CIOs are leading in a time of rapid change. While the start of the new millennium was mainly focussed on "faster and bigger", the second decade of the 2000s has been seen some significant changes in terms of how technology is used, the expectations of businesses and consumers and the very nature of how technology is consumed.
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Mark Settle is the CIO of BMC Software. He has served as the CIO of four Fortune 300 companies and worked in a variety of industries including consumer products, high tech distribution, financial services, and oil and gas. That broad experience and success means he has some excellent insight into the world CIOs operate in today and the challenges they will face in the future.
"The cloud phenomenon means a couple of different things for CIOs. How can I virtualise my application portfolio? What things are non-critical or do I not have the staff to maintain so I can procure those on a subscription basis?" says Settle.
As well as applications, Settle sees the cloud as providing tools that can be used both inside and outside the business. “Internal virtualisation can be used to boost the capacity and utilisation of equipment that had been purchased in the past. How can I use third party providers like RackSpace and Amazon and think of ways in which they can complement or augment my internal capabilities in a cost effective way”.
One of the great challenges of the SaaS and cloud computing world is security. The recent issues faced by DropBox, where a software update resulted in user data being exposed for hours, highlights the issues CIOs face when using external service providers. “SaaS tools can be exposed to internal clients behind normal security procedures for authenticating. Users can VPN in and you can secure access that way. Or you can offer kiosk access where people go directly there” says Settle.
BMC offers over 30 different SaaS tools now that are offered to staff over a VPN that requires secured authentication. Even though the applications might not be housed through BMC’s own data centre the access is managed so that the company’s security protocols and procedures can be applied.
Consumerisation of technology is another issue that CIOs are facing. Only a few years ago, people came to work and had access to the best computers and fastest Internet connection. Now, they can buy high-end systems and enjoy high-speed connectivity from home and it’s often faster than what their employer can offer. “This is a problem that doesn’t get a lot of attention but many companies grapple with the economics of this” says Settle.
In discussing consumerisation, the conversation inevitably turns to the iPhone and iPad. Settle has discussed this with a number of other CIOs. “There a lot of very happy BlackBerry users. That’s a very entrenched community. I’ve talked with CIOs who’ve had a one device policy and when people became infatuated with an iPhone, got an iPhone and came back two weeks later begging for their BlackBerry.”
Also, the ruggedness of tablets is a sleeping issue. “iPads and other tablets aren’t really ruggedised for a real business road warrior. They make look like the same price as a low end laptop but you may need to by three of those devices over the nominal three-year life of a laptop” he added.
In Settle’s view, the issues around consumer devices entering the enterprise fall into three groups. “The financial, privacy and contractual issues. Then you get into the support and secure - what are we going to let them get access to on that device? What if an employee leaves the company? Can I remotely scrub my company data from that device? Then there are the application compatibility issues”.
Another aspect of the device proliferation seen in the market is that users expect to have multiple devices. Settle explains that “People aren’t receptive to the either/or conversation. Your classic knowledge worker now has four environments that need to be supported from a CIO’s perspective. There are smartphones. There are tablets for access to the Internet. For something a little more intensive they want a laptop. And then they still want their home base with a scanner, printer and attached devices”.
In practical terms Settle sees huge challenges for the CIO. “If you take an executive from BMC and he flies to Beijing. He doesn’t have access to his home office but on the other three devices, syncing email between the smartphone, tablet and laptop isn’t intuitively obvious how that happens and it’s not instantaneous”.
Looking forward, Settle sees some long-term challenges for CIOs when it comes to the diversification of platforms we’re seeing play out today. “In talking to people in architectural roles, the real challenge is that you can look from a technology, inside-out view of what am I meant to be doing about virtualisation. But you really need to look at it from a business point of view. How disruptive are the tablets and smartphones going to be in the way we make money as a business three to five years from now? How I need to wrote apps, release apps and expose application functionalist. How robust is the underlying infrastructure have to be? This is often the opposite of how a lot of IT shops think”.
So, in such a complex, changing environment, how does a CIO demonstrate their value to a business? What are the metrics that CIOs can use?
Settle says that “One of the problems with a lot of IT shops is that the way they’re set up to add value to the business is through information about the customers of the company and what those customers need. Those demand signals are being interpreted and translated by different functional groups. The customer support activity comes to IT and says that they need to run a call centre. Then the supply chain guys show up and tell what they need to make sure there’s product in the stores. All too often the CIO and the executive team are trying to keep peace within the four walls of the company. All too infrequently, CIOs spend time with the true consumers of the products and service that are enabled by the underlying systems that they’re supporting.”
Being able to challenge the ‘signal to noise’ of the customer’s demands with the internal view is important.
Perhaps the most interesting metric Settle put forward to us was “How well do the other executives in the company like me? In IT, there’s no such thing as a 100 batting average. You don’t get everything right everyday. If they like you they’ll forgive a world of sins. But if they don’t they’ll hang you every day”. Personal relationships will go a long way and finding out how their performance is measured and supporting them will help significantly.
“The CIO is in a unique position. In a lot of companies, it’s only the CIO and CFO who really see how all the business processes play together to deliver the value proposition that the company presents to its customers. Other business groups only have partial views”. So, the CIO can be a great support to a CEO and offer insight that doesn’t exist elsewhere and can become a trusted advisor but that requires a relationship with the CIO.