Digital Change Agents: Building Business Systems From the Ground Up with Brian Flood of Fastly

This piece is part of our Digital Change Agents Series – Bay Area.

How does a business systems team go from a nascent function to a key part of a company’s growth strategy?

Brian Flood, Director of Business Systems at Fastly—the world’s leading edge cloud platform—has some ideas.

Today, Flood’s team is committed to empowering internal teams to operate at peak performance across the company’s six global offices. “Our vision is seeing everyone at Fastly be super productive, successful, and happy at work because it’s easy to do their jobs,” he shares.

But when he joined the company to build out the team just over a year ago, it wasn’t nearly as sophisticated or well-defined.

How do you scale a business systems team?

“When I came on board at Fastly, we had a couple of Salesforce admins, but they didn’t really have a home within the company,” he recalls. “Business systems was a very tactical function—there wasn’t much prioritization or strategic planning.”

As any company grows and becomes more successful, Flood notes, the business systems function must evolve from an ad hoc team to a central aspect of the organization’s longterm strategy. But that can be hard to do when the systems team is comparatively new.

It all begins, he says, with cultivating trust between line-of-business users and the business systems team. From his perspective, the business systems function must be inherently people-focused.

“My role primarily involves building trust and building relationships,” he says, “so that functional leaders become okay with giving up control to someone who can competently manage their systems for them.”

To build this trust, Flood spent several months meeting with internal teams to get a better idea of what they needed in terms of systems. Crucially, he sought input from employees who weren’t necessarily in leadership roles.

“I spent every day speaking with as many people as I could, from every level of the organization,” he continues.

These conversations can unearth a lot of pain. To make the most of them, Flood suggests asking lots of questions like:

  • What data do you need?
  • What data do you have?
  • What tools do you use for your job?
  • What tools and capabilities do you need to execute your growth strategy?

“People are resourceful and creative,” Flood says. “They’ll find ways to do their job—but those workarounds often don’t make any sense when you need to scale. That’s why you need business systems as a trusted, strategic partner.”

Once his team had cultivated a fundamental level of trust within the organization, Flood could begin rolling out more advanced solutions and processes.

“When people felt comfortable coming to us and saying ‘Hey, I can’t do my job because I don’t have the data I need,’ we could then build out a roadmap,” he says.

Part of this roadmap involves creating “operational conduits” that liaise between business systems and lines-of-business teams—a key aspect of scaling the systems function further.

“These conduits are focused on understanding a particular team’s needs and can translate for us so we can develop processes that bring everything together,” Flood explains.

Building out the business systems team has also been fundamental to redefining the company’s use of outside consultants, which Flood points out often undercut its ability to scale effectively.

“These professionals were there to primarily make money,” he says. “But they also weren’t talking to each other. They built out these core processes and capabilities across departments, but they worked in silos. Now, we see them primarily as bandwidth creators.”

Ultimately, Flood sees business systems as the linchpin of growth for any organization—so it’s crucial that other teams be able to trust them. “[That’s the #1 thing I’d say to business systems people]: you need to build trust within your organization. If they don’t trust you, it’s not going to work.”

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