We really care about our staff. We really care about the service we offer to staff. And I think everything’s grounded in that. And the other thing we’re grounded in is nobody ever regrets that change. People think the change is hard and they fear the change, but when you get through it, you’re never going to second guess being aggressive in the moment. And I think that’s the hallmark of Discovery generally, right? We make decisions fast-
Tony Safoian (13:16):
I love that.
Dave Duvall (13:18):
… and go and I think our team reflects that.
Tony Safoian (13:20):
Look, I think that’s tremendous in all parts of Discovery, but especially also in the IT organization where you have that kind of culture that’s dynamic, that’s action oriented, that’s decisive, that is being challenged by the market to continue to evolve because you’re in a global sort of competition for talent, much like we are. And to be able to have that opportunity, in house at a place like Discovery, that’s as exciting as anywhere else at any tech company, I think that’s tremendous. And I’m sure it’s helped not only retain, but also attract some tremendous folks at every level as your org has grown.
Dave Duvall (14:04):
It’s been such a unique experience here because I think, especially when you look at, I think the content space more than our IT partner space generally. We’re a 15,000 or so person workforce. We’re about 10,000 full-time employees and about 5,000 contractors in the company. And so we’re not a massively large company, but we’re a great big brand. So we do punch above our weight I think on partnership and when I work with anyone, whether it’s you guys at SADA or whether it’s even Google, we get outsized attention for the size we are. And I think that is a privilege and we want to lean into that. I think that’s one thing that we’ve looked at over the years is, “Hey, I’m not offering a lot of our IT partners 200,000 seats of sales, but we’re innovative, we’re aggressive. We tell you what we think we want.
Dave Duvall (15:01):
We want improvement out of our partners. We want to move the technology ball forward and the product ball forward. We had the great honor last year of getting a technology Emmy for recognition around our work in cloud, which is amazing. That’s like-
Tony Safoian (15:14):
Wow. Technology, I love it.
Dave Duvall (15:17):
Yeah. It’s cool. It’s cool. And we did that for cloud media processing and some work we did there, and it was us and a couple other media companies and some partners that we worked with, but it was amazing. It was amazing like achievement to say, “Okay, this is something we did. And we are moving, not just our company, but an industry forward.” And I think that’s where… Yeah, 15,000 employees. We’re kind of medium-ish size on the company scale, but we are a lighthouse within the M&E industry, right. There’s only so many companies in this space and we don’t want to take advantage of that position and make Discovery just a great place to work and we know a lot of that is pushing innovation bar high.
Tony Safoian (16:02):
Yeah. You’re also about to get a lot bigger, but we can’t talk too much about that.
Dave Duvall (16:06):
No. We hope some day and we’ll [inaudible 00:16:12].
Tony Safoian (16:12):
I’ll tell, Dave, I mean, our team we’ve been deploying Workspace for, I think, 15 years.
Dave Duvall (16:21):
Tony Safoian (16:21):
Maybe 14 years. I don’t know. So we’ve seen lots of internal IT organizations of various sizes, bigger, smaller, different industries and I have to tell you, our team really leans in. We like to be direct. We like to be prescriptive. We’ll do anything to help remove risk at a customer, including disagreeing with their approach. We like to be prescriptive. Heavy emphasis on adoption change management, risk elimination, because it’s a big deal. I mean, changing the number one used application for a hundred percent of the employees in any organization is a big deal. During a pandemic it’s even crazier. But my team was just so complimentary of yours with regards to the working culture in a true partnership fashion. So I don’t know if you and I ever shared that I’ve shared that with you yet, but no better time than the present. They’re really a fantastic group. And we felt those attributes of the culture that you’re talking about, like we felt as your partner going through a very challenging project.
Dave Duvall (17:26):
Yeah, yeah, no, I appreciate that. We could feel it. We had our [inaudible 00:17:30] pros and your team was in there in those as we’re hitting our checkpoints through the project. And it was, yeah, we got to that place with you guys that I always want to get to with our partners, which is, we’re not aware of who’s SADA or who’s Discovery.
Dave Duvall (17:45):
[crosstalk 00:17:45] one team. It’s just, these are the folks getting it done. This is who’s in the trenches with us getting this change moment pushed across the line and we got there and we’re very happy with the outcome, right. We’re a month and change removed from our big mail change moment for Workspace. And it’s been pretty good. We’re about to do our second wave of pulse survey to see. We did one the week of the change moment and that has its own special moment in time color to it, of people fully in the… Who moved my cheese moment of the proceedings. And even there satisfaction was very high. So we’re expecting some good improvement this month, because it has been… We’re six weeks across and we’re going to check back in and see where it is. But overall it’s going absolutely great. Above expectations. The main theme I’m hearing from my stakeholders is, “Okay, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.” Which honestly-
Tony Safoian (18:37):
It’s actually pretty common response like war room, like all hands on deck, ready for the worst. And it’s like crickets for the most part it’s like-
Dave Duvall (18:46):
Yeah, you build the war rooms really. I mean, we’ve done a few mail migrations over the years with different platforms and through different eras, right. And it’s like the war room in the end usually ends up to be about data migration screw ups than maybe usability stuff. But yeah, we were happy to see, and I’ll tell you, it’s such a difference today than 10 years ago. A cloud to cloud migration, you can solve a lot of problems with scale. Right. And we did it on migration weekend too, with your team, right. We got partway through that migration weekend. We saw the pace of copying wasn’t quite where we wanted to be. And we basically tripled our migration workers and we caught up before the weekend was done. And in the old days that was on premise-
Tony Safoian (19:32):
You had to wait months for those servers to be provisioned in like a customer data center. I remember those days.
Dave Duvall (19:38):
Oh no, we did like the last big one I remember when we were in the hardware world was two, three times ago as actually… And this is like, I’m showing my age and I’m showing my tenure with Discovery with Lotus Notes to on premise exchange. And I remember that was a like four month walk. It was three migration like per week, 200 mailboxes at a time. You were in coexistence mode forever and it was terrible. It was the worst. It was the worst. These big bang cutovers now with cloud migrations are amazing. To take a pilot group through or your ambassador group through then it just hit the whole company. Hey, on Monday, everybody’s in the same boat, we’re all in it together. We love that. I love that kind change moment. I would much rather get my whole IT shop, every engineer I got doing customer support for a week. I’ll take that over [crosstalk 00:20:28]-
Tony Safoian (20:29):
For sure. Dave, if we back up to the decision timeframe or the decision framework, what led you down the path of even just selecting Workspace to begin with? How did that go down?
Dave Duvall (20:45):
Yeah, it was looking at a few things. It was looking at… We made the decision two years ago, because as I said, the pandemic put a little crimp in our plans, right. I think we were fully intending to be on Workspace about a year ago today. Right? We were really talking like a summer last year change mode. We did have to move our timeline. So we really made a decision two years ago. And at that point it was, we knew we were on this path of more of the consumer and a digital native core to the company. Right. We knew we were at that transition moment where we were going to step out of that legacy business that we’ve had for 30 years and into a new era at the company. And we were looking for that, what are the cooler pieces of our collaboration that are either helping us or holding us back?
Dave Duvall (21:30):
And I had a lot of love for Microsoft’s solutions in this space, right? It was serving us well. We were not on fire. This was a unique change moment where what we were reflecting on was, how do I get to distributed teams that can be more effective in their work and that remote and asynchronous collaboration? And so it was really that combo of the mail environment, wanting to be browser based and simpler in our architecture and wanting to have that full Workspace suite of Docs and Sheets and slides and collaboration around the globe and just really stitching together this company that now needs to collaborate and move at a faster pace and be global.
Tony Safoian (22:10):
One of the other parts of the project, Dave, I was very proud of was two petabytes of document data from another cloud provider. I thought that was… That’s a huge amount.
Dave Duvall (22:22):
Yeah. Yeah. I mentioned how aggressive and early we are. We’d been with another cloud storage provider for a long time at the company and a content company can get the… Especially the aggregate raw storage metrics pretty lofty. And so, yeah, it was a lot of folders, lot of depth, a lot of challenges to transition that across. So it was all very manageable. It was just like a big data movement and file. I think then we were really, even with cloud, you’re still thinking about the speed of light and how many bits can be moved per worker. A whole heck of a lot. That [crosstalk 00:23:00] was a long walk, but that was another great change moment. I think we’ve been really happy with what drive brings us.
Dave Duvall (23:06):
I think, there’s always things we’d love to improve about every storage partner and [Zod 00:23:10] definitely has things they still can work on. There’s no doubt about it, but we do like the… I like the shared drive concepts within drive. That’s a nice layer that not a lot of other competitors give a lot of thought to that. And we found that incredibly helpful and certainly like all things in the Workspace suite, generally the search is really on point and and we’re really liking the overall experience. I think, especially for the technology teams, the experience in Docs and Sheets and for technical writing and the kind of documents we produce and stuff is just amazing. It’s just life changing.
Tony Safoian (23:46):
Dave Duvall (23:46):
The ability to do my… I don’t know. Anything we’re working on. The ability for me and my SMT to get into a briefing deck that we got to build for our boss or something might… That whole experience of just being able to do that with comments and calling people in and all that is just something we really didn’t have for long.
Dave Duvall (24:04):
We didn’t realize how much we were missing that live editing capability really over the years. We had learned to live without it and we didn’t know what we were missing, really.
Tony Safoian (24:12):
Yeah. I don’t even know how I would run this company without it.
Dave Duvall (24:18):
Yeah. Without like being able to throw an action item in a Doc or something or yeah.
Tony Safoian (24:22):
I mean, responding to an RFP, preparing for the board meetings. SOWs. I don’t know. Anything-
Dave Duvall (24:30):
Yeah. That was the first like detractors we converted were some of our senior finance and senior comms execs who work on the board decks. I convinced them to try. I’m like, “Look, can you guys just try? Can you work on that?” Even our quarterly earnings press release. I’m like, “Put that in Docs and then call me if you have problems.” And they came back like, “Okay, that was amazing.” That thing gets edited 17,000 times before it’s released by a whole load of people. We’re correcting stats, we’re refining, we’re making sure it’s all accurate. And they’re like, “This was just life changing.”
Tony Safoian (25:05):
Saved probably weeks of hours, in person hours and also-
Dave Duvall (25:12):
[crosstalk 00:25:12] oh, so and so’s got it right now, let me finish their piece, then I’ll come back to you. Yeah. Like it’s, yeah. It’s all that flow. But yeah, the organizational flow part has been great and I think there is that value to saying, you get that integrated experience.
Tony Safoian (25:28):
Yeah, for sure. Look, I’m also a big fan of Javier Soltero, what he’s done to product just in a short amount of time so far because he just got here a couple years ago, but-
Dave Duvall (25:40):
Yeah. [crosstalk 00:25:43] That unique moment where he’s coming on because I think pre his arrival, right, they had gotten a little bit of a rep for being somewhat static. Right. They really hadn’t changed the platform in a while. It was what it was and they were very happy with what it was and change came very slowly and micro scale and I think we’re seeing that certainly in the last year and we’re a partner in there with his customer collab council and stuff. So we’re giving our active feedback in that direct [crosstalk 00:26:15] to him and his team. And yeah, we’re happy to see how aggressive… And I mean, I hate to say, it’s weird to say there’s something good about the pandemic, but I do think the pandemic got these… Because I know you’ve probably had these conversations with Google.
Dave Duvall (26:32):
I’ve had it with all these guys, Google, Microsoft, anybody who’s got that billion user plus platform and it’s ripe. There’s this big risk calculation that says, “If I get this wrong, I’m impacting a billion people.” So it kind of constrains product innovation, but the pandemic just took the gloves off everybody. It was amazing to see how much from a feature perspective really shift into all these platforms quickly. That thing I mentioned before about full motion video sharing, within two months of the pandemic, suddenly everybody had figured it out. Now that’s like table stakes sharing video clips-
Tony Safoian (27:09):
Dave Duvall (27:11):
[crosstalk 00:27:11] needed it. We all did it at home and it became a thing very quickly. It was amazing to see.
Tony Safoian (27:15):
What they announced just a couple weeks ago was now I think part of it was that different version. The consumer version and the enterprise version and they’re different and there was chats and there was hangout like a global platform with, of course for the enterprise, different security parameters, different posture, different authentication, so on and so forth. But I think that’s going to help with the roadmap acceleration because we’re now developing traditional platforms like everyone has Workspace. And also he’s definitely the visionary who built one of the best mobile apps for email back in the days, which is when Microsoft acquired, he came with that acquisition. It was his baby and then ran Outlook for a while. Ran Office for a while and he brings… Not a me too strategy, but like a refreshing point of view and I’m excited about what that holds.
Tony Safoian (28:10):
Let me ask you a last question. One of the reasons we love working in the Google Cloud ecosystem and with these products is because we say, because we’ve experienced it, when a customer goes down the journey of deploying any part of Google Cloud, but maybe especially Workspace it’s one of the toughest decisions to make because it’s not the incumbent decision. And we appreciate the gravity of that. How important it is for us to perform for Google, to perform for our customers when they’re making that decision. But the other part is, we truly appreciate the impact that that decision makes on the company above and beyond the technology. So from your point of view, and I know you’re only a couple months fully live, what have you experienced that have been a cultural changes or shifts within Discovery by virtue of Google Workspace being implemented?
Dave Duvall (29:11):
Yeah. I think what one of the larger ones I’m seeing is this openness and it’s been a combo. I think Workspace and the pandemic also happening at the same time. But the location flexibility conversation inside the company’s utterly changed. And the pandemic was kind of one step. And then I think us getting these tools in that same or similar moment, cemented our SMT certainly pre pandemic was, “We want you in the office.” That’s kind of our vibe. And that was the vibe in a lot of companies and that’s a total 180 today. I mean, we are fully in for the flex workforce. We just did a survey of our folks. And I mean, it’s something like, it’s only like 10% of our workforce that wants to go back to five days a week in the office [crosstalk 00:30:01].
Dave Duvall (30:01):
It’s very small. It’s single digits. Really depends on the market, but it’s a sea change, right. And I think it makes that… People have the confidence. Every time I get a survey back that says, “People are comfortable being home,” that’s like, all right, that’s like, we’re doing something right on the tech side side, because people are just at home in their pajamas or whatever, and the stuff we’re providing as an IT organization are working for them and Workspace is part of that. So I think, I credit that because it could have been a cultural hindrance, possibly.
Tony Safoian (30:34):
Dave Duvall (30:35):
It’s enabling that making it happen.
Tony Safoian (30:37):
Yeah, no, I think it’s tremendously defining for Discovery. We also saw a huge change or difference in customers who had deployed it and customers that were doing other services for that were not on Workspace. Their transition was a completely different experience. And I think the best is yet to come, but it really takes bold customers with the thought leadership, like Discovery to not only choose to implement, but then really provide that exceptional feedback loop back to product around the area that we can continue to get better. And I’m just so excited about all the success that you’re having, Discovery+ and everything else and the way that the organization has evolved right around the time where it’s just clear that content is everything in this world. I think also accelerated by the pandemic in a lot of ways, adoption in the consumption of various content, streaming sources, et cetera.
Tony Safoian (31:42):
It’s just like, I think it’s a very exciting future ahead. And it’s an honor and pleasure to be able to partner with you for now and hopefully far into the future. And I really want to express my appreciation for you being my guest on Cloud N Clear. This is going to be one of the best episodes yet.
Dave Duvall (32:01):
Awesome. Thanks for having me, Tony. I really appreciate it. Always happy to help.
Tony Safoian (32:05):
Dave Duvall, CIO Discovery and hope you guys enjoyed this episode. Thank you, Dave.
Speaker 3 (32:12):
Thank you for listening to Cloud N Clear. Check the show notes for links to this week’s topics and don’t forget to connect with us on Twitter @cloudnclear, and our website, sada.com. Be sure to rate and review the show on your favorite podcast app.