Back in the data-center day, we didn’t know how good we had it. Hardware and software options were fairly limited, so choice wasn’t a problem. (Indeed, one company was able to sell lots of equipment just by metaphorically waving its three-lettered logo in front of customers.) Operational management wasn’t terribly complex, either. IT worked fairly well, though developers tended to have more fun than support personnel and sysadmins. (For a discussion of this foundational thesis, see “Complexity Barrier Makes IT Matter More Than Ever.”)
Well, be careful what you wish for. Today, the chief impediments to accelerating your enterprise’s ability to add value to your company’s business could be…you, Ms. CIO. That’s because the debate about IT’s role is over. Yes, it provides a service. But if it doesn’t accelerate revenue, too, it’s out of business.
Bob Evans has adroitly described the most daunting of the top-level challenges in his post, “Dear CIO: Are You Tackling the Top 10 Strategic Issues for 2013?” In this article, I’m going field a complementary list of organizational roadblocks which, if not addressed head-on, will prevent progress toward strategic success.
I’m going to enumerate those 10 things you need to avoid in an easy to navigate slideshow. After our first checklist point, below, click through this post to see a new item on each page. While the list is aimed firstly at CIOs—because they have the greatest power to effect change—it’s applicable to everyone under the information technology umbrella.
1) You haven’t embraced the disruption. When you envision the future of you enterprise, is it a modern, endpoint-protected, cloud-enabled, analytics-infused, killer computing environment? Or do you just see more of the same old, same old? If the latter, then your vision is focused on our metaphorical tunnel, from which a train will soon emerge to run over both you and your list of unmade plans.
I realize that no one is dogging it because they haven’t heard of changing IT delivery models (aka cloud) or big data, BI, mobility, and flexible enterprise architectures. Progress isn’t stymied so much by a lack of will as it is by a lack of ways to accelerate new approaches.
Here’s an idea: Rather than reinventing the wheel (or, the computer), why not partner with a vendor who’s invested the dollars and expertise to do it right. At last year’s Oracle ORCL NaN% OpenWorld, Oracle president Mark Hurd emphasized that the company would spend $5 billion on research and development in its 2013 fiscal year. (Oracle has recently begun FY2014. Its FY2013 ended May 31, 2013. Oracle OpenWorld 2013 will be in San Francisco, Sept. 22 through 26.)
Think of that deep investment as an opportunity for you to outsource your R&D to your vendor, whether it’s Oracle or another company you do business with. Better for them to have the dev headaches, so you can have high-performing apps.
2) You’re not keeping your team’s skills current. When you look at your team, are they doing much the same work they did one, two, and even five years ago? When they ask to attend a seminar, do you worry about your budget and suggest they browse Kahn Academy instead?
That won’t fly anymore. Staff training should be like education in general—lifelong. Without training, old skills ossify and new ones don’t solidify. For new technologies, some level of professional instruction is important so that team members don’t apply idiosyncratic approaches—what’s this button for, Joe?—in place of best practices. Hey, you don’t want your developers and support people learning to deploy cloud from some guy on the street corner! That’s what classrooms are for.
Just as important, offering employees ongoing training opportunities sends the message that you value them as individuals. That’s positively reinforced by the obvious fact that you’re investing in building their skills.
3) You’re still siloed. Not collaborating with the peers you love to hate? That’s so 2003. It’s also a bad sign—one that your organization would not be happy to hear about. Some of your peers don’t like you either; that’s called life, and it’s no reason not to reach out.
OK, maybe CIOs and CMOs are less natural allies than they are partners of necessity, linked by mutual interests. Nothing wrong with that; I think it’s how World War II was won. Reaching across departmental boundaries should by now be de rigueur in all serious organizations.
That’s significant because IT is now too important to business success to be left solely to the IT team. Consider as just one example that modern marketers are ramping up the adoption of lead-gen tools like Oracle Eloqua to drive revenue. Whether or not IT wishes to partner in that process, marketing is going to proceed. It’s the wise CIO who proactively embrace the needs of such teams, offering assistance even before those users know you can help them. The trust IT can thus accrue is pure gold. Remember, you’re only the master of your IT domain if your mission is to enable everyone to become an IT sensei.
So break down those silos for good, and make it a rule that if any barriers remain, they must be like Les Nessman’s office walls.
4) You have big data, but no big data plan. There’s hype and there’s reality. Sometimes a phrase—“big data” comes to mind—evokes thoughts of both. Let’s set aside the promotional chatter and focus on the fact that there’s big business in big data. Thomson Reuters found that out, and is processing the data at its disposal so that it can deliver intelligent information—aka insights that are deeper and can be accessed faster—to its customers.
Almost every business is similarly sitting on a gold mine of data, from which they can reap competitive advantage, iff they have the determination to use it. What, when, and through which portal your customers have interacted with your business is just tip of the informational iceberg that’s available by sifting through the data you capture via e-commerce interactions with customers. Analytics can also be gleaned from studying the website pages which most appeal (or not) to your clientele.
I don’t want to gloss over the implementation portion of a big data plan. It’s not trivial. However, there are many vendors—Oracle among them—which offer purpose-built systems (e.g., the Oracle Exalytics In-Memory Machine) and software (e.g., Oracle Database 12c) to bump your big-data utilization into the, er, big time.
What’s important at this juncture is that whatever you do, if you do it soon, you’ll be ahead of at least half of your competitors. So put together an initial plan. Iteration and refinement can come later, as your business determines which analyses do the best at satisfying customers and driving revenue.
Looping back to the hype I mentioned atop, what this means is that many constituencies within your organization won’t understand what big data is, nor will be they be able to grok its potential. Thus it falls to the IT team in general, and to the CIO in particular, to take the lead. I’m talking about explaining it, evangelizing, and implementing—the whole ball of wax.
I’d suggest the first order of business is to bust through the two most common mistakes people make in thinking about big data. They believe:
Big data is a “thing.” This view envisions the info as some kind of monolithic data store of terabytes (and, soon, perhaps yottabytes) sitting in some network-attached storage (NAS) device. That’s simplistic in that your data will be heterogeneous (different formats), come from different sources, and will have a tendency to not be a neat pile amenable to easy analysis. But that’s why we have IT teams.
Big data is waiting for you. You know that’s not true. (Data, like time, waits for no one.) However, it’s possible that some of your colleagues are waiting for a sign that big-data time is here, and that that sign will come via a “solution” in the form of a product from their favorite vendor. If you have people who can best understand big data by looking at it through a product prism, then it won’t be difficult to make them happy via the offerings now available from many major vendors. But don’t let them make your business wait any longer, because your competitors aren’t.
5) You’re stuck in 80/20 land. If 80% of your IT budget goes to maintenance—and it typically does—then you have little money left with which to innovate. Indeed, CIOs who are “drowning in the maintenance pool,” according to Compass Talent Management Group CEO Joel Dobbs’s adroit turn of phrase, don’t just have a problem with IT tunnel vision. They are facing what Oracle chief communications officer Bob Evans has called the number one strategic issue for 2013.
So I won’t belabor the point, because you can read Bob’s article here. Also, because you know that server consolidation, use of cloud apps where appropriate, and trimming your sprawling list of vendors are just three of the ways you can free up additional monies to spend on your big data plan, as well as mobile, social, and other strategic initiatives.
However, it’s interesting to note the Venn diagram overlap between strategic imperatives, which by definition are lofty and demand mindshare, and the quotidian IT slop-bucket items I’ve listed in this piece. It reminds me of automobile maintenance: You can have the highest-performing, coolest car in the world, but if you never clean the vehicle, change the oil, or know where you want to drive it, it’s just a 3,000-lb. money pit.
6) You don’t talk with customers. I admit it; this item is an excuse to mine a different vein of our earlier discussion on the disadvantages of not reaching out to other corporate constituencies. Silo busting is like the Hotel California in reverse. Once you’ve checked out of the silo, you’ve left for good. Which means that you’re stuck—I mean, happy—talking with all the folks in your company who are using IT. Because of the rise of SaaS, mobile, and social, some of those people know more than you. So they can teach you things, creating a powerful feedback loop for better IT.
CIO Magazine, in its “2013 State of the CIO Executive Summary,” [PDF download, here] bold-faces this as “relationship building with business stakeholders on the rise, efforts paying off for CIOs.” More specifically, the study says that CIOs are increasingly taking action to solidify or elevate their team’s general relationship with business stakeholders by delegating more, developing leadership and cross-functional skills among their IT staff and increasing their attention and focus on customers.”
The study also mentions the major IT initiatives most frequently cited by CIOs. Those efforts, which have either been completed in the past year or are queued up for the current year, involve mobility, business intelligence and analytics, and cloud.
Personally, I see a clear connection between the rising complexity in IT (please see “Modern Marketing Emerges As Sales-Stoking Science”) and the rise of CIOs’ relationship-building efforts. It’s because you have to work very closely with people when you’re trying to successfully get them launched on, say, a cloud app. Obviously, understanding a group’s needs is the first step in unraveling complexity. However, the more difficult part of the deployment scenario is actually training a heterogeneous (in terms of computer skills) group of non-IT people so that they’re a) happy with their new app and b) able to take full business advantage of its features. Now that’s building a relationship, which can last a lifetime.
7) You’re at your desk or in meetings, when you should be trending, hunting, and harvesting. No, I’m not looking to pitch you to Bravo to star in a new reality series. (Anyone for “The Real CIOs of Santa Clara County?”) This is Gartner talking. As part of its “2013 Gartner CIO Agenda Report,” the market research firm identifies what it sees as the overarching IT priorities . “CIOs have three tasks today: Tend to the legacy, hunt for new digital business opportunities, and harvest value from business process changes and extended products/services.”
I’m no anthropologist, but this reads rather like a job description for Chief Sustainability Officer for an ancient hunter-gatherer tribe. For some unlikely reason, the tribe apparently has computer capabilities. Maybe it’s no joke. After all, computer users sustain the modern IT department just like the mammoth did the Neanderthal hunter (except they don’t kill ‘em).
However, what Gartner finds is that there’s a shortfall in that last area—harvesting value. They write: “CIOs report that their enterprises realize only 43% of technology’s business potential. That number has to grow for IT to remain relevant.”
Gartner astutely concludes that this means “evolving IT’s strategies and plans from ‘IT as usual’ to ‘IT as a growth engine.’”
8) You’re not evangelizing. It’s up to you to explain to your C-suite cohabitants the business value of latest crop of IT technologies. Most of them have heard the buzzwords, but few understand what they mean, and fewer still that there’s immediate potential at hand.
So if you don’t tell them when, where, why, and how very high some of these IT tools can help your business jump, no one else will. They’re unlikely to come to you seeking suggestions, because it might evince lack of knowledge. Few are as bold as the smart woman who stood up at a Cloud Expo session in New York last month and asked the presenter: “Could you explain what cloud computing is?”
Yes, I know you have to deal with the psychological drag of legacy perceptions that you just want to buy stuff to grow your domain. Get over it. That’s not the way things work anymore, anyway. Focus your case on ROI, explain things simply, and don’t gloss over the training and use-case challenges.
9) You haven’t rightsourced your outsourcing. Playing overnight message tag is no way to do successful software development. It’s just a passive-aggressive business process intended to enrich the outsourcer.
Sorry, I still haven’t got over the two weeks it took me to get an overseas contractor to create an RSS feed at a previous job. Overnight question from me: “The feed you sent me doesn’t work.” Response, 12 hours later: “It doesn’t work?” Arrrrrrrrgh. The result had to have cost so much, I was surprised gold didn’t spew from the output.
I wasn’t the first to realize that there’s no sorcery at the outsourcing factory. Those folks wait frustratedly for their computers to boot up, just like the rest of us. Which is why we’ve been through the serial fads of onshoring, near-shoring, and—most recently—multi-shoring.
We all know that economics has been big driver for offloading IT tasks to outsiders. However, as globalization begins to equalize all geographic boats, it’s no longer as trivially cheap as it used to be. (Now, perhaps the biggest win is that outsourcing obviates the need to hire full-time employees.)
The advice here, on which you’re hopefully already way ahead of me, is to have a palette of options from which to choose. That can range from outsourcers who’ve demonstrated their commitment to quality, to the new crop of college dropouts who can outcode many on your team (though I shudder to see their documentation), to reliable, individual contractors.
10) You haven’t embraced the stack. The only serious, long term remedy for IT tunnel vision is to field a coherent plan as to how computing technology will accelerate your organization’s business. Nothing bespeaks a lucid, layered approach to computing better than a well-formulated stack. I’m not talking about a column from which smoke spews—you’ll have to deal with that, perhaps in the analogous form of an unremitting stream of epithets from the mouth of your CEO—if you don’t embrace the stack.
Fortunately, an enterprise stack, which comprises an optimized IT infrastructure ready to take business into the 21st century, is available. Oracle, for one, has formulated its stack as a complementary collection of hardware and software, ready to get the job done. As the companion picture indications, the stack stretches from storage and servers at the foundation, rising through virtual machines and operating systems, and finally on up to the database, middleware, and applications. The latest additions to the stack (not shown on the picture, because they touch multiple layers) include engineered systems and appliances, which optimize hardware and software together in one unit.
The upshot, and my final takeaway, is that the stack, like all of the other suggestions in this piece, is there for you to use if it fits in with your business objectives. Getting past IT tunnel vision isn’t about telling you what plan to have. But it is about you having a plan.
If you’ve assimilated enough detail about the current crop of change-bringing technologies so that you have a viable course of action for cloud (aka the changing IT delivery model), big data, BI, mobility, and flexible enterprise architectures, that’s great. If not, take off those polarized sunglasses and get to work.