May 25, 2012  2:30 PM

The revolution is here, but is the CIO’s role about cleaning up the mess?

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

What would the CIO role be without all the hand-wringing over whether it will survive another minute? This week was the annual MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, “Piloting the Untethered Enterprise,” a one-day conference so crammed with provocation, bon mots, covert deal making and rubbernecking (who is that ready-for-TV techie in the next seat?) to make one’s head spin.

Of the sessions I was able to attend, the boldest one was the MIT academic panel, followed by an after lunch free-for-all on big data and analytics that was anything but a siesta. (Look for a piece soon on why CIOs might want to run away from big data.) The three MIT academicians who gave their take on the untethered enterprise are professors, but not exactly of the Mr. Chips variety — beacons of calm in the midst of unimaginable change. They were more like bomb -throwers, invoking all the forces — consumerization of IT, cloud, crowdsourcing, social networking, the voice of the customer, — that are blowing up the enterprise as we know it. In this brave new enterprise, agility trumps strategy and resilience trumps strength. Today, customers should be serving the company (think Facebook’s 800 million users generating content).

I was entranced. As I wrote in my CIO Matters column this week, however, I was also leery of — OK, confused by — how all this will impact the CIO’s role. There was some talk about how pruning and curating will be important as companies try out new things willy willy-nilly, so maybe the CIO role will be defined as master gardener. One of the profs mentioned a childhood friend now at eBay who does nothing but figure out the “checks and balances” between buyers and sellers. So maybe the CIO’s role will be akin to Founding Father. As someone who has done my fair share of time in the kitchen, I would only urge CIOs that the one metaphor you don’t want to embrace in this latest computing revolution is doing the dishes. Check out the column and you’ll understand.

May 23, 2012  12:46 AM

CEOs: CIOs earn seat at the table by creating competitive advantage

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

CEOs — just who do they think CIOs are? Who do they want you to be?

Mobile may be on your mind. Perhaps you have your head in the cloud. That’s all well, good and important to the CEO, as long as you can show you’re adding value to the business and creating competitive advantage.

The theme of MIT Sloan’s 9th Annual CIO Symposium, held Tuesday in Cambridge, Mass., was “Piloting the Untethered Enterprise.” But the strong message coming from a panel of CEOs to CIOs was to make sure you’re firmly entrenched in the business — and all the better if that spot is between the business and the consumer. And, oh yes, that magical word everyone likes to invoke — innovation — came up a lot in association with the CEO’s preferred CIO.

It’s crucial that CIOs have a firm handle on new technologies and delivery systems. Object Management Group Inc. chairman and CEO Richard Soley pointed out that, as enterprises transition into this untethered age, the CIO has to be there to solve all the standard problems — security, for example — for the new wave. But if IT leaders stop there, so might their careers.

“What’s important is, are they involved in the CXO suite’s informal discussions and where the company is going strategically? And are they part of the decision of where the company is going strategically?” Soley said, adding that he likes the idea of CIO standing for chief innovation officer. “Standards are the basis for innovation, and that’s the opportunity for the CIO: to bring in standards both global and local and make changes to the organization.”

Jeffrey Markley, CEO at Boston-based Markley Group Inc., drew a comparison between the CIO and another C-suite member: the CFO. If a CFO functions as “just an accountant,” what does that do for the business? He’s doing his job, a job that needs to be done, but adds no unique value. What CIOs do is critical, but if they stick to the strict definition of the role, they’re going nowhere.

“It’s really up to the individual. We know people in this room who’ve gone from CIOs to chief innovation officers, people who are making changes in the organization,” Markley said. “I want to surround myself with brilliant people who are going to make our company stronger, better and get us into new opportunities and make our customers grow and be happy and want to do business with us.”

Scott Griffith, chairman and CEO at Zipcar Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass., got specific with his expectations. He used his own company as an example of why it’s imperative for the CIO or IT leader to have a seat at the C-suite table. With big-name rental companies Hertz and Avis poised to assert themselves in Zipcar’s business space, information is Zipcar’s biggest weapon in keeping its competitive advantage.

“We know more about our customer than anybody that’s going to enter this business. We did 4 million reservations last year, and shame on us if we didn’t mine all of the information out of those reservations and figure out how to become a better company and drive a better experience and be more profitable,” Griffith said. “Information is integral to all that. [The CIO role is] a seat-at-the-table job, and every company should be picking that up. The top information job is going to be more strategic.”

May 18, 2012  4:58 PM

Really big deals: Facebook IPO and SEC guidance on cybersecurity

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

Unless you’ve been living in outer space (or on MySpace), it’s impossible not to know that today is the day Facebook drops its privacy settings and friends the NASDAQ. News and analysis abound, but we think we’ve picked up a couple of more interesting tidbits on the whole big deal. And, if you’ve got Facebook fatigue, we also bring you some serious stuff about Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) guidance on cybersecurity and not-so-serious stuff about how an app becomes a star. Hope you “like” it.

There are plenty of opinions on what the Facebook IPO will mean for the company’s employees and investors (bigger planes? personal islands?), but this story suggests it could also benefit the data center industry.

Facebook’s tentacles — um, arms — reach every corner of the globe, but who embraces it most? Statistics show Brazil and Bangkok are major fans, but the U.S. still “likes” it best.

And now, for something completely different, and a lot more serious: security. Blogger Richard Bejtlich’s take on why SEC guidance on cybersecurity is “a really big deal.”

Have you ever wondered just how popular an app has to be in order to make it to the top of the app-store heap? Wonder no more. Now if we just had a metric for Tootsie Pops.

And, finally, you think you’ve got big data? That’s not big data — this is big data.

May 18, 2012  12:17 AM

Even a minor lapse in security protocol can lead to major costs

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

Very bad things happen when security protocols are neglected. Just ask Stephen Fletcher, the now-former CIO for the state of Utah. Fletcher was fired by Gov. Gary Herbert this week over the March data breach that compromised the personal and medical information of about 780,000 Utahns. Two of Fletcher’s former employees are under investigation in connection to mistakes that led to the breach.

Somebody fell asleep at the switch — or server, as it were — allowing hackers in Eastern Europe to slip right into the state’s Medicaid database. They slipped out with hundreds of thousands of birthdates, names, addresses and social security numbers, among other useful tidbits. It’s believed that, by exploiting an unchanged default password on the user-authentication layer of the system, they were able to bypass multiple layers of security controls. Yes, a default password cost at least one person his job, more than half a million people their privacy and millions in taxpayer dollars to clean up the mess.

Herbert said he sought the CIO’s resignation because Fletcher lacked “oversight and leadership.” Ouch. Maybe this wouldn’t sound so bad if, as several accounts suggest, Fletcher weren’t so good. Since he was named the state’s CIO in 2005, Utah has emerged as a leader in government tech and innovation, and Fletcher has been credited with leading the state to successful enterprise-wide IT consolidation and centralization. He’s a past president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers and a past recipient of Government Technology‘s “Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers” award. But now a default password overshadows all of that.

Fletcher told Government Technology that the incident was preventable and is an example of why more funding is needed to protect government IT systems. In just the past four months, he said, cyberattacks on the state’s technology system have spiked 600%. But Fletcher also bemoaned the fact that this would overshadow all of the good work done by his department — the cost savings, the consolidation, the presence of more than 1,000 online services for residents.

Whether Fletcher is personally at fault is still under investigation, but he certainly has taken the fall. One would hope security protocols at least existed — if not, the blame surely lies at his feet. If they were in place and employees simply didn’t follow them — well, the blame still falls on Fletcher. In the end, he is the leader in this scenario, and unless it can be proved his team members maliciously left the server vulnerable, it’s his job to make sure they do theirs.

Certainly, this is an extreme example of what can go wrong when security protocols are not adhered to (or are possibly nonexistent), but nonetheless one worthy of every CIO’s attention.  Handling security and compliance is a balancing act and a team effort. Stories like this one are sobering reminders that, while it isn’t easy, steadfast attention to managing information risk has value beyond measure.

May 16, 2012  3:29 PM

Disaster recovery documentation falling short

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

I spoke with a CIO years ago who went around his data center and randomly shut down servers. He did this for two reasons. For starters, if no one noticed that the server was off for a week, it obviously wasn’t needed.

The other, more important reason? He wanted to see how his IT staff reacted.

What DR and BC expert Paul Kirvan has found too often is that a lack of disaster recovery documentation is stymieing the best-laid and expensive – costing into the millions — DR strategies.

It’s not simply that they don’t have disaster recovery documentation, but if they do, people can’t understand it.

In one recent instance, a CIO ran through a disaster recovery scenario, and it went off smoothly, thanks to one all-star on the staff who knew how to recover everything off the top of his head.

“I asked, ‘What if he’s sick of on vacation?’” Kirvan said.

His point is that the documentation has to be simple enough and consistent enough for anyone on staff to be able to step in and recover a system — so simple that, even if your IT staff can’t perform the function for some reason, a non-IT person could.

To help get your staff on the same disaster recovery documentation page, Kirvan suggests checking out disaster recovery software, plan templates and guides, a list of which has been compiled by fellow industry expert Phillip Rothstein.

May 11, 2012  9:44 PM

Of motherhood and mobile strategy

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

As we head into another weekend, we’d like to send best wishes to our readers who are also mothers. Come to think of it, being a CIO or IT leader is a lot like being a mom: Every day brings new challenges and changes, you’re constantly trying to keep everyone satisfied, sometimes you just have to say “no,” and you’ve got to be vigilant about keeping the “household” budget.

This week’s roundup of tidbits from around the Web touches on a few of those aforementioned changes: in what IT is investing in, in the data center development cycle and in mobile strategies.  Still, there are some things that it seems will never change: A floppy disk means “save,” kids. Why? Because we said so.

More proof that your mobile strategy touches pretty much everything you do, and underlining the importance of the CIO’s relationship with the chief marketing officer and the business: Thanks to social media and mobility demands, investment in CRM (customer relationship management) software has jumped from No. 18 to No. 8 in a Gartner Inc. survey of CIO and CEO priorities.

Still not convinced of the importance of a mobile strategy? Even within the slow-grinding gears of government, the call for “mobile first” is gaining traction.

Blogger Greg Ness opines on how the commoditization of network hardware could drive a new data center development cycle.

So, maybe she doesn’t always give you the best directions or particularly accurate weather forecasts. Did you ever think maybe Siri is just meant for a higher calling? Forget the neoprene case — get this lady a lab coat.

It hadn’t occurred to us until we saw this post that, for some computer users, the floppy-disk icon is not “the floppy-disk icon” — it’s “that thing you click on” to save stuff. It says something very interesting about the evolution of culture and language, yes, but mostly it just makes us feel old.

May 10, 2012  9:03 PM

Mobile spending trumps all, seeding a business revolution

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

Call it the triumph of consumerism, or just common sense. Mobile computing is on fire in the enterprise — apps, middleware, tablets — and the proof is in the pesos, pounds, the pieces of eight. Mobile is where the money is, reads the headline trumpeting the new Forrester Research 2012 IT spending report published this week. Mobile spending grabs the biggest share of the rather-modest overall 5% budget increases planned by IT in 2012, according to the report:

  1. 45% of firms plan budget increases of 5% or more on mobile apps and mobile middleware, outpacing business intelligence (43%) and security (40%), the other two top spending priorities. That’s a measurable change from last year’s survey, when between 36% and 39% of firms planned to boost mobile spending on apps and middleware by 5% or more.
  2. On the hardware side, increased spending on tablets was on the agenda for 44% of firms, just ahead of storage products (43%) and server hardware (41%).

The figures are based on responses from IT executives and technology decision makers at 3,752 enterprise and SMB firms surveyed by Forrester from October to December 2011.

Trumps cloud
There are other signs that mobile is where CIO minds are at these days. Despite the ongoing hype around cloud, spending on cloud-based services like SaaS, Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) accounts for less than 5% of IT budgets. Full-time IT staff continues to take the biggest chunk of IT budgets (27%).

The report notes that the increased spending on mobile software and hardware is not just about the money. Mobile computing and consumerism signal a major shift away from IT departments as the commanders-in-chief of technology to the rising role employees play in tech decisions. According to the report, 23% of the IT leaders polled said their business groups wanted to be more involved in IT decisions about technology in 2011, compared with just 6% who saw a decrease in business involvement.

Frankly, based on our reporting on mobility and the consumerization of IT over the past two years, that 23% seems low. CIOs like Rick Roy, just to name but one of the mobile pioneers profiled in our CIO Innovator series, caught the shift early. His meticulously plotted strategy to mobilize CUNA Mutual Group included developing 18 different personas to pinpoint the mobile needs of the insurance company’s 4,000 employees.

What piques my interest lately is not mobile spending, although it is always useful to follow the money. (Or, for that matter, how employees are influencing tech decisions. Old news.) I want to know how CIOs are using their mobile dollars to transform business models at their companies — and in the process maybe even rendering the competition’s models obsolete.

Mobile computing is disrupting tried-and-true business models and centuries-old establishments. The seeds are being planted right now. The decision by Harvard and MIT to offer courses available to anyone who has a phone with an Internet connection is just one recent example. I’d like to hear how you think mobile spending is going to shake up your business. Let me know.

May 9, 2012  4:44 PM

BI? Website relaunch? It’s all about mobile app design

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

Enterprises are outsourcing mobile app design and keeping the names of their partners a closely guarded secret for competitive gain. IT departments are being asked to redesign customer-facing websites with mobile use in mind, and provision desktop apps like ERP and CRM in a mobile environment.

As Karen Goulart, Features Writer for, points out in her story on app dev this week:

Experts and IT leaders believe the real business value in today’s enterprise is being created at the application level — be those apps employee-facing or consumer-facing. They also believe that in this information-on-demand era, those applications need to be part of a mobile strategy.”Nowadays we use those terms, app and mobile app, almost synonymously,” said Michael Le Du, chief technology officer at New York City-based Maxim magazine. “More often than not, when you’re reading or talking about an app, it’s mobile, because that’s really where all the activity is right now.”

Le Du and his development team made their own mobile apps as part of a website redesign, but there is a growing debate about what’s better: build versus buy. A prime example is the case of two hotel chains, one of which developed its own concierge application. But when the author of this story,’s Senior Writer Linda Tucci, brought the idea of mobile app design to another hotel chain’s IT leader, he passed on the idea. He believes any app they need will be developed by someone else. Why bother with the cost of mobile app dev when just about any app you might need most likely will become available commercially?

May 4, 2012  8:24 PM

With tech innovation, countries starting out with less are doing more

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

When is the last time you actually dedicated time to innovative thinking? If it’s taking you a while to answer (or you don’t have time to remember because you’re too busy working), you’re not alone; and it might not be your fault. This week’s roundup of bits from around the Web includes two interesting looks at innovation — reasons why you may not have time for it and places where innovation is the only option. Plus, could your Facebook profile help save a life?

When it comes to tech innovation, a lot of managers talk the talk, but relatively few give their workers time to walk the walk.

Poorer countries are proving that starting with less can be a springboard to tech innovation. Case in point: How India and some African nations — places with little legacy telephony infrastructure — are revolutionizing mobile banking.

You’re willing to share your favorite movies and pictures of your cat, but will you share your organ donor status on Facebook? Experts in the field of organ donation say this bold step in social media could make a world of difference for those in need.

As with any study, we take this with a grain of salt and consider the source, but it’s still a little unsettling to hear the suggestion that 90% of websites using Secure Sockets Layer encryption aren’t entirely secure.

Can you speak up? I’m wearing long sleeves. When art and technology mingle, the resulting body of work can be a little strange.

May 3, 2012  9:22 PM

Is CIO collegiality at odds with gaining a competitive advantage?

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

Who would dispute the importance of gaining a competitive advantage in business? Competition is the mother’s milk of capitalism. A competitive edge — an advantage of one company over another vying to occupy the same niche — is the golden goose of profits, as long as the advantage holds sway. The question is, do CIOs really care enough about gaining a competitive advantage? Or has the tenor of the job — the torrid pace of technological change, the high degree of difficulty in deploying IT, the long tradition of IT as a caring and supporting function — persuaded CIOs that conferring and collaborating with other CIOs makes a lot more sense than not?

Gaining a competitive advantage certainly matters deeply to board members, according to recent Gartner research. Maintaining competitive advantage came out as the top concern of 52% of board members, outpacing 26 other board issues, including cost-cutting, restructuring the business and replacing the CEO. “Nothing else came close,” analyst Jorge Lopez, whose research focuses on CEO concerns, told CIOs at the 2012 Gartner CIO Leadership Forum. Another point that makes the old topic of competitive advantage fresh news for CIOs? Lopez cited growing evidence that when companies lose ground during a recession — say, drop from the No.2 to the No. 4 spot in their markets — they don’t regain their edge, at least until the next financial crisis alters the playing field.

However, when CIOs were asked in one of the Forum sessions whether they tracked how their competitors were using IT to competitive advantage, the majority of CIOs in the room said they did not. They were strongly advised not only to start doing so, but also to find out which competitors their CEOs admired for their use of technology.

The CIO’s responsibility in using IT to gain competitive advantage is a complex topic not given to pat prescriptions, I’m learning. One former IBM-er and IT professor, for example, tells me that CIOs need not be as concerned with what their competitors in the field are doing with IT, as they should be with what the exemplars in the IT industry are doing and “how that might be applied to their organizations.” For this reason, having a strong network of CIO peers is absolutely vital to making IT a competitive advantage in their businesses (although this is a bit of a paradox). Moreover, gaining a competitive advantage derived from IT nowadays is less about –maybe never about — deploying technology in the company, he said. All that stuff can be copied. Maybe the richer playing field is competing for customers outside the company. His view is that CIOs should focus on working with external customers and clients to find ways in which IT can make the difference for them. Your thoughts? Let me know.

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