April 19, 2012  9:22 PM

Honing IT project management skills? Become master of the obvious

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

Don’t you just hate it when something is so obvious you completely overlook it? It happens to everyone. And it happens to happen a lot when it comes to project and portfolio management (PPM), even among those with sound IT project management skills. Just ask Gartner analyst Audrey Apfel.  She specializes in all the P’s — project management, program management and portfolio management — and  she has some nitty-gritty understanding of the ins and outs of project management skills. But what grabbed my attention most in her recent live Web chat was the not-so-nitty-gritty stuff folks about to embark on projects fail to see and do. If this sounds like you or your organization, don’t feel judged; apparently there are a few things that happen all the time:

Your project isn’t a project. When is a project not a project? When it’s work. Plain old run-of-the-mill work — remember that? It’s the stuff you can do without a whole lot of planning and processes — and perhaps most importantly, without risk. As Apfel put it, this endeavor might need a team and a schedule to be executable, but whatever it is — an application release, perhaps —  it isn’t a project. Why? “Because we’re not worried about it,” she explained.

Your process is inflexible and slow. Well, those are two adjectives that nowadays should strike fear in the heart of any IT organization. But, Apfel noted, many IT project management processes exhibit both traits. The real culprit here is where decisions are made in the prevailing process model — at the top. You might be thinking, but of course! While top-down decision making does reduce the risk of making the wrong decisions, it also can bring the works to a virtual stop while you await that decision. This isn’t really the “old” way of doing things because so many organizations are still doing it. But if they want to keep up, Apfel said, they’ve got to get on board with the world of “change operations.” In this approach, guidelines are set to empower teams to make certain decisions on their own, making the process — hooray! — flexible and faster.

You’re putting the cart before the horse. Apfel insists that many a project management office would avoid failure if it asked this question from the start: What business problem are you trying to solve, and does everyone agree it’s worth the effort to solve it? Too often the “problem” is actually the sought-after solution, she said. She will ask a client what the problem is, and the answer often will be, “We’re standardizing our PPM process.” That’s a solution, not a problem, she noted, and that proverbial cart will go nowhere until the problem is identified.

April 17, 2012  7:11 PM

Quotable quotes on the role of the CIO

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

The role of the CIO, the challenges involved and the way it is changing are always front and center for us at Often these conversations are off the cuff — not meant for publication.

Here are a few such comments that make it clear that when it comes to the CIO role, you need to be flexible and above all have a sense of humor.

“A board member called me and asked me to fix his iPad.”
A CIO at a financial services company, commenting on his relationship with the C-suite and board of directors during a session on building relationships with CEOs and board members at the recent Gartner CIO Leadership Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“A business unit told us they were buying a SaaS application — not to worry about it, they would handle it. They then came back to us and said, ‘Can you please take over this relationship?’ They didn’t realize that the application had to be integrated with a lot of other systems.”
An unidentified CIO attending the Gartner CIO Leadership Forum, commenting on business’ attempts to bypass IT.

“Our users see that they can buy a tablet for around $100 and want to know why we charge them $100 a month to support the device we give them. I let them go out and buy the device they want, and then they figure out why we charge $100 a month to support the one they have.”
An operations manager at a large insurance company, on the consumerization of IT.

“The most challenging aspect of this project I would say was that the business didn’t really fathom just how much work went into it. Sometimes they just assume that we can make anything happen.”
CIO at a manufacturing company, on a major business transformation project led by IT.

“I wasn’t sure it was going to work, but I didn’t let the agencies know that. It did work, but I had a backup plan just in case.”
A county CIO on her first foray into desktop virtualization.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Christina Torode, News Director

April 13, 2012  7:56 PM

The only thing certain for the future of the CIO role is change

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

You may have avoided bad mojo on this Friday the 13th by eschewing black cats, mirrors and ladders; but sorry to say, this week’s roundup just couldn’t help being the bearer of bad news. From big layoffs in the tech industry to big questions about the future of the CIO role, we’re feeling a little like Debbie Downer.  Take heart, however: At least you’re not those guys who’ll be on overnight server-sitting duty at the Olympics.

Two weeks in a row of less than savory Apple news? First it was the Mac Trojan, now it’s an antitrust lawsuit over e-books. Never fear, friends of Steve; top Silicon Valley attorney Gary Reback opines on why this won’t take the shine off Apple, and what the case means for the tech industry as a whole.

Identity crisis, part one: Yahoo scrambles to search for its place among Web users. First step? Cutting 2,000 jobs.

Identity crisis part two:  Sony confirms it will put 10,000 jobs on the chopping block around its One Sony reorganization plan.  Anyone see a pattern?

Tired of hearing the future of the CIO role called into question? So is blogger Andi Mann, who this week offers up Survivor: CIO Edition.  

And speaking of the ever-shifting CIO role, Bank of America replaced its IT chief with a consumer bank executive. Our own Senior Writer Linda Tucci has an interesting take on the BofA shuffle.

For when bad things happen to good data, here are tips on finding the right words to respond to a security breach.

In this economy it’s difficult to  start a sentence with “You couldn’t pay me enough to…” but this IT job at the Olympics probably gets close.  Sweet dreams.

April 13, 2012  2:58 PM

Reading the tea leaves on the CIO job shakeup at BOfA

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

What to make of the news this week that Bank of America has put a consumer banking executive in the CIO job? Marc Gordon, who became CTO and later executive CIO after joining BofA from Best Buy in 2004, has been replaced by Laurie Readhead. According to the Reuters story, Readhead is a 20-year veteran in the bank’s finance and consumer banking divisions, most recently in charge of consumer bank “efficiency efforts and divestitures.”

On the surface, it’s tempting to frame this as fresh evidence that the role of the CIO as chieftain of IT — as czar of computers — is becoming extinct. Now that information is the currency of so many sections of any business, what’s needed in a CIO (whether plucked from the ranks of IT or from business) is someone more along the lines of a solicitous merchant. A super-savvy purveyor and custodian of information who knows exactly what information customers need and want — and, even better, what they don’t yet know they need and want. Think Steve Jobs; think Amazon.

So, is the shakeup in the CIO role at BofA a case in point? A quick look at the paper trail leading up to BofA’s big decision to put a business person in charge of IT suggests the situation is more complicated — and that Gordon’s departure was not unexpected. The bank is planning a massive consolidation of its IT operations, including the elimination of thousands of tech jobs and half of its 55 data centers. A September cover story in Bank Technology News makes it clear the task was not given to Gordon, the CIO, but rather put in the hands of Catherine Bessant, who goes by the title “Global Technology and Operations executive” for BofA. So, the bank certainly needs a top-down commando of technology assets — and a woman is leading the charge.

There’s another interesting aspect to the announcement that Gordon, to quote corporate-speak, is embarking on a “personal change in direction.” Before Gordon left, he was responsible for two important hires: a chief information security officer and a chief data officer — in other words, a protector and a purveyor of information! I don’t know the new CISO. However, I can tell you from a firsthand encounter with John Bottega, the bank’s new CDO, back when he was CDO at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, that this is a guy who takes his job as keeper and dispenser of business information very seriously. (His love of custom suits also suggests he knows a thing or two about retail.) Looking at my blog post, Chief data officers: Bringing data management strategy to the C-suite, made me think that no matter which way companies go on filling the CIO role — super-merchant or IT commando — the CIO job has come to a crossroads.

April 12, 2012  3:53 PM

Some CIOs wary of vendor lock-in with cloud service providers

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

I’ve had my head in the clouds recently. Or I guess I should say, ‘the cloud.’ I’ve been chatting with enterprise IT leaders about which systems and applications they’ve trusted to the hands of cloud service providers. The list runs the gamut. There are the usual suspects — what one analyst referred to as “low-hanging fruit,” like email that seems easy to let go. But even on that front, one IT manager was content to keep things in-house for the very plain reason that it’s working for them. And that was really the key. Sure, it’s a relatively easy decision to outsource email to the cloud; but it wasn’t something that organization needed to do, so they didn’t do it. That very same organization, however, chose to go with a cloud solution for disaster recovery — not exactly low hanging fruit — but it made good business sense.

Interestingly, in all this talk of movement (or non-movement) to the cloud, security didn’t always dominate the areas of concern. I’m not suggesting that worries over security are a thing of the past, but perhaps the comfort level in that area is growing a bit. Maybe there’s a slight warming to the idea that for cloud service providers, ensuring stringent security is paramount — the now-aging adage that “cloud service providers can do security better than you can.” One CIO I talked to just today definitely subscribes to this philosophy and is grateful for it. Trusting his cloud service provider with security, he said, frees up his limited staff for what he views as more pressing issues like data analysis.

What I did hear more about on the cautionary front was vendor lock-in. To be sure, it’s not a new worry. In fact, it was a topic of discussion a few months back at a meeting of the Mass Technology Leadership Council. I just found it interesting that this, in my admittedly limited sample size, stood out. It makes sense I suppose, that even as CIOs get more comfortable with the idea of going to the cloud, they have an out once they’re there. One CIO I talked to plans for this by including a “how locked in will I be?” section on his vendor scorecards during the contract bidding process. For as carefully as you may plan, not everything that goes to the cloud stays in the cloud. Needs change.

What about you? What have you entrusted to the cloud? Are security concerns holding you back, or do you worry about being stuck once you get there? Perhaps it’s both, maybe it’s something else entirely. I’d like to hear what’s on your mind in the comments.

April 6, 2012  8:00 PM

More women in information technology is mission of university prez

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

Short week? Long weekend? Whether you have something to celebrate or are simply enjoying the extra time off, we invite you to take in this week’s roundup of tech bits from around the Web. This week’s pickings include some sobering news about Macs and about Google’s forthcoming augmented-reality glasses, as well as some good news about a university president making it her mission to get more women into information technology.

  • This is not what we mean when we say we want to see more women in IT. Please stop using tech for evil. Or at least for extreme social media creepiness.
  • This is what we mean when we say we want to see more women in IT.
  • Back in February, we linked you up to rumblings about Google’s augmented-reality glasses. This week, Google gave truth to the rumors, officially unveiling Project Glass. Now, here are some techies ready to tell us why they probably won’t work. Who didn’t see that coming?
  • Sorry to break it to you, kids: There is no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny and no Tooth Fairy, and Macs can get viruses.
  • Here’s a simplified answer to a question that sounds simple but is actually rather complex: What is an app?

April 6, 2012  12:27 PM

Analytics technology is racing past our ability to ‘gestalt’ it

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

I am back from Gartner’s Business Intelligence Summit in La La Land, trailing visions of nice light and lollipop palm trees. And of real-life analytics technology r-r-racing ahead, outpacing the experts who are paid to make sense of it. The name of the conference this year was “Analytic Excellence: Transforming Data Driven Decisions.” The emphasis on analytics points to the field’s drum beat del giorno, namely, that the traditional role of BI (business intelligence) — being a reporting function for “what happened” in the business — doesn’t cut it anymore.

Companies might still need to know what they did last year or just a minute ago. The real money, however, is in predicting what is likely to happen in the next minute (or milliseconds, if you’re in financial services) and prescribing a fruitful course of action. For that, companies need to understand and be able to use analytics technology. Indeed, the promise of the Business Intelligence Summit, to quote the brochure, was to provide insight into “the latest analytic applications and information management trends” and into many other topics relevant to achieving analytics excellence.

Latency in L.A.

Yet right from the start, there was evidence of attendees wanting more on BI and analytics technology than the conference could provide. Take, for example, the BI expert from ExxonMobil who walked out of the opening day keynote with me. He was dismayed that time was being spent on an historical review of BI (including having Howard Dresner, the coiner of the term if not the inventor of BI, on stage for a bow) or, for that matter, on a description of analytics, when everybody knows, “The real story is how the cloud is changing BI.” Why weren’t they talking about migration strategies to the cloud? Well, I knew of at least one session coming up the next day on cloud, and there were probably others on the agenda, but clearly that wasn’t soon enough for him.

Later in the day, in a session with the come-hither title of “Mobile BI — Finally!” an audience member actually called out the speaker for presenting old news about mobile BI deployments. The outburst referred to the presenter’s example of an unnamed Canadian hospital deploying real-time BI in clinical settings via iPads. “This is already happening now!” the man said impatiently. Yes, of course, it is already happening, the analyst agreed, and proceeded to decode his own slide. But the attendee’s illogical remark only underscored the problem: Tell me something I don’t know, he was saying. Tell me something I haven’t already heard.

Interestingly, the conference leaders seemed to be aware of the problem — of our losing race to stay ahead of technology. The closing guest keynote was a talk on “How Algorithms Shape Our World” by Kevin Slater. Identified in the brochure as an “entrepreneur, provocateur and raconteur,” Slater talked about how computers are the nervous systems of a networked world. Computers — or rather, the algorithms that live within them — are not just quantifying and stitching together information. They’re actually determining our world: carving underground fiber highways between New York and Chicago so Wall Street can trade faster and make yet more money; forcing journalists to lard their stories — shape the news — with text optimized for search engines (for example, analytics technology) that search engines will pick up.

I don’t know that Mr. Slater said anything that anybody in this audience of highly sophisticated technocrats didn’t know. But he made the point in a way I would guess that many attendees had not heard before: He delivered a poetic meditation on the new ways in which contemporary math is coding ideas of the world and making them real. And here’s the scary part: In many instances, it is coding the world without human supervision, in ways that we can’t read, at least not fast enough. What he didn’t quite say, but what is obvious, is that the chasm between human understanding and the algorithms that run our lives is only going to widen from here on out.

April 2, 2012  7:14 PM

Business transformation and the human touch

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

The overarching theme at Gartner’s CIO Leadership Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz., last week was not just IT business transformation, but overall business transformation and how the CIO can help the business adapt and change in these crazy times.

The word adaptability was the key phrase that I came away with, whether the session was on risk management, gaining a competitive advantage, CEO concerns, mobility or the “humanization of technology” — yes, an actual phrase floating around at the show, and no doubt soon to be floating around in cyberspace.

As Brian Wong, the 20-year-old Internet/Twitter/gaming/social networking/mobile brainiac behind, put it: “Feel or Die.” That was his closing comment for his “Making Sense of It All: Mobile and The Humanization of Technology” keynote.

Through, Wong is having quite an impact on the advertising industry. He is adding a human touch through an application that rewards gamers for doing what they love — playing games. Players are rewarded through gifts (provided by advertisers) that can be used in the “real world” and even re-gifted to a loved one.

In business terms, you can use an “achievement layer” to reward customers, and create interactions with customers that can seem human, even though the experience is Web- or technology-based, he explained. The point being that, well, IT needs to start acting like a human being.

Another keynote by Polly LaBarre, co-founder and editorial director of the Management Innovation eXchange, and a founding editor with Fast Company, touched on this human-touch concept as well. “The Web is the OS of life,” she said. “It’s how we live and breathe.”

Her message emphasized the need to build an organization that is resilient enough to change as fast as the world is changing. How do we make innovation an everyday thing, something that’s part of everybody’s job, every day?

One avenue is by creating a mass collaboration platform, but another important component is to “build an organization that is as human as the human beings that are inside it,” she said.

Again, it all comes back to business transformation. Today’s organizations are not built to be adaptable, to change as your workers and customers change, she said. A lot of people around me at this keynote shook their heads in agreement, and were up for suggestions on how to shake things up a bit. One example LaBarre gave was a company called Cemex. The global building materials company created a collaboration platform called Shift (as in “shift your thinking/actions to innovate”), filled with real-time collaboration capabilities for its 70,000 employees. The employees decide which teams they want to join, and have the power to build an agenda. The end result was rapid change. Within six weeks of rolling out Shift, 500 employees came up with a portfolio of ideas — that were implemented across the organization — to use more efficient and alternative fuel sources at the company.

The CIOs around me liked that idea. The next idea of a “self-managed organization” didn’t go over so well. Morning Star, a $700 million tomato ingredient producer with 400 employees, did away with job titles. No one has a boss or defined roles. A real-time social network is used to hire the people you want on your team and reward your peers for a job well done.

The CIO next to me, who works for a 160-year-old insurance company, laughed heartily at this idea. “It may work for a small company …” More laughs from him. He went on to explain all the political battles that would ensue, and lawsuits.

Still, I think many CIOs — at least the ones I spoke with — did come away knowing that adaptability was a key part of their jobs. How could it not be, when technology itself changes so rapidly? I think in many ways, it’s the business leaders who have to adapt, and not always the IT leaders. Or, as one CIO of a national educational institution put it, “How do we get the business to start thinking more like IT?”

Let us know what you think of this blog post; email Christina Torode, News Director.

March 30, 2012  10:30 PM

Digestible advice on tech innovation

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

To accept good advice is but to increase one’s own ability. So said playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Here at TotalCIO, we’re all about helping our readers increase their abilities. So, in this week’s roundup, we’ve included some advice on how to promote tech innovation and how to write a social media policy. Oh, and if you’re buying a used car — go orange. We’ve also got what looks to be some good news about employment in the IT world: job growth. Sounds good to us.

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in all computer occupations is expected to increase by 22% in the next decade. It’s recommended that such forecasts be taken with a grain of salt because they can’t account for market changes and technology disruptions. But when it comes to the possibility of more jobs, we’ll take it with whatever seasoning necessary.
  • Books, magazines, seminars! Advice on tech innovation is everywhere, and it can be an awful lot to swallow. Here is some innovation food for thought in seven easily digestible bites.
  • Some straightforward advice on writing a social media policy for your company that somehow manages to include Quatrain LI of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. That aspect alone makes it worth the read, wethinks.
  • Finding it harder and harder to find common cause with your younger workers? Well, you both more or less have Trivial Pursuit editions named for you — see!? OK, maybe that’s not enough to get baby boomers and Millennials in your IT organization to get along, but these tips on fostering intergenerational harmony might help. Besides, as our friend Goethe reminds: “Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes.”
  • And finally, why used-car shoppers should lean toward orange vehicles and other odd insights — brought to you by big data.

March 30, 2012  1:59 PM

Teamwork is important, or so say folks at the top

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

There was a lot of talk about teaming at the Gartner CIO Leadership Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz. Two keynotes addressed why teamwork is important — but not just any old teamwork. Technology, business conditions, the economy, the weather — shoot, the whole world — is changing so fast that what’s needed is teamwork on the fly.

One keynote was a riveting tale from sailboat racing adventurer Pete Goss about his hair-raising escapades on the high seas, some of them solo, some with a crew but all of them made possible by — you guessed it — the awesomeness of his teams.

The other keynote was delivered by Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School, a riveting speaker and coiner of the term, teaming. (In fact, it’s the title of her forthcoming book, Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy.) Edmondson’s team-building strategies are based on her far-flung research into endeavors where team work appeared critical to success — actually a matter of life or death in some cases, as in the Chilean mining disaster.

And, because keynotes are supposed to be inspirational — food for thought, if you will, before the wait team assigned to the event serves the actual food — both speakers offered something for CIOs to chew on. Here are some of their observations on why team work is important, on the quality of leadership required to bring teamwork to the fore and — in the view of your humble blogger — the troubling paradox of leaders talking about teamwork.

“Bad News Meetings” part of team-building strategies

For adventurer Peter Goss, successful teams are defined by people who are prepared “to make their own luck,” meaning luck has little to do with the team’s success. In his racing experience, “70% of the result is put in place before the race begins.” The aim is not to take risks but embrace risk by learning as much as possible about what you are going to do. Knowledge dispels fear.

To obtain the knowledge required to be successful, however, trust is essential. Goss introduced something he called bad news meetings. “Don’t have them, unless you are committed to solving the problem,” he told the audience. And, bad news meetings won’t work unless predicated on “totally honest and open communication.” His were usually limited to four or five people, half of whom came to vent. “Which was good, because it diffused the pressure cooker they felt they were in. The others raised legitimate problems to solve.”

Another adage: your job as leader is to train and delegate until you are no longer needed. That frees you up to take the next strategic step, Goss said. But, “people rise to responsibility only if you give it to them.” He trained and delegated with this proviso: if something seems to be going wrong, he had to hear about it early, “before it became visible.” His teams rolled with the punches the seas doled because they were prepared and empowered.

For all the open and honest communication teamside, Goss said there will be things the leader cannot share with the team. Leaders need to find a mentor outside the group to consult,” he advised, preferably one with similar experience to theirs.

Teaming with power

Edmondson also stressed open communication and trust, arguing against an enduring tenet of business management: pitting one worker bee against another. Encouraging workers to regard each other as competitors rather than collaborators is untenable in a knowledge economy, according to Edmondson. As work becomes specialized and thus more difficult for people outside a given field to comprehend, the importance of teamwork grows. Today, business success requires teaming within and between multiple teams. Successful teams are neither totally top-down nor totally bottom-up but a top-led, bottom up operation. And “psychological safety” — the feeling you won’t be dissed for speaking up — can be the difference between success and tragedy. (Google Rodney Rocha if you doubt how important psychological safety can be.)

For example, getting the miners out required self-organization by the miners below ground; technical ingenuity above ground; and the backing of senior executives unconnected to the mining operation, namely Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and his dashing Mining Minister Laurence Golborne. Both were warned against associating themselves with an event that could only end in failure. Edmondson argued that a similar teaming structure was critical to the building of the National Aquatic Center in Beijing, popularly known as the Water Cube, as well as in a woman-led patient safety initiative at Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota. Teams that do the impossible, she finds, exhibit four characteristics:

  • Real-time innovation
  • Persistence despite failure
  • Process discipline
  • Leadership that supported, took charge when needed and empowered

Keynotes are funny things. By definition they both inspire and inevitably make you feel bad about yourself. Peter Goss is humble in manner. Seeing footage of him as younger man in high spirits even as he is operating on himself on the open seas was fun. The disarming Amy Edmondson, super-confident and attractive, strides the stage, anticipating objections before the audience even knows it has them.

But hearing these two superstars talk about the importance of teamwork when ego got them where they are today — that was a little rich.

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