One of the ever-present themes in IT management is how on earth a CIO gets his/her counterparts in other parts of the business to "understand" what information technology can do for them. But how do they do that?
What I have noticed in all the years I have been covering IT and the management aspects of it, I have met countless "techies", the guys and ladies that actually like to get involved in the actual technology nuts and bolts and get very excited about things like the latest in PHP programming. Don't get me wrong, that can be exciting for some, but one of the things that I also have noticed is that, in recent years, the CIO has become a much more social kind of animal.
Because end users and managers in other parts of the business are much more familiar and knowledgeable about technology, CIOs have had to raise their game and use other weapons to not only secure their jobs, but also explain what is reasonable and what is not to colleagues who may think that rolling out an ERP platform is just as simple as buying an iPhone app.
But that requires some degree of emotional intelligence, or social ability, especially if the CIO in question has that much-coveted seat of the board. So IT decision-makers are having to distance themselves from the old geeky stereotype and become much better at human interaction, finding allies in other parts of the business, having drinks with people outside IT after work more often, investing more time in getting to know people on the ground who make the business "tick".
Of course, this is always easier said than done. The technical concerns are still there: the issue of legacy (you may be still trying to clean up the mess of your predecessor),complexity of the IT set-up and many others. But what the business wants is faster time-to-market and increasing demands for product/service innovation at a lower cost.
It is true that, in this day an age, most people will agree that IT is essential for any business to function, and yet IT bosses continue to complain that IT is still considered as a service and end up jumping ship, for many reasons including reduced budgets and "airtime". This is despite herculean efforts by CIOs to position themselves as a business partner.
The question that lingers is: how can you ensure that IT is positioned as an essential factor for business success? I will discuss the methods CIOs have been employing to try and make that happen in my next post.
I was having a chat recently with a CIO at a large multinational who worked in several countries worldwide, including Brazil and the UK, about trade bodies and their function.
In Brazil, there is a myriad of trade bodies supposedly focused on helping the local IT industry to develop, export and so on. There are so many associations that the CIO in question didn't even know about those who are supposed to be more prominent.
"The IT sector is quite competitive, so there is a proliferation of trade bodies as a result. I have seen it happening in other countries as well," the IT executive said.
"I was never really clear about the benefits of joining these associations and the value that I would get by attending their functions or supporting projects that never deliver any concrete results - it seems to be always work in progress with these guys."
In many countries, the world of IT trade associations is seen as old-fashioned and not very efficient. I would be interested in hearing the views from people who take part in these trade bodies and also those who don't.
Is there any value in being a part of these clubs other than having something else to add as a current role on LinkedIn? What value did you/do you get out of being a member?
If you attend IT management-focused events and communities, then you have probably come across former CIOs. After stepping down from their last senior IT job, they decided to take a sabbatical to write a book, rethink their career, study their options, become an interim/advisor/board member somewhere, form a consultancy, become a visiting professor...
While the strategies people adopt after leaving a job vary, one thing I have noticed is that many of these professionals seem to use their old jobs as some sort of walking stick: it is not about their ideas, what they are able to do, their current projects, or future vision: it is all about the past. And at times, they boast about roles where they were not even all that successful.
You also see many senior IT folk clinging on to their old job titles for as long as they can, both online and offline. Perhaps to make as many connections as possible on LinkedIn since they are out of a job? But isn't that cheating a bit?
I have seen an IT executive speaking at a conference in London last year under the title of "former CIO at XYZ Industries". Sure, it's all fine to talk about a specific theme based on practical experience, but answer audience questions about what might happen in terms of the company's current strategy? The person in question was doing just that - not cool at all.
While it is perfectly normal to use your reputation to build connections and raise your profile, there seems to be a fine line between those who behave as experienced professionals who are respected by their peers and those who are perceived in the market as just another "has-been".
Following my last entry about the social media interaction (or the lack of it) at the IT Directors Forum, which took place last week, the following post is a summary of the event, by Comic Relief head of future media and technology, Marcus East.
I have just returned from the fascinating and enjoyable IT Directors' Forum 2011 (ITDF11), a major technology conference, organised by Richmond Events and held aboard the luxurious P&O Aurora cruise ship.
At first, I was worried that being stuck on a ship with dozens of suppliers and potential suppliers would be less than enjoyable, but I need not have worried because it was an excellent experience, and one that I highly recommend.
The standard of the event was very high - from the initial cocktail reception, through the excellent keynote presentations and all the way on to the well- organised supplier presentations, it was obvious that the team behind it really understand how to put on a show that is relevant for the audience - and that delivers real value.
Specifically, when compared to other events, several things stood out at ITDF11.
First, the calibre of the attendees was very high, with CIOs and IT directors from hundreds of major organisations across a range of industry sectors, creating great opportunities to talk about the issues facing technology leaders, and the chance to share experiences with peers.
The quality of the event organisation and management was superb; the whole thing ran like clockwork from start to finish and the organisers must be commended on pulling off such a logistical feat whilst making it fun for the attendees.
Last but not least on the list must be the quality of the speakers and facilitators - they were outstanding and the sessions that I attended had the right level of research, insight and thought leadership; I have already started using some of the models that I picked-up at the event, and discussing projects and challenges with some of the great contacts that I made.
Not surprisingly, one of the main topics of discussion over the three days was the cloud, with many delegates talking about their plans to adopt cloud computing, despite the uncertainty that some still have.
Skills management for talented IT professionals was also high on the list, with many technology leaders thinking about how best to keep their most valuable team members as we come out of recession and economic growth returns.
All in all an incredibly stimulating event, and one that I look forward to attending again in the future.
I was following the tweets from the IT Directors Forum last week and was a bit shocked to find that there was only one person tweeting from the event. So thanks Rob Williams for posting some of the highlights of the event.
To be honest, actually, I am not all that surprised. I can imagine that maybe some other delegates would have liked to use Twitter and were put off by the mobile data charges to get web access at the P&O Aurora, but...I am sure that they were not totally disconnected. If they were, their employers have a real reason to worry.
The truth is that CIOs who are active on Twitter are still few and far between and CIOs during conferences is even more of a rare occurrence. What shocked me the most were the soundbites from colleagues that Williams tweeted during the conference:
"We're not investing in Facebook use, it'll be gone in six months"
"IT is there to protect the company, not to enable people to work how they want"
"Should more IT Directors be tweeting? I've been told we should focus on strategy, and not play with toys!"
Williams seemed to be a bit of an outsider at the ITDF when it came to social media input/understanding. CIOs told him - as they often do - that they have no time for social media. "Too busy working," they said. He also mentioned that he collected 30 business cards, none of which had Twitter contact details.
This is not a generalisation, but there are way too many CIOs out there who still dismiss social networking tools as toys - I met several of them.
The coin hasn't dropped for them yet. Needless to say, social networking tools are just core to how any business - regardless of whether it is a car manufacturer, a retailer or a consultancy - interacts with its audience. Customers want it - so dismissing these demands is the same as turning business away.
These tools are also essential in terms of helping an IT executive keep close to what's happening on the ground. If you run a team of about 300 people, how can you possibly communicate with them all, even if you maintain an "open door policy"?
And if you are so out of touch in relation to the tools that your staff and users utilise, why would they want to work for you?
If these are people who want to be seen as a "business partner" or an "internal consultant", how can they possibly provide advice that goes beyond the nuts and bolts of code and infrastructure, and use technology that everyone understands, in ways that can help boost business levels, credibility and service? May the Lord help the companies that turn to these people for advice on how to improve internal and external interaction!
If CIOs cannot see the value of social networking, they are complete dinosaurs. And as such, these IT executives will soon face total extinction.
Apple is due to release a new iPhone in September according to unnamed sources quoted in a report from Reuters, Hong Kong.
That's almost as interesting as the story earlier in the week from GlobalCIO that 'business executives not technologists were leading tech innovation'. Several things spring out from the commentary of Infosys VP Ashok Vemuri.
Firstly, and this may be oversensitivity, there is an immediate and unfortunate implication that technologists aren't business executives.
Secondly, these conversations are taking place with CFOs and COOs plus the odd Marketing and product innovation leader. The latter two I get entirely if we're talking digital innovation, customer experience and/or product development ..... but without an IT/tech presence .... surely not? A CFO or COO leading and driving tech innovation? Not in my experience of their focus or expertise. One may wonder who is doing their day jobs.
Next ... 'Infosys views tech projects in three big buckets: optimization, which is conventional outsourcing of IT operations and application development, with an emphasis on cost cutting; transformation, which is focused on reinventing the IT systems to support growth initiatives; and business innovation, which includes tech-driven product innovations, efforts like an iPad app for retail employees to check customers out.' Which bits of this don't scream IT engagement up front?
Lastly ...."This trend we started seeing last year, where the business has an equal role if not a more than equal role in technology decision-making, is going to stay, and that's a trend we're watching very, very closely," Vemuri says.
In essence, either businesses are running so well that key operational and financial executives can afford to take their eye off the ball and start dipping into new tech (beware the amateur enthusiast and the more facile elements of the consumer driven revolution) or IT truly has become a Utility for anyone to flex.
Just maybe, though, ..... and here is the inner cynic shrieking .... this is just a really cool way to do an end run round IT due diligence. Heaven help the CFO and the COO if it is, as they will own the outcome for both good and bad .... and that could really sting in the morning.
Today Computer Weekly's editor-in-chief Bryan Glick wrote a blog post about the implications of the Budget 2011 to business IT. Of his observations that caught may attention was about the reluctance of IT leaders around supporting small technology start-ups and small IT suppliers.
Bryan points out that the coalition wants to end the current public sector IT oligopoly and encourage more SMEs, but this is yet to be seen.
"Similarly, there remains a reticence among many IT leaders to take a risk on new technology products from emerging suppliers and start-ups. UK IT purchasing is predominantly risk averse, and when IT budgets are under scrutiny it is hard to convince the CEO to take a chance on an unproven supplier," he adds.
Indeed, most of the IT managers I talk to tend to avoid taking risks with smaller technology suppliers - in fact, the majority will not take risks of any kind lately. Also, the post-recession drive to bring in efficiency and standardise leaves little room for the smaller firms, who are often relegated in favour of a global vendor in the famous supplier consolidation exercises, more so in the last couple of years.
However, many companies are realising that it is not always possible to drive all the innovation and ideas internally and some have started initiatives to allow local companies to bring in ideas to support the value creation process.
Late last year, I went to Edinburgh to visit insurer Standard Life, at a 'speed dating' event they had organised in partnership with Invest in Scotland, to help buyers from the financial services sector tap into the huge pool of expertise that can be found in small firms based locally.
I sat through some of the 15-minute pitches and could see that the buyers were most impressed with the ideas presented, and companies were - despite their nervousness - glad to have an opportunity to showcase what they are able to do to some potentially big clients. As a company that is becoming very focused on technology-driven growth, Standard Life was also pleased with how the first event went and is now looking into ways to foster relationships with those companies, as well as universities.
This is one example, but is there many more recent instances where UK users are actively looking to support smaller IT suppliers and tech start-ups, I wonder? A thriving entrepreneurial environment is one of the key pillars of economic growth, so how is the UK supposed to get back on its feet if the big buyers are not willing to help?
Are you doing your bit?
This is a guest post by Dr Sue Black, organiser of the Saving Bletchley Park campaign. See Sue's full details at the end of this post.
Have you been to Bletchley Park? You know, the place where the codebreakers, including Alan Turing, worked round the clock as part of a ten thousand strong workforce cracking codes? Of course you do. It's the birthplace of the computer: Colossus, the first programmable digital computer, was used there as part of the code-breaking effort.
I'm sure you also know that the work carried out there by those dedicated individuals shortened World War Two by two years, potentially saving 22 million lives. Twenty two million. Hardly bears thinking about does it?
What on earth would our lives be like today if it weren't for those dedicated individuals, more than 50% of whom were women? Actually, don't answer that, I really don't want to think about it.
I had my first tour of Bletchley Park in July 2008. It is a 26-acre site, so there is plenty to see. The tour was led by someone who had worked there during the war, a veteran, who is still working there as a volunteer, 66 years later.
As we stood in front of hut 6, the iconic dilapidated hut covered with a blue tarpaulin, he described the major code-breaking achievements that had taken place in that very hut. Achievements that saved millions of lives. Millions. Of. Lives.
I got annoyed and upset, then angry and thought to myself, "What would happen if this hut was in another country - the US, for example? Would it be in the state it is now? I think not."
I decided there and then that I had to do something about it. I started a campaign called "Saving Bletchley Park", which has taken over the last three years of my life.
When I first met the director at Bletchley Park in June 2008 he told me that he was worried that the Park was going to have to close due to lack of funds. Last month when I was at Bletchley Park to welcome the arrival of the Turing papers he mentioned that he was no longer worried about having to close. Bletchley Park is saved. Phew! :-)
But, that's not the end of my campaign. Bletchley Park still needs a massive injection of funds. It will not close, but still needs millions of pounds to carry out restoration, renovation and much more to ensure that it is both a fitting memorial to the people that worked there and a 21st century museum that we can be proud of.
That's where you come in. Building Bletchley Park for the 21st century. Can you help? You could ask your company to become a corporate sponsor or organize a company outing to Bletchley Park, only £10 for an annual pass. A bargain. Have you been to Bletchley Park?
Dr Sue Black is a Senior Research Associate with the Software Systems Engineering group at University College London and a Senior Consultant with Cornerstone Global Associates. With more than 40 publications and a PhD in software engineering, Sue is well known for her online and offline activism around women in tech and saving Bletchley Park, most recently helping to secure the Turing papers for Bletchley Park.
According to Avritchir - who has just resigned from the computer giant, where a massive standardisation exercise is underway - with utility computing on the rise, all the complexity around technology, which used to be a big part of the CIO job, has moved to vendors.
The developments mean that, for certain tech-focused individuals, the career option could be joining a supplier organisation. It's either that, or watch other departments such as marketing take over the running of their own IT operations...
Watch the full interview with Avritchir below, at a bar in São Paulo, Brazil.
The other day, I had an interesting conversation with Nivaldo Marcusso, CIO and executive superintendent at Bradesco Foundation, about IT leaders taking on extra responsibilities outside technology.
The Foundation is the largest educational and social inclusion organisation in Brazil. It is also a shareholder of Bradesco Bank, which is one of the top three banks in the country and part of the world’s 100 most valuable brands ranking by the Financial Times, with over $360bn in total assets.
An old-timer at the NGO, Marcusso joined the Foundation as an ICT teacher in the mid-1980s. As the years went by, he climbed the management ranks and reached the top of the IT leadership pyramid.
Just like in other parts of the world, CIOs in Brazilian organisations across the public, private and third sector are spending increasingly smaller chunks of their time in IT operations and taking on different tasks across other areas of the business. So I was keen to hear about his experience.
Well, Marcusso is no exception to the rule when it comes to IT management trends: in the last 12 months, he added responsibility for other areas including admin, human resources and finance to his existing technology and innovation remit. But according to the executive, this is something that he had anticipated and prepared for.
“I had been preparing myself to improve leadership skills for the change and gained several executive qualifications at postgraduate level at respected universities over the last decade,” said Marcusso.
“Of course, there were areas I did not have a complete grasp of, but 2010 was a positive year of learning and I have always enjoyed learning and improving my skills,” he added.
According to the CIO, who was a professor at MBA courses in various universities in the state of Sao Paulo, qualifications are important when embracing other tasks, but preparing the management structure of the IT function beforehand is also crucial.
Following the changes in his remit, Marcusso now has five managers in the areas of admin and finance reporting to him, in addition to one manager working in innovation and six managers responsible for technology-related work.
“It is paramount to be able to prepare your substitute. I place immense value on the dissemination of knowledge and succession planning, as well as giving people an opportunity to grow,” he added.
For technical managers, having hands-on involvement with other business disciplines can be challenging, despite any academic grounding. Having had first-hand experience in the matter, Marcusso advises peers to take time to analyse the new area before making any drastic changes.
“Technical leaders tend to be focused on short-term results. But sometimes, especially when the job involves changes in business processes and therefore people, it is always best to take time to understand the context and mental models in which people are working and generally, put the brakes on a little.”
It has been an interesting few weeks for the IT management scene in the UK. First we heard that government CIO John Suffolk decided to step down, followed by British Airways CIO Paul Coby, Aurora Fashions IT chief John Bovill and, more recently, the CTO at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) James Gardner, who also decided to move on to greener pastures.
As if we didn't have enough to talk and write about, this week press rumours started to mount around the possibility of DWP's top IT man Joe Harley becoming the next government CIO, in addition to his present role.
Computer Weekly contacted both the DWP and the Cabinet Office to check the accuracy of such rumours, only to hear that the supposed move was pure speculation.
However, recent experiences show us that government departments - and its IT executives - are very good at saying no when the truth is yes, particularly when it comes to staff announcements. Private sector organisations, interestingly, appear to be much more forthcoming in that respect despite call for more government transparency.
The fact is, it has been already a few weeks since John Suffolk left the post of government CIO. There is a great deal of decisions to be made and work to be done by whoever is chosen to fill Suffolk's shoes, and that role needs to be filled fast.
Now would it be possible lead the government's IT strategy and, on top of that, handle the UK's largest IT departmental user? If that's the case, then Harley will have some serious multitasking to do.
Is it just me, and thus based on purely personal observation, or are there even less women in IT than there used to be?
IT has always seemed to me to be a rather male dominated profession but if I look around me, now, it does seem that the last 5 years have seen a further and quite rapid increase in imbalance.
There do seem to be more women at the very top of the tree but far less in middle and senior IT management structures; and don't even look at the hard core techie layers .... Why ...?
The money is good in IT, the prospects for meritocratic advancement are superb and with the rapidly evolving landscape for IT - thankfully negating the ridiculous alignment debate - the opportunity to play a significant role in any business has never been better. I really don't get it. The very best project and program managers, database analysts and developers I've ever worked with or for were women. Some of the finest techs in architecture, networking and server management I've had the privilege of leading or working alongside of, were female. Not that long ago 40% of my direct reports were women but when I left my last role that had been cut in half with no obvious or sufficiently experienced replacements.
Where did they go and what other careers and sectors attracted them away?
What's wrong with IT and technology as a career for women? How do we encourage real participation and engagement to address the gap and grow a richer and more powerfully diverse IT engine; even in the face of rampant outsourcing?
Rant: Isn't it about time we got back to developing on-shore careers and prospects instead of selling the family silver for short term gains.
And, in responding to this inequity what we really don't need is a silly 'tipping of the hat' or slippery cosmetic measures to obfuscate the issue just because it may be politically correct or to register a tick in the box of some hackneyed CSR type initiative (yip ... another rant).
What we must, must, must drive and define are genuine grassroots actions that will grow our talent and skills pool to capitalise on the remarkable opportunities for IT in the 21stst century.
Go on then, tell me I'm wrong .....
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