Competitive advantage is not that new a business term — it was popularized by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter in the 1980s — but it has never been more important as a business philosophy.
That is, it has never been more important for CIOs to think about competitive advantage as a business philosophy.
Now technology for competitive advantage is starting to count as a benchmark for CIO success, writes SearchCIO.com Senior News Writer Linda Tucci. Gathering competitive intelligence has become a daily task for George L. Reed II, CIO at Seven Corners Inc., a privately held global travel insurance provider in Carmel, Ind. “You learn who’s taking risks,” he said.
Fortunately, this is the right time for CIOs to come to their CEOs bearing competitive intelligence, which would lead to new ideas — or as Michael Porter might say, what not to do.
When it comes to retaining your IT talent, it’s about more than benefits and job security — workplace culture matters too. It’s the intangible (and sometimes tangible) practical lessons in keeping your IT talent happy that make the difference. For instance, Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, revealed that there are no obvious markers of seniority at the company — and no phones. What’s more, all employees “get professional housecleaning twice a month.” And we’ve all heard the tales of Google’s all-you-can-eat cafeterias and giant slides at the Googleplex.
In the midmarket space, however, we’re a little less likely to have free housecleaning and giant, human Pong games during lunchtime. The practical lessons of the innovators, however, are definitely echoed and adopted in smaller IT shops. Paul Harder, the winner of this year’s SearchCIO-Midmarket.com IT Leadership Cultural Innovation Award, has a line on the secret of building a positive workplace culture, even within the very tight budget of a nonprofit organization. His practical lesson in building workplace culture is all a matter of empowering his IT talent. “I look at myself as trying to enable them to get their job done, and then empower them to do it. Otherwise, I pretty well leave hands-off. I make sure that from a 10,000-foot view that everything’s getting done, but I’m not even going to come close to micromanaging them,” he said.
Speaking of personal freedom in workplace culture, Mauricio Vicente, our IT Leader of the Year (and a finalist for the Cultural Innovation Award) said, “I give them creative freedom. I work with a very talented group of individuals who surprise me every day with their own feedback and how they execute the ideas that are brought to us by the different layers of the organization.”
One thing that Harder and Vicente have in common with the culture meisters at Google and Facebook: the concept of personal autonomy. Former Facebook designer Joe Hewitt summed it up nicely after he decided to leave the social network company last year. He also singles out autonomy as a facet of workplace culture. “Management gave me the freedom to work on my own ideas, and just like with real startups, some of my projects never made it out of the lab, while others shipped and were huge successes. The brilliance of Facebook management is encouraging everyone to take initiative, take risks, and wear as many hats as you can. I wish more tech companies operated like this.”
Of course, being an awesome company doesn’t prevent brain drain from happening, but it seems to be the key to making sure that your open recs have hundreds — or thousands– of qualified applicants, all eager for a chance to join your team. And what CIO doesn’t dream of that?
My favorite stories from the first SearchCIO-Midmarket.com IT Leadership Awards:
Nicole Bradberry, CIO of Rise Health Inc., for making something out of nothing by leading her team to create a custom Web application to manage electronic health records.
“The service we wanted to create focused on preventive patient health care that would result in savings for our customers. To do this we needed to give our employees access to actionable data from multiple sources, and that type of solution didn’t exist,” Bradberry said.
Kevin Soohoo, director of IT at Air Systems Inc., for thinking globally and acting locally by saving energy and making the business more profitable to boot.
“And when it came down it — IT and energy use — we really wanted to think outside the box. Things like servers or virtualization, obviously many people are doing it and are getting great results in terms of energy savings and footprints. What we really wanted to do was take it another step further, which was going down to the end-user level and saying, ‘End users, in their cubicles, they’re using energy. They’re using energy on the computer. They’re using energy on their printers. They’re using energy on other things in their cube, like their radios and heaters.’ We really wanted to try to see if we could impact that and manage that, at the same time trying to balance the users’ comfort and not inconvenience them,” Soohoo said.
Paul Stamas, vice president of IT at Mohawk Fine Papers Inc., for reinvigorating a business in danger of being overrun by technology, by taking advantage of cloud technology to make the business run better.
“Even though the world is against us, in terms of paper, we’re going to have the best year we’ve had in 80 years, going to twice the EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization] that we had the previous year,” Stamas said.
Steve Mallard, IT manager and teacher at the Tennessee Technology Center at Shelbyville, for taking the time to make IT matter to the lives of students and his school.
“My father told me to stop and listen to people. To hear them as they speak and to listen to what comes from their heart and soul. He was correct in every way. You can truly tell who people are if you stop and listen to them beyond the audible sounds. Being a teacher and consultant for so many years, this has become an asset and skill handed down to me.”
We’re currently working on more stories for our series on Millennials — those workers under the age of 30. One of the things that has struck me most is that their concept of personal and social media privacy is very different from that of Generation X or baby boomers. From the McCann Worldgroup’s Truth about Youth study: “Given a list of things (including cosmetics, their car, their passport, their phone and their sense of smell) 53% of those aged 16-22 and 48% of those aged 23-30 would give up their own sense of smell if it meant they could keep an item of technology (most often their phone or laptop).” People in the Millennial generation (called the Facebook Generation by some) have almost never been alone because their friends are always by their side through their devices. So, in some ways, removing their smartphone or laptop would mean essentially killing their friendships. This finding absolutely ties into their desire for a flexible mobile device policy.
What’s even more alarming is Millennials’ sense of social media privacy: While they admit they are seriously concerned about their own sensitive information being broadcast over Facebook, 63% of Millennials still use social media as a primary form of socializing, according to the Euro RSCG Prosumer Report — This Digital Life. Only 36% of the baby boomer generation answered similarly. In the same survey, 66% of respondents age 18 to 34 agreed with the statement “Young people today have no sense of personal privacy; they’re willing to post anything and everything about their lives online.” Millennials are also worried about their own social media privacy: Fifty-one percent are concerned that their friends and family “will share information about them online that they don’t want to be made public.”
From HIPAA violations to proprietary information breaches, it’s no wonder that the Millennial workforce is worried about social media privacy. Still, they clearly can’t release the hold social media has over them. We may simply need to define the concept of personal privacy — whether we like it or not.
It’s one thing to get excited about new releases of Windows, iPhones or even HTML. It’s another to get jacked and pumped about IT governance frameworks. But in the case of COBIT 5.0, you should.
The latest version of the “Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology” specifications brings important business objectives together with what has been an IT-specific set of objectives. This is important because we have found out that IT and the business cannot function in their own silos.
In the new framework the ISACA security organization has integrated COBIT 4.1 with ISACA’s Val IT and Risk IT frameworks, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), and other standards. In short, says Brian Barnier, principal analyst and advisor at ValueBridge Advisors LLC, COBIT 5.0 is about “increased focus on business — as opposed to control — objectives.”
Another intangible benefit of COBIT 5.0 is that IT managers can finally have more control over how IT and the business function together. At a time when CEOs are demanding more business acumen from CIOs, COBIT gives IT executives more business levers to push than ever before.
Unless you work for a very special CEO, chances are fairly good that yours doesn’t think you’re up to snuff when it comes to the CEO position. Five months ago our resident expert, CEO John Weathington, asked whether the CEO position is impossible for CIOs. He said:
If you’re like most CIOs, your chances of ascending to the CEO position are very slim. When the board is looking for a new captain, in most cases, you’ll see people who hold another senior management position — like chief operating officer or possibly CFO — as the prime candidates. The CIO is rarely included.
Weathington’s analysis matches the findings of a recent Gartner Inc. survey of 229 CEOs on the role of the CIO: Most CEOs believed their CIO doesn’t have what it takes to ascend to the boardroom. Gartner reported that CEOs (45%) see their CIO moving to a CIO role in another company. Only one in 229 of the CEOs polled felt their CIO was primed to be their successor.
This might be a disappointment to ambitious CIOs, but there’s still hope. Gartner’s survey revealed that CEOs are taking financial cues from their strategic changes. When asked to “select two roles that are usually most closely involved with supporting the chief executive in a strategic change to [the] business,” CEOs overwhelmingly selected the CFO (33.2% chose that role first, and 26.6% chose it second). The chief operating officer/head of operations was a close second (19.7% first choice, and 22.3% second choice) while the CIO and IT director roles barely garnered a nod in helping guide the business’ strategic changes (2.6% first choice, and 2.6% second choice). Even in this tough economy, CEOs need their trusted advisers to show them the money.
Gartner analysts commented that while they were not surprised the CIO wasn’t on the top of the list, “we thought that the CIO role might be more relevant.” Gartner analysts also noted that HR directors were seen as more important than CIOs, despite the realities of our technological world having a real impact on a business’ performance.
The takeaway here is clear: If they want to be considered credible innovation leaders and partners in their company’s strategic changes, it’s vital that CIOs look for ways to make sure that information and technology are playing a part in their board’s vision and driving their company’s fiscal growth.
The newly signed Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act will, among many things, reduce the number of compliance regulations with which companies will have to contend.
While this may reduce some paperwork and reduce costs, it wouldn’t be prudent to abandon compliance exercises merely because they are no longer law.
As we have seen in the past 10 years since the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) was passed, companies have been able to rationalize compliance efforts to help streamline their businesses. In one case, Wal-Mart’s “rightsizing” efforts with SOX enabled more control, better governance and greater efficiencies.
According to Chris McClean, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc., the JOBS act will “reduce the regulatory burden for smaller companies that were planning to establish full SOX programs.”
Reduction of regulation overhead is always a good thing, but don’t let JOBS become an excuse for avoiding or reducing corporate governance policies that add value to the business.
As a customer, you might be a little upset. After all, as Watts pointed out, “Imagine the hotel delivered complimentary issues of The New York Times to every room — except in this case, all the ads had been cut out … and on every single page, there’s a new ad that’s been stuck on top. How would you react? How do you think The New York Times would react?” More importantly, since the hotel’s ad injector didn’t play nice with YouTube’s interface, Watts could no longer access a huge portion of the Internet content he needed.
Marriott has responded to the claims, stating: “Preliminary findings revealed that, unbeknownst to the hotel, the Internet service provider (ISP) was utilizing functionality that allowed advertising to be pushed to the end user.” It also assured us it has pulled the plug on the ad injections. It’s important to note here that if the hotel were owned by a franchise group, its general manager would be responsible for contracting the networking services. So, it’s very likely that Marriott truly was not aware of this practice. I have to wonder whether Bruce Hoffmeister, Global CIO at Marriot International, hasn’t revised the corporate Internet usage policy already.
What do you think? Was the ad injection by the online service provider immoral? Or is this a case of competitive revenue-building through the customers’ use of the hotel’s wireless Internet? Is this any different from offering pay-per-view movies in the hotel rooms? The comments are waiting to debate this question of business propriety.
As CIOs struggle to innovate around business transformation, they are finding that other CIOs are the best friend they can have.
Yet despite their real efforts on taking the lead on business transformation and innovation, CIOs today still won’t find their best friend inside the corporation. That’s because the CIO’s real BFF is another CIO.
After enjoying our third SearchCIO 360 dinner this week in New York, I am convinced that CIOs will always learn more and become more effective in their own jobs — not to mention with business transformation — by listening to the experiences of their peers. Only in this way will they start to feel that they aren’t alone against the sea of troubles IT presents on a daily basis.
Need more evidence? None other than the CIO of IBM, Jeanette Horan, who oversees hundreds of thousands of users and millions of database reports a day, and says she needs the comfort of peer networking to help understand things — and to help others understand.
“People are very interested to hear how we eat our own cooking,” she said during a recent interview. “And the other thing is IBM’s business results; we have to say we’ve been doing very well over the past few years, and so there are a lot of people who want to know, how did you do that? And obviously, the whole kind of role that the CIO organization plays has been instrumental in helping that with respect to the productivity gains to the business.”
“CIOs like networking,” she said. “The topics I most often get questions on are BYOD, governance — not “IT,” as in how do you manage your data center, but governance, as in how do you stay aligned with your business. And the other topics that are hot right now are analytics and cloud. The reason is, they are new, and everybody is trying to figure out what’s the real use case and what’s the real value proposition; and they [CIOs] are really hungry for examples — that’s what they want.”
It’s been a busy week for Dell, not to mention for managing CIO vendor relations. This past Tuesday, Dell announced its impending acquisition of Wyse Technology Inc., a cloud software and hardware company (and the source of one of our favorite iPad thin-client computing apps). Then, on Wednesday, it dropped the news that it had acquired Clerity Solutions Inc., another move for more cloud technology. Then, on Thursday, it went for an acquisition hat trick and announced that it would acquire Make Technologies Inc., which produces application modernization software. And this week isn’t an anomaly: In February, Dell bought another cloud player, AppAssure Software; last month, it also grabbed SonicWall Inc., a security hardware and software company.
As Dell rushes to plant flags in the IT services market, CIOs who have a relationship with SonicWall, Clerity, Wyse, Make Technology or AppAssure might be hesitating. After all, Dell undoubtedly will guarantee that those companies’ engineers have a 365-day lock-in period; but there is certainly a risk of brain drain if those engineers take flight as soon as they’re legally able to jump Dell’s corporate ship. The funny thing about people who work for smaller IT shops and startups is that they tend to treasure their indie street cred and might roll their eyes when handed a Dell polo shirt at a massive company picnic.
The good news for Dell is that the mergers are absolutely a good thing for Dell clients. They get access to a broader spectrum of technologies and the vendor is standing strong against the unceasing tide of Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Cisco techno-diversity. However, CIOs who are focused on preserving customer and vendor relations might find themselves considering a move to a different provider. For instance, when Dell scooped up SonicWall, so many of SonicWall’s customers and partners switched customer and vendor relations to other data protection providers that Dell pleaded with those groups to give Dell a chance.
What do you think? Does the rush of Dell acquisitions concern you as a current Dell customer or perhaps a customer of one of the companies Dell has acquired? Should current customers be concerned about their existing and future vendor relations? Sound out in the comments, and let’s discuss the pros and cons of the Dell acquisitions sweeps week.