What is the value of IT supplier events?

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Customer events hosted by IT companies are always interesting to the external observer - I mean, to someone who is not the buyer nor the seller. I am now attending the Orange Business Live customer conference in Rome - a large, two-day event attended by several hundred IT leaders worldwide. 

Every time I attend this sort of event, I keep on wondering what might be going through the minds of the CIOs that have taken the time off their day jobs to come and hear more about their partner - or possible partner. 

What is the value of coming to an event like this, rather than connecting to other customers of that same vendor through tools like LinkedIn, or even asking an analyst? How does the supplier present their competence in a compelling way without patronising potential and current customers? 

Talking to a few people at the conference, the general feeling is that IT bosses still feel that there is a lot of value in face-to-face networking, particularly if you are about to start a relationship with the supplier or review your contract - whether the idea is to scale up or down.

The CIO at a large European retail chain told me that he sees these events as an opportunity to see what his key partners are up to, both from a financial and strategic standpoint.

"I don't have time to attend all the customer conferences I get invited to. It really does depend on how  valuable - in financial terms - and critical the supplier to my operation. [These events] also work as a sanity check, I get to ask other people in totally different businesses about how they work with the same supplier," the CIO said. 

It was interesting to see a roundtable chaired by an OBS executive, with three of the company's key partners for the delivery of services: Cisco, Polycom and Riverbed. With complaints from CIOs about the lack of imagination and transparency on the vendor side - "their presentations and sales pitches always look the same," an IT director recently told me - still echoing in my head, I was prepared for the the same old.

Indeed, there was room for improvement in areas such as explaining how users can mitigate performance issues with cloud computing, how to deal with the complexity of hybrid environments, or even issues are not often mentioned, such as the cost of migration or complexities around quality of data ahead of migration to the cloud. But conference presentations always need to balance detail with keeping the audience engaged. 

Fortunately, there were some interesting and very valuable takeaways. Cisco, for example, seems to have 70% of its staff working remotely at least once a week, with yearly productivity gains of about $300m. The competing companies also said that progress has been made towards more interoperability though the Open Visual Communications Consortium (OVCC), which is chaired by OBS. This suggests that some suppliers really are "eating their own dog food" more often than they used to - or at least they are learning to present a more credible story in plenary.
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The myths of innovation

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This is a guest post by James Gardner, an innovation author and chief strategy officer at crowd innovation company Spigit.


In the last decade, Microsoft has spent between four to five times as much every year on research and development as Apple. Yet, their stock price has been flat, whilst Apple's has soared out of all proportion. If the conventional wisdom about innovation and R&D was correct, then surely the opposite should have been true.

It is an outcome which challenges one of the greatest corporate myths of our time: if you invest to create something genuinely new, something that's a breakthrough, you have a better than average chance of windfall returns.

When I was head of innovation at a major European bank, I believed my job was to create the next breakthrough that would change the business. I wasn't successful.

In my next role, as the chief technology officer of the biggest public sector organization in the UK, my challenge was again to create the next wave of innovation that would change everything.

Change happened, but none of it was of the breakthrough kind that reshaped the world. Instead, we made lots of little things happen, and they all added up to a respectable number over time.

The story of Apple and Microsoft, any my own personal experiences led me to research "Sidestep and Twist", a book which explores these issues.

It turns out there are important lessons about innovation that leaders - especially technology leaders - can learn once you take away the myths.

For example, there hasn't really been a genuine breakthrough that led to actual profits in the last couple of decades. All the "hit" products have been incremental improvements on something else. 

Another is this: patents, trade secrets, and copyrights seem to be less a driver of value than they ever have been. Those businesses that are relying on them are protecting yesterday's innovation: newer kinds of businesses aren't bothering.

And most importantly of all: competitive advantage is now less about features than building products that get better the more they're used. 

What are your innovation efforts concentrated on? If, like most organisations you're concentrating on genuinely new stuff, you might like to think again. History gives us a long history of failure for breakthroughs.

James Gardner's book "Sidestep and Twist" is available on Amazon


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Do you care about green IT?

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Last week, it was announced that Facebook has agreed to work with Greenpeace to promote clean energy, and encourage major utilities to develop renewable energy generation. So the goal is to run on clean, renewable energy rather than using traditional sources, thus saving money and becoming - at the risk of sounding extremely cliché - more environmentally friendly. 

The NGO is now trying to get other IT giants like Apple, Microsoft and Twitter to follow Facebook's lead and move towards clean energy. According to Greenpeace, the amount of electricity used by major IT companies to power their energy-hungry data centres is set to triple by 2020. 

Whenever I ask an IT exec whether they know the carbon footprint of the technology running in their organisations, the answer is invariably no. Or "we are working on it," but they rarely ever have real results to show in that respect. 

But some organisations have made progress. At Computer Weekly's UKtech50 event earlier this month, the technology director at Guardian News & Media Andy Beale was talking about the concept of digital sustainability, whereby companies would be able to measure the carbon emissions of a single click. More information about their work can be found here and here.

I found Andy's talk fascinating, but you could tell by the expressions on some of the attendees' faces that this is an extremely novel concept. How many organisations can say they are genuinely using technology in a sustainable manner AND using IT to reduce their employer's impact on the environment?

I would be very interested in hearing from any IT chief who is actively working on such initiatives.

Sure, the industry needs better and clearer guidelines on how to do this effectively, but those in charge of technology must be better informed and more proactive when it comes to green IT. If you are not working on it because you don't know where to start, then ask for advice. If you are doing this already, then share best practices openly. 

Given the CIO's powerful position to drive change when it comes to running a corporate environment in a more sustainable manner, rolling eyes and/or not doing anything about is not only irresponsible. It is simply not an option.
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How do you get 'the business' to 'get IT'?

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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. 

The value of IT trade bodies

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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?







Clinging on to the past

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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". 

Reports from on the water: more from the ITDF

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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.

Talking about dinosaurs

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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.

iPhone5, the CFO and tech innovation

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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.

IT leaders should help the small companies

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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?







Could an IT strike be a reality in the UK?

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In Sao Paulo, Brazil, leaders representing both the IT workers and their employers are locked in a room as I write this, trying to reach an agreement around what could be the country's first "technology blackout."

The IT workers union for the Sao Paulo technology workers, Sindpd, is not happy because its demands for a 11.9% linear salary increase and benefits such as meal vouchers and profit sharing plans have been rejected by the employers, represented by the Seprosp union. 

A strike was due to commence on Friday, but the labour ministry has called both Sindpd and Seprosp to reach a solution for the dilemma by tomorrow. If the bargain offered by the employers is not accepted, the matter will be taken to court and workers will go on strike. 

The vast majority of 500,000 technology workers currently active in Brazil are based in Sao Paulo, meaning that a strike would be inconvenient for the companies to say the least. But the president at the Sindpd workers union Antonio Neto doesn't seem too phased about that.

"Look at the money involved in M&A [transactions involving IT companies] and the resources they are putting into expanding their businesses. The workers have made that money for them and that should be recognised," Neto told me in an interview

Brazil is growing immensely, so employees feel it is right to get a slice of the profits pie already enjoyed by their bosses. Meanwhile, the average British worker is largely happy to have a job, so I find it hard to imagine that such protests and demands for little luxuries such as meal vouchers would ever be a reality in the UK in this recessionary times. Am I wrong?

Also, this raises important questions about the perception of the country as an outsourcing destination. If you are an IT chief looking to shift work overseas, would you go to a place where the workforce is unionised like this? What do you think?

IT leaders: help build Bletchley Park

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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


For more details please see www.sueblack.co.uk and drblack.posterous.com or get in touch with her via Twitter: @Dr_Black.





The CIO at a career crossroads

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Reponding to the most recent post in this blog, former CIO at Dell Brazil Jairo Avritchir gave his views about where he thinks the career of IT executives is heading. 
 
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.

Is being a CIO still interesting at all?

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After recently writing a piece about IT executive search and talking to senior technology professionals about how they are planning their next career step, I started to wonder if the CIO role is will still remain attractive for a long time. Or if they actually want to remain in the job in the first place?

Several IT executives I have spoken to recently have said that their ultimate career goal is to become a head of change, or to move to a role that is operations-related - read that as getting out of IT as quickly as possible.

Many of them have already gone through that turnstile -  examples in the UK include Ben Wishart, former CIO at Whitbread and now international chief operating officer at the hospitality firm; Catherine Doran, former CIO at Network Rail, promoted a couple of years ago to corporate development director; Martin Schofield, previously IT director at Harvey Nichols and now retail operations director at the same business.

As IT-enabled change and efficiency becomes an oxymoron for the younger generations and the current cohort of CIOs moves to other functions of the "business", services that used to be executed by internal departments are now carried out by third-parties.

This apparent lack of interest for the top job in IT is something that can be also seen in other parts of the world. Recently, Jairo Avritchir - until recently the IT chief at Dell in Brazil, having been CIO for Latin America at several firms including JPMorgan - has been quoted as saying that those in charge of IT are now mere "contract managers", adding that taking up a job as a CIO in future would be an unlikely option. 

Having said all of that, would it be right to say that CIOs are a declining species, that they already had their "15 bytes of fame"?

CIOnet: The (Successful) Future IT Leader in 2015

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This is a guest post by Dr Andrew Tuson, course director for the master of information leadership and assistant dean for student recruitment at City University London.

This week's CIOnet event in London was one of their most interesting both from a professional and academic viewpoint. David Smith, the Chief Executive of Global Futures & Foresight, gave a fascinating insight into how the world is changing and what this means for the IT leader. 

A key message was that to adapt to change IT leaders will need to move focus from managing to leading and envisioning. The talk covered areas as diverse as geopolitics, economics, global food production and demographics in the developed and developing worlds.

The big take-home for me is that IT leaders need to work on understanding the future demographics of both our workforce and customers, and how that will affect their information needs and consumption. 

This is an area that universities and IT leaders could work together to mutual benefit; in fact work by actuaries at the Cass Business School was used in the presentation. If we do not, we will not be the one involved in the important decisions that affect the IT function of the future.

CIOnet is an invitation-only private business network for CIOs and, in larger organisations, their direct reports. It has grown rapidly since its inception in the UK and now has over 800 members thanks to its blend of social networking and high-quality face to face events
with engaging speakers.

Taking on extra work

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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.”

The latest government CIO gossip

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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. 

Ten reasons why senior managers don't write blogs

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Today I found an interesting piece about why blogging isn't an integral part of senior executives, published by Brazilian magazine Época Negócios. 

The article is based on research carried out by Mauro Segura, marketing and communications director at IBM Brazil. He wrote a blog post about it too, and I translated his 10 reasons why senior professionals are so reluctant about using social media tools below:

1. Lack of time
According to the research, involvement with social networking, and blogging in particular,  requires an ever-increasing time commitment managers cannot make. 

2. Fear of entering into polemic discussions
Many bosses think staff will use blogs to complain about their work set-up, whether it has to do with pay or resources. According to the author, eveidence shows that the majority of blogs and social media channels are actually used as a means to positively and constructively collaborate. 

3. Perception that blogs aren't relevant
The research adds that there is a general feeling amongst management that blogging isn't relevant, which only exacerbates the point about lack of time. Segura says that in reality, one of the major benefits of social media is to highlight the subjects that are of interest to the community. 

4. Fear of never-ending conversations
Some executives fear that the banter taking place in the blogosphere will lead to very specific and personal debates. Insecurity around when to end the conversation seems to be an issue, according to the author.

5. Lack of confidence in writing
A handful of senior professionals told the author they lack the confidence in writing, adding they would appreciate extra help in fleshing out copy for their blogs, as long as the content is supervised. 

6. Image risk
Another barrier to progress in terms of blogging is a concern about image risk. Some of those surveyed mentioned that staff blogging could potentially put any negative aspects of the organisation under the spotlight. 

7. Information security
This was also cited as another reason why many executives will not write blogs, however the author pointed out that in companies hwre there is a culture of data protection, this was less of a concern. 

8. Fear of admitting it didn't work
A double-edged sword: if the blog works out, it is likely to demand more time and attention from the executive, which is one of the concerns described earlier. If it doesn't, the executive in question will need to admit he/she made a mistake somewhere. According to Segura, that's is a challenging task: imagine having to admit defeat in terms of maintaining dialog and engaging with your audience?

9. Perception by other executives
Segura admitted of his suprise with this piece of feedback: executives usually see colleagues who are active bloggers as folk with time to spare. The author added that senior managers are keen to portray themselves as extremely busy, anxious and rushing all the time. 

10. The community isn't prepared
According to the report, executives claim that their target audiences isn't prepared to use social media tools  appropriately. In this blame game, such managers seem to forget they are often not ready for these tools themselves. 

According to Segura, while senior professionals are very aware of the fact that is no longer possible to avoid or neglect social media, their current reluctance to become more active in that space boils down to two reasons: fear they will waste time and fear of the dialog. What do you think?

The full magazine article can be seen here and Segura's full blog post can be found here (both in Portuguese). 

Playing the long game with Tesco's Philip Clarke

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Patience is a virtue when you are in the business of interviewing senior managers. In some cases, I waited for years and jumped countless hoops until I was granted a five-minute interview over the phone, with several PRs on the line, editing every single answer. 

In other situations, I met certain executives several times for coffee, lunch, dinner or drinks, as well as art exhibitions, awards, horse races, concerts and all sorts of social events before they agreed to be interviewed: they would grill me first and carefully analyse my answers and behaviour, before agreeing to tell me about their plans for IT at their organisations. 

All of this was child's play when compared to trying to secure an interview with Philip Clarke, IT chief and CEO-elect at Tesco. When his appointment to the top job was announced, I picked up the phone within seconds to ask for my five minutes with the man, only to get "no" for an answer. Of course, I insisted, much to the annoyance of Tesco's PR folk. 

Then, quite appropriately, Clarke was voted the most influential person in the UKtech50, Computer Weekly's list of the real movers and shakers in the UK technology industry. I thought this was going to be my chance to get a few words from the man himself and I tried again - unsuccessfully. 

Clarke has a very limited personal web footprint and no LinkedIn account, so the task of tracing him and effectively bypassing the gatekeepers became more complex. Then I had to resort to the most traditional method of communication: snail mail. 

I put a copy of Computer Weekly in an envelope, with a handwritten note. I don't remember the exact words I used, but I was keen to emphasize that the fact he had been ranked as the most prominent person in technology was very inspirational and encouraging to senior IT professionals. So would he be willing to say a few words?

That's what I got in response:

clarke2.JPG
I was obviously gutted for being away from my desk when Clarke called. Rather frustratingly, I called back a few times to no avail. The card above does not include an email address, so that made things more difficult. 

This time, I decided to send a full letter in response (probably the first I've written in about five years) to the chief, explicitly asking for an interview. My thinking was that, differently to emails, letters are harder to ignore. 

A few days later, I received the following email from Greg Sage, international and internal communications director at Tesco:

Dear Angelica
 
Thanks for your letter to Philip Clarke requesting an interview. He has passed it to me and asked me to reply.
 
I'm afraid that due to other business commitments Philip is not currently available for interview. Should this change in the new year, I will be back in touch.
 
Regards
Greg
 
At the moment, Philip Clarke is a bit like the Kate Moss of retail. If I am not mistaken, he has not spoken to the press at all since his promotion earlier in the year. Even the national press had to run comprehensive stories without a single quote from the man, based on the limited information available publicly and opinions from others. 

From my perspective, Clarke's experience of being a 'Tesco man through and through' would be of real interest to the IT chiefs that read us. Like in many other disciplines, senior IT professionals are still trying to figure out what it takes to really know the organisations they work for, to be accepted by their 'business' peers, to get to the top. 

It is not easy to get to that stage, particularly when it comes to IT. And when Clarke is willing to tell me how he has done it, I will be waiting for his email, call, letter or smoke signal. 

Where have all the women gone ...?

Alastair Behenna | No Comments
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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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