TotalCIO


October 5, 2011  5:49 PM

Cloud security concerns will be passé, Gartner analyst says

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

Neil MacDonald wants you to stop worrying and love cloud service providers.

This Gartner Fellow is putting in a tall order. Look at any survey of CIOs and IT professionals regarding cloud computing, from its buzzy emergence up until, oh, this morning, and you’ll find that cloud security concerns sometimes outweigh all other cloud concerns combined.

For one, in a recent CompTIA survey of 500 IT and business professionals and 400 IT firms in the United States, 65% of respondents said that security is the area of cloud computing most in need of clarity.

To these folks, MacDonald says, Get a grip — or better yet, let go.

The big cloud service providers think differently about information security — and that’s a good thing, MacDonald told a virtual audience of CIOs and other IT folks during a recent Gartner webinar on cloud security. When it comes to information security, anything you can do, cloud can do better. Or soon will, he said. How exactly are cloud service providers better than you at information security? According to him, here are the new and improved ways big-name cloud service providers like Google, Microsoft and Salesforce.com think about security:

  • They assume machines will fail, so they focus on resilience. “That’s their focus, it’s a delivery of an outcome independent of failure of the individual elements,” MacDonald said. “And that is quite a change in mind-set from traditional IT operations and IT security, where we try not to have any breaches or any failures.”
  • Their security is baked in, not tacked on. Be it the shift from mainframe to distributed computing or from PCs to networks, security has always been an afterthought on the part of the provider and the user — until now.
  • They have shifted to software-based, automated security controls. Most security issues can be traced back to human error, but automation eliminates the possibility while freeing up security professionals to focus on “the higher priority” of creating security policy.
  • They take more responsibility than many of your other vendors for delivering outcomes. If you’ve never looked at the end-user licensing agreement for, say, Microsoft Exchange, here’s the short version: Install at your own risk; it might work, it might not. The online service-level agreement looks a little different: It promises 99% uptime or you get a 25% credit.
  • They force users to think about outcomes. Fixating on “the bottom of the stack” — hardware, networks — is more about the illusion of control than real security. The focus should be on the top of the stack.
  • Their offerings tear down IT silos. Network, storage, server and desktop can organize around security, retaining each group’s skill sets and enhancing agility.
  • They employ better people and deploy higher quality controls. Does your on-site data center have palm readers or retina scanners at its entrances? Didn’t think so.
  • They embrace change. Most IT folks hate change, especially in the form of patches and updates. Cloud service providers embrace it.
  • They view security as an adaptive service. Rather than a set of silo products, it is delivered as an on-demand set of services.

The thing is, though, not every cloud service provider is Google or Microsoft. Not every data center is going to be built on its own island. It’s vital to ask probing questions and create a strong RFI or RFP. Chief among your inquiries, MacDonald suggested, should be not just how your data is protected and how it is segmented between fellow cloud-dwellers, but also who has access to it. (Will you trust your cloud administrator?) A lot of innovation is happening with data encryption in the cloud, he said, that might allow you to hold the keys to your information instead of an unknown admin. Don’t be satisfied with answers alone; ask to see the evidence. And while they probably won’t tell you, it wouldn’t hurt to ask, “Where is that island, exactly?”

Being that this was an online chat, there was no way to gauge audience reaction, so I’m wondering what you think. Does the idea that cloud service providers are approaching security in a different way change your thoughts about cloud computing? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Let us know what you think about this blog post; email Karen Goulart, Features Writer.

September 29, 2011  6:57 PM

The organizational benefits of Agile methodologies

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

Sometimes considered a Wild West approach to project management, Agile methodologies in actuality can create order, not chaos. The key is being clear on what Agile means at your organization.

Take the example of General Electric, which had too many software development approaches across GE Energy. When Agile was introduced, detractors complained it would be a “willy-nilly” approach, versus a familiar structured approach, such as waterfall, explained Paul Rogers, executive manager of GE Energy’s Software Solutions Group (SSG).

However, as Rogers explained at the recent Forrester Research event in Boston, Agile practices brought order to GE’s SSG by getting teams across the organization on the same development page, following one documented and governed methodology.

“In waterfall, it appears that you’re going from step to step. The product requirements document is created and sent to the technical requirements folks. They decompose it and send it to the coders. The coders send to it QA/QC, and you get the perfect product at the end,” Rogers said. “The problem with that is that with each handoff there is a different interpretation of the specs down the line.”

That’s a pretty unpredictable development process, he said, and the main reason SSG opted to make Agile the official methodology. All SSG employees were required to learn the GE-branded curriculum and become certified in the same Agile methodologies. The GE-branded part is a key point, since a lot of people have a different opinion of what Agile is and is not, he said.

The BPM approach

Taking the guesswork and, yes, chaos out of project management can also be achieved by using business process management (BPM) software to introduce Agile methodologies.

When a new product or service is being considered at a company, BPM identifies which processes will be affected. If changes need to be made to a process to accommodate a new product or service, it can be done quickly. Also, if a business process can not be changed — for example, a given process may protect the organization from violating a regulation — then the decision can be made on the fly not to change it.

“Being able to identify how business processes may need to change and who in particular needs to make that change, versus getting 100 people involved to see if a change might violate a standard or regulations, allows [project] teams to be Agile and flexible, and recognize where Agile is not possible,” said Mathias Kirchmer, executive director of Accenture’s BPM practice.

Yet another example provided at the Forrester event of Agile methodologies reining in a major project was Dan Simpson’s business transformation effort while CIO of Physicians Mutual (he joined Trustmark as CIO this month).

As Simpson told the audience, he was brought in to get rid of legacy systems and create a new set of modern services focused on customer needs and buying habits. His go-to solution was SOA. In the end he created services that could be reused time and again when a new application or service was called for by the business or customers. The main benefit? He delivered on his promise to create a single information view for the customer … and introduced Agile methodologies in the process.

“We decided to implement close to 40 new projects as part of the business transformation effort over a period of years,” Simpson said in an interview with SearchCIO.com. “Iterative development using Agile methods was our ’Agile version‘ for those projects. [That iterative method] was how we determined if user requirements were actually being understood during the development process, rather than us implementing something and finding out users aren’t satisfied.”

Agile saved them a lot of grief in terms of having to correct mistakes and redirect projects.

One takeaway from both Rogers and Simpson? Agile methodologies are going to vary from company to company, but you need to come to an agreement as to what Agile means in your particular situation — then document it, educate everyone and stick to it.


September 27, 2011  2:25 PM

SIM CIO survey: IT budgets trend up, BI reigns as top CIO investment

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

When asked, “Are you better off than you were three years ago?” most IT organizations answer in the affirmative. IT budgets, hiring and salaries are on the rise at the majority of companies, according to the latest annual CIO survey from the Society for Information Management (SIM).

In 2009, more than half of organizations surveyed suffered budget cuts. In 2011, however, 56% of IT budgets increased, a healthy percentage compared with 2010, when 34% of organizations saw their IT budgets go up, and to 2009, when 25% of organizations reported IT budget increases. These results are based on SIM interviews with CIOs at 275 organizations in late June.

“It’s probably the biggest jump I have ever seen, and puts us back at pre-recession levels,” said Jerry Luftman, distinguished professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, who conducts the research for SIM’s annual benchmark.

IT leaders expect the positive trend to continue into next year. Despite talk of a double-dip recession, 84% of the CIOs surveyed expect 2012 budgets to equal or exceed 2011 levels. In one area, IT budgets did decline in the 2011 CIO survey: The percentage of corporate revenue allocated to IT dropped from 3.8% in 2010 to 3.5% in 2011. Luftman has attributed the decrease to a rise in corporate revenue last year and to the historically high percentage of corporate revenue allocated to IT over the past three years — which, at nearly 4%, was well above the average 3.6% of the past six years.

On the hiring front, turnover remains quite low, at 7%, partly because retirement-age boomers can’t afford to retire and partly because there are fewer job openings for senior-level positions, Luftman said. CIOs tell him that when an experienced staff member does retire, they are using that senior-level salary to hire two “newbies,” who cost less and often come in with the newer skills and technology expertise CIOs need. On the bright side, however, overall spending on salaries is trending up:

  • IT staff salaries increased at 66% of organizations in 2011 compared with 2010.
  • 67% of organizations expect staff salaries will go up again in 2012.

BI a hard nut to crack

Given their plushier budgets, what are CIOs spending money on? Business intelligence (BI) outstripped cloud computing; ERP systems; mobile and wireless apps; and customer relationship management, or CRM, systems as the top technology investment by CIOs in 2011, according to the survey — and by a long shot.

“BI was a standout — it was 50% higher in the rankings than all the others, which were relatively close in ranking,” Luftman said.

But it appears the upstarts are poised to give BI a run for its money. Mobile and wireless apps took fourth place, up from ninth last year and 13th in 2009. Cloud computing occupies second place, up from fifth place a year ago and 17th place in 2009, the year it made its debut on the SIM survey. The wide disparities in the amount companies are investing in cloud, however, show how nebulous this new computing model remains, Luftman said:

  • 20% spend more than 10% of their IT budgets on cloud.
  • 21% spend between 1% and 10%.
  • 43% are doing nothing with cloud.

In one respect, BI’s top standing in the SIM survey is no surprise. The technology has ranked first or second on the SIM list of the top five CIO investments since 2003, Luftman said. The reasons for the heavy investment in BI, however, keep changing, he added — a mark of just how hard it is to extract potentially valuable insight from the reams of data collected by businesses . “Initially, BI ranked high because of the complexity of getting your databases in order,” he said.

As organizations have mastered the technical challenges of their BI investments, they have recognized they don’t have the talent to support the technology, Luftman said. “You can’t throw a tool up and expect magic to come out.” The portfolio of required skills goes beyond understanding databases and the way the technology works (important as that is) to include statistical and in-depth business knowledge. People with that combination of skills are “few and far between,” he said. The large volume and the velocity of data generated by companies — Big Data — adds to the challenge. “It is one of the more complicated technologies that we have been engaged in in perhaps in 50 years,” Luftman said — and SearchCIO.com can attest to that in our coverage of Big Data.

CIOs still have serious worries. Of the Top 10 IT management concerns of 2011, the first four focus on using technology to help the business compete. IT and business alignment claimed the top spot in 2011, followed by business agility and speed to market. Reducing business expenses through business process management and re-engineering took the third spot; and increasing business productivity and cost reduction came in fourth. Rounding out the Top 10 management concerns, in order, are these:

5. IT strategic planning.
6. IT reliability and efficiency.
7. Enterprise architecture/infrastructure capability.
8. Security and privacy.
9. Revenue generating IT innovations.
10. IT cost reduction.


September 23, 2011  2:27 PM

Enterprise social networking sucks the social out of ‘social’

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

The man sitting next to me at lunch yesterday works at a bank too big to fail. We were at the Forrester 2011 Forum in Boston, and were both following the content and collaboration track. He told me his bank uses Microsoft SharePoint for collaboration but he is in the market for enterprise social networking software that will encourage employees across the company to be, well, more social. To share. SharePoint works fine for project groups, he said, but tends to fortify organizational silos, not break them down. He’s looked at Jive and at running NewsGator atop SharePoint, but is leaning toward Cisco’s new Quad platform. His bank is a big Cisco customer and has offered advice to Cisco on making Quad work for regulated industries.

But in any case, the problem won’t be the technology, he said, but in selling employees on the idea of an enterprise-wide social forum. Not only are the various operations of the bank siloed off from each other, but there also are silos within silos. People are uncomfortable with the notion of putting stuff out there that is visible to the whole company, he added. The economic climate hasn’t helped, nor have company layoffs. He has decided to provide a model for his employees by putting a little more information out in the bank’s current public forums — to encourage them to share more. Like what? Well, he wasn’t going to publish HR information, of course, but comments on how a project is going, or celebrating one of his employee’s successes, seemed fair game. Still, it was all a bit puzzling to him. In practice, workplace information goes viral all the time. Any email can be forwarded.

I thought about his comment on forwarding emails and had a mini epiphany about the disruptive promise of enterprise social networking. A forwarded email reinforces the countless pecking orders that (in subtle and not so subtle ways) can poison the working environment. Putting the information out on a common platform will flatten hierarchies. But what will equal access mean for companies and employees? Maybe employees know there is no such thing as equal access.

These are early days indeed for sorting out the effect on business of enterprise social networking. And a day’s worth of conference sessions on the topic did nothing except show how conflicted businesses are when it comes to social networking. One example: The gist of the opening session was that IT departments had to be involved in developing their companies’ enterprise social networking platforms — and not only for the obvious reasons of security and compliance. People are clannish. Multiple systems defeat the purpose of enterprise social networking. “It used to be ‘Let 1,000 flowers bloom,’” one of the Forrester analysts said. But that has led to business units each creating their own social networks, sometimes multiple social plots per unit. “Walled gardens are not helpful,” he told the audience. There needs to be an enterprise standard.

But therein lies the paradox. Once there is an enterprise standard and everyone belongs to “the club,” it isn’t a club anymore and people clam up.


September 22, 2011  1:01 AM

Taking business back from cloud service providers

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

One in five of the companies responding to a Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) survey of cloud trends said they are moving some or all of their outsourced cloud systems back on-premises.

The top two reasons respondents gave for moving away from cloud service providers were the Amazon EC2 outage and the Dropbox security breach, according to CompTIA, which conducted the survey of 900 IT and business professionals and IT firms in June with research firm Research Now.

Difficulty integrating on-premise systems with systems in the cloud was another reason given for the shift back in-house, as was the realization by some of the companies that they could build their own private cloud.

“Adoption of the cloud model continues to grow, but there are different nuances,” said Todd Thibodeaux, CompTIA president and CEO. “I think some of these companies recognize that a hybrid [cloud] approach meets a variety of their needs, and some realize that they have the infrastructure in place to have a private or hybrid cloud.”

Overall, more people are using the cloud in more ways — whether with an IaaS, PaaS or SaaS provider, or through a public, private or hybrid model — and these far outnumber the people who are moving things out of the cloud, Thibodeaux said. The CompTIA study found that more than half of the respondents plan to increase their investment in cloud computing by 10% or more in the next 12 months.

If anything, the survey data shows that cloud adoption has moved to a point of maturity in which customers are surer of their needs and more confident that the public cloud model is the right vehicle to meet many of those needs. This is a far cry from a year ago when the leading question was still “What is the cloud?”

In fact, the cloud crosses the globe as a unifying strategic initiative, unlike any other technology Thibodeaux has seen in his decades in the industry, he said.

Our understanding of the cloud has matured, but we are far from nailing down best practices, the main reason being that the cloud has too many moving parts — not to mention players.


September 15, 2011  6:59 PM

Going Google? Follow these steps, CIOs, and ante up, consultant says

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

“The beautiful part of the cloud is that the technical challenges are not the critical part of the effort.” That’s Jason Lee of consulting firm MavenWave Partners talking about his firm’s rationale for focusing on cloud-based computing solutions — and deciding to partner with Microsoft’s arch enemy. I spoke with him for my story this week about going Google. A cloud believer, he also realizes that the 100% Web proposition is a big change for most enterprises — and “mistakes are made.”

If your company is considering using Google enterprise apps — whether it’s a wholesale adoption or (more likely) just for certain employee groups — here is Lee’s framework for converting. Based on his experience with clients that have made the transition to Google Apps (and on a whole lot of bad Lotus Notes implementations in a past life), the framework has three main steps. And here is the clincher, CIOs: Your organization needs to fund conversion through all three steps, for multiple years. Even though going Google is cheap, it’s not free.

1. Commit. Remember why those ERP and CRM implementations went bad? In one respect, going Google is no different: There’s some heavy politics with changing big applications. Email and messaging touch everybody. The commitment to converting to Google Apps has to be top-down. “Or it won’t be adopted,” Lee said. You need a clear business case for the transition, a funding strategy that spans multiple years, and champions.

2. Enable. How you get the base Google platform out to the enterprise will vary with the scope of the implementation, of course, but converting users to the base capabilities of the system shouldn’t take longer than two to four months, Lee said. You need clear requirements for what the system is intended to do — down to the details. Google has a big leg-up on collaboration, but don’t assume users know how to use the platform.

“There should be an active and aggressive change management program that gives users every opportunity through every channel to understand how to use the new platform,” Lee said. Good project leadership and management are critical to going Google. Consider appointing a daily Google advocate.

3. Collaborate. Once you have converted people to the base platform and they are using it for everyday communications, look for pain-points in manual business processes, and use the Google platform to automate them. Start with stuff that’s easy to fix — or, as Lee put it, the “low value-adds” (for example, a travel approval process that was manual). MavenWave client Journal Communications Inc. of Milwaukee is automating its copy-approval process, as it moves its 27,000 employees to Google Apps.

The long-term aim of going Google is quantifiable improvements in productivity. “Small, new collaboration sites, incremental in nature, will have a big impact when put together,” Lee said. In the first three to six months, IT should be integrating the Google platform with core business processes and systems.

To realize those gains, the ideal situation is to have the majority of users on the platform. “Going half-in is tough,” Lee said. If the whole population is not going Google, segment the user groups that interact the most, and build solutions that will make them more productive.


September 14, 2011  1:32 PM

IT consumerization rules in the hands of the business

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

Criticism of IT’s command-and-control approach is pretty common these days, given the march to people-centric computing, as Gartner dubs it, or IT consumerization, as IT execs themselves call it.

When it comes to mobility, social networks and even the cloud, however, command-and-control is still very much in place — although it isn’t necessarily the CIO who’s setting the ground rules now.

Sure, IT has a lot of input in setting policies for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs, given that IT departments have to control their support costs. But limiting choices to a specific iOS or to just BlackBerry devices is more of a corporate cost-control mandate than a control issue for IT.

Social media policies encourage employees to reach out using social platforms but to do so within certain parameters. And those parameters often aren’t set by IT but by company executives — namely, legal.

At Medtronic Inc., a maker of biomedical device implants such as heart pacemakers, Suzanne McGann, social media program manager for global interactive strategy, was told by the company’s executive committee that there “will be no social media in the organization” until she figured out how to do it safely.

IT and CIO were terms McGann didn’t use when she gave a presentation at June’s Enterprise 2.0 show in Boston on the subject of developing social media policies. Medtronic’s director of information risk (who headed up social media policy development) was mentioned quite often, however, as were the global branding, intellectual property, human resources, legal corporate, legal regulatory, and FDA legal and regulatory departments.

It’s an interesting Catch-22 for IT teams. They are not always the rule-setters for IT consumerization, but they ultimately are the enforcers and the ones who take it on the chin. After all, if you violate the rules around that BYOD program, who is going to wipe that device?

On the other hand, many would argue that IT is very much in charge of setting the ground rules for IT consumerization. IT wants to make sure that mobile data doesn’t end up in the wrong hands; it helps business units choose the right cloud provider; and yes, it gives users a choice when it comes to device and application selection — which is why IT was so gung-ho about virtualization long before the business was.

In fact, many CIOs are leading the charge, taking it on themselves to develop a mobile device management program to accommodate proliferating iPads. IT is not so much a command-and-control center as it is a services broker leading corporations to the right choices.


September 9, 2011  2:34 PM

IT shops can’t keep up with consumerization of IT

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

If the consumerization of IT doesn’t kill IT shops, it might make them stronger, so the theory goes. However, it’s certainly driving them crazy in the short run.

That’s the gist of a worldwide survey from IDC and Unisys that examined the two faces of the phenomenon: how much consumer technologies are already being used in the workplace, and how IT shops are responding to this change. The verdict from the 3,000 business executives and “information workers” polled by IDC is that workers are moving much faster to use consumer technologies for work than most IT shops are moving to support them. Here are two stats:

  1. IT underestimated the number of workers using consumer devices for work by 50%.
  2. IT underestimated the number of workers using social networks by almost 40%.

According to the survey, IT not only grossly underestimates the number of workers using consumer hardware, software and services, but many shops are also operating under mobile device policies that have little or no connection to reality: 87% of IT groups said company policy called for workers to source their smart mobile devices from the enterprise, but over 50% of the workers with smartphones and iPads said they bought their devices themselves. And the trend is accelerating: The percentage of employee-owned devices used to access business apps was up 10 points from last year’s study. Over a third of the workers polled use personally owned PCs for work, and nearly 10% use a personal tablet for work, a device that did not even exist a year and a half ago, as IDC’s Frank Gens points out. (Listen to Gens summarize the consumerization of IT survey.)

And, lest there be any doubt, consumer hardware, software and services keep us company (pun intended) wherever we go: About half of the workers polled said they use consumer technologies for work while on vacation; 29% use them while in bed; 20% while driving (eek); and 5% in places of worship.

What’s so hard about supporting the consumer technologies that workers use around the clock? Security is the single largest barrier that IT people cite (83%) to more successfully supporting the worker race to adopt consumer technologies, followed by “viruses from social networks” (56%) and “challenges in developing policies around support and lifecycle management (52%).” About a third of IT workers said the drain on company bandwidth from employees using corporate Wi-Fi was a barrier, and 27% cited the difficulty of building a business case for supporting these technologies.

The sad but not surprising part is that IT knows it’s falling behind in the race by employees to adopt consumer technologies. In fact, true to form (IT folks are nothing if not hard on themselves), IT people reported they are worse at supporting employee-owned (BYOD) devices this year than last year, and worse at integrating consumer technologies.

The good news is that IT gets this. The CIOs we talk to and have been reporting on all year get it, and the workers in this survey know IT cannot be the backward-looking face of the consumerization of IT. The overwhelming majority of IT people polled in this survey are also convinced that consumerization of IT is inevitable and believe it will make employees more productive (70%). They know that business execs expect them to support consumer devices (80%). They also say that consumerization of IT will increase the IT workload (80%).

And that’s kind of the silver lining in this, isn’t it? Rather than consumerization of IT putting CIOs and their IT shops out of business, it makes you busier than ever.


September 8, 2011  8:08 PM

What’s driving product lifecycle management adoption?

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

Siemens held its product lifecycle management (PLM) event in Boston yesterday and, as might be expected, it was replete with customer testimonials on the benefits of using PLM software.

For customer Lexmark, PLM is making it possible for the company to do things better, cheaper faster and greener. By moving from an existing PLM platform to Siemens, Lexmark is saving 1.5 million kWh. The savings are equivalent to the electricity used to power 160 homes or 220 passenger vehicles a year. Who knew PLM was so green?

But after walking around talking to customers, I learned that the benefits were much more about avoiding the cycle of mistakes that happen between product concept and design or engineering and manufacturing.

Companies want to close the communication gaps across the entire product lifecycle. The problem with that is, as one IDC analyst put it, no PLM software covers all the bases: concept, design, manufacturing, engineering, warranty, support and end of life. But vendors are getting closer.

And the benefits are being realized now. Gordon McKechnie, PLM lead for Rolls-Royce, told me that by being able to collaborate in real time with Siemens PLM software, they can use an iterative approach to product design. Instead of manufacturing getting a product that’s 90% finished and sending it back with a boatload of changes, they can now send a product to manufacturing that is 20% done and have that back and forth to avoid some major — and costly — changes in the final stages of product development.

And despite facing a perfect storm — namely, tighter deadlines, the cost crunch and a demand for product innovation for a competitive advantage — enterprises are expected to cut down on mistakes. PLM apparently can make that happen by keeping all the people, processes and technology in synch, literally, since live synchronization and 3-D drawings can be shared and changed in real time.


September 1, 2011  8:24 PM

A gut check on technology hiring turns out to be a gut wrencher

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

Come Labor Day, thoughts turn to IT budgets and technology hiring — or mine do, anyway. So, this week I sent out feelers to CIOs and people who track technology spending and labor statistics. Could they tell me what’s happening? With talk of a double-dip recession heating up just as summer winds down, are CIOs making contingency budgets? Six months ago, some CIOs I talked to were complaining about talent shortages, even a technology hiring crisis, as they moved forward with major projects that had been put on hold. Are they retrenching?

This being the last week for summer vacations, word back has been slow in coming, as you might imagine, and forecasts for the second half of the year are turning out to be ambiguous, or at least insufficient for making broad claims. Gartner analyst Mark McDonald, who probably talks to as many CIOs as anyone in IT, wrote back that industries are more fragmented than ever on technology spending. “It’s not unusual to see two companies in the same industry pursuing different strategies — one investing and the other cutting,” he said in an email.

Gartner’s survey on technology spending and hiring doesn’t get sent out until mid-September, McDonald said, but his intuition is that CIO budgets are pretty solid, mainly because they are “about as low as they can go” after the 15% cuts inflicted in 2007. When Gartner people have asked around about cutting IT budgets again, given the market jitters this summer, “we are getting funny looks back from CIOs,” he said. “CIOs are looking for a clear signal rather than giving a knee-jerk response to the noise.” Keep in mind, he added, that CIOs have something they haven’t had in a long time: new technologies like cloud, mobility and social that warrant investment.

Maybe so, but rumblings are out there. In contrast to the data showing strong technology spending and steady hiring in pockets of IT through the second quarter, there are signs of a slowdown for the third quarter. And analysts from the various think tanks and consultancies, including Gartner’s economics practice, are starting to issue warnings of IT budget cuts.

In the midst of trying to read the tea leaves, my phone rang. It was the CIO of a family-owned chain of supermarkets in the Northeast, with 18 stores and 4,000 employees. The business needs all the IT that a giant supermarket chain has, from point-of-sale specialists and database administrators to a reliable and secure IT infrastructure. He isn’t hiring, he told me, but not so much because of the economy as because of the size of his business: “The skills I need I can’t afford.” So, in recent years, he has outsourced most IT operations and downsized his internal staff to a crew of four, including himself. Connectivity is so much better than 10 years ago that he can do that — “as long as you have good partners.” His main function is vendor management. “I add no value by running servers and doing backup and restore and maintenance. We need to focus on groceries,” he said, adding, “It keeps our profile low.”

I was struck by that. Does he worry that by outsourcing most of IT and keeping a low profile, his company might decide to do away with him and his staff altogether? Well, he comes to the job with 20 years’ experience in the grocery business; but if so, “that’s fine.” he said. “I’ve written myself out of jobs before, where my position did not make sense.”

This CIO’s situation is no doubt different from that of CIOs at large enterprise companies, particularly at companies dripping in profits, as opposed to the low-margin supermarket business. But his focus on adding value to the business, by whatever means — even if that means writing yourself out of a job — seemed like a courageous statement for any CIO these days.


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