Welcome to the ‘Sigma Leaders’ blog series! Here we will feature members of our leadership team, their journeys and learnings, and get a peek into their personal lives. As a model Sigma customer ourselves, we will also learn how they’re winning by leveraging the product in their core functional areas.
Meet Orla Clifford, Sigma’s VP of Operations and a seasoned leader with more than twenty years of industry experience across operations, M&A, planning, and process management. From orchestrating large-scale transformational programs to leading strategic initiatives, she’s pivoted, innovated, and even moved continents!
She grew up in Ireland, studied Computer Science at Technology University of the Shannon, and started off her career at Symantec. During her time with Symantec, Orla gained experience across a number of departments including R&D, Global Operations, and Product Management. To round out her business experience she gained an Executive MBA from Dublin City University, along the way. When she felt she’d reached her peak in the regional offices, she and her husband, Brian, made a bold move—they relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area. Orla met Brian in school in 1996 and tied the knot in 2003. When they’re not working, they enjoy wine, hiking, reading, and spending time with family and friends.
Here in the US, Orla has worked at Veritas and Druva in leadership roles before moving to Sigma. The common denominator throughout her many roles has been her passion for data and driving operational efficiency. At Druva, she used Looker for analysis but found it severely limiting (interestingly, today, Druva happens to be a Sigma customer). This changed for the better when she moved to Sigma. Orla was simply blown away by the ease, power, and features of the Sigma tech.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Orla to learn about her journey, experience, and more. Below are excerpts from our conversation. Enjoy!
Chitra: Orla, what brought you to Sigma?
Orla: I worked with Mike Palmer at Druva and when he was approached for a CEO role, I told him, “You need to go get this job because it’s amazing technology and when you do, you have to bring me with you!” :)
The reason I was so impressed by what I saw in Sigma’s technology is that I could see how it would solve a problem that had frustrated me during my entire career. My role over the previous several years had been focused on product operations that involved pricing, licensing, and how the product was being used which called for a ton of analysis. I wanted to understand the usage at a very granular level but all I could easily access was aggregated data that didn’t allow me to see true patterns. The system we were using at Druva was Looker and I primarily used it as a data extract tool and did my analysis in Excel which was not ideal from a security perspective and otherwise.
The person who ran the BI team at Druva was frustrated by me and for me—he could never get me the data I wanted. In fact, he introduced me to Sigma; I was impressed by the platform, and how it was tailored to the needs of the business user. So when the opportunity came by, I immediately came on board.
Chitra: We pride ourselves in being the model Sigma customer and being the power user you are, you’re such a shining example. How do you use Sigma on Sigma in your day-to-day work?
Orla: We use Sigma to run Sigma. I am constantly thinking about how I can use Sigma to answer this question or get this data and if I can not that becomes product feedback. Everything from data exploration and forecasting to GTM pipeline, reporting, leads, MQLs/SQLs, conversions, and reps performance down to “snack analysis” and inventory management is done with Sigma. Interestingly, protein bars emerged as the top snack.
Everything pertaining to our go-to-market engine is managed, visualized, scenario modeled through Sigma. Equally, I look at it from a finance perspective too. When we found out that we had more spend in certain areas, as a company, we built a series of workbooks that capture live spending data to make sure the spend remains consistent with our finance forecasting and budgeting.
Chitra: Which are your favorite Sigma features?
Orla: Oh, that makes me feel like a mom being asked to pick her favorite child. In different circumstances, different features become very important depending on what you’re trying to do.
So if I’m trying to run a scenario model, Input Tables are unparalleled in terms of their differentiation from a standard BI tool. If I’m looking to tell a story to say, Mike or Brian (our CEO or CRO), I love the ability to use dynamic text elements to build a text driven story. Additionally, I hugely value the ability to collaborate on that same element so Mike and Brian can comment back and we can have a whole conversation in the workbook together. With my team, I collaborate in creation which is the ability to edit together. Business and data teams can seamlessly work together in real time so if I’m in a workbook with say, a data expert, we can refine and get to better answer faster since I have all the business context while they have the data analytics skills.
In every circumstance, there’s something very valuable, unique, and differentiating about Sigma.
Chitra: Has Sigma made your life easier?
Orla: Yes, absolutely! There are two important things that you need to consider when you’re making data driven decisions: (1) You need to get to the data you need quickly to make a good decision fast, and (2) It should be simple to use, you should be able to continue to ask more and more questions. Sigma is able to do both and as a result, it has not only made my life easier but also helped me and the management team make better decisions, faster.
Chitra: Orla, you’re also a huge proponent of DE&I. How are we building that in the Sigma culture and the hiring process?
Orla: For me, coming from a different culture and being somewhat of a minority from a gender perspective in this industry means I’ve seen firsthand the value of having different perspectives, different skill sets, and different ways of approaching an issue throughout my career. I truly believe that the more diversity of thought and diversity of approach you have, the better the organization is, as a result. Ultimately, if you’re able to build a culture that accommodates diverse opinions, you’re creating a learning culture, right from get go. On the contrary, if you build a culture where everyone is the same, there is no learning to be done.
I feel diversity of all forms is massively important whether it’s diversity of your backgrounds, race, culture, thinking, gender, or age as organizations continue to grow and innovate.
From a hiring perspective, as an organization, we should challenge ourselves to make sure if we’re actively looking to support more diversity into our organization. As we look into hiring for the more junior sales roles or engineering interns, for example, we should potentially look at how diverse the teams are. Can we hire people of color or women who can then be groomed into future leaders? Traditionally and statistically, these teams tend to be male dominated and no better place for us to support and bring in female talent into the team. We’re taking very specific measures pertaining to hiring to build the culture we want.
Chitra: What are the top three qualities you look for in a candidate?
Orla: Typically, in no particular order, I’d look for: (1) Curiosity since that tells me about a candidate’s aptitude and interest in learning, (2) Resilience since working in a start-up is not easy, and (3) Collaborative since you need to work across teams and functions.
Chitra: Which is your favorite Sigma value?
Orla: Oh, we’re data-driven but it’s hard to pick just one since I was involved in the creation of all of them. Every one of them has something dear to my heart. While being data-driven is a key Sigma value, I also believe we’re all good people and winning matters.
Chitra: As a woman leader in tech, what is your advice to other women aspiring to be future leaders?
Orla: There’s no one piece of advice that I but there’s one thing I like to focus on when I’m talking to women aspiring to be leaders: Don’t doubt yourself. As women, we have a tendency to doubt ourselves all the time and feel that they may be wrong which is not often true. After all, you’re an expert in your field, why doubt yourself? Don’t feel squashed in any way and stand up for yourself.
Chitra: Are you able to share any notable challenges you had to navigate in your journey?
Orla: I was in Ireland for a long time before moving to the United States. Though I graduated as a developer, I transitioned to operational roles. At Symantec, I spent more than 13 years where I had the opportunity to lead program management and business operations for our CTO to deliver market-led incubation to the Symantec portfolio. I also drove market assessment, business modeling, and developed GTM plans, among other things. However, when I’d reached my peak, I was frustrated and realized there was not a lot of opportunity to grow—it was time to reset and pivot. That was when my husband, Brian, and I moved across the Atlantic.
I’m a strong believer of the fact that you should do what you enjoy, challenge yourselves, recognize when you are stuck, seek mentors who can help you navigate tough situations, and take action to unlock new opportunities and avenues when that happens.
Chitra: Awesome. Final question: What according to you is the future of data?
Orla: I envision a world where all decisions and actions will be data-driven. There wouldn’t need to be a “we’re making data-driven decisions” phrase anymore, that would be a given. On top of that, the action would also be data-driven so we would have simplified some of our standard business processes by allowing the data to drive the decision and action, thereby letting us focus on the higher order things.
Here are some templates for revenue planning based on how Orla uses Sigma internally with additional details on how we do territory planning and embed Salesforce in Sigma linked here.