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.
When I talked to IT Service Management expert Derek Lonsdale about change-management strategy challenges, he kept coming back to the change management advisory board.
True, the advisory board approval process tends to be too bureaucratic at some enterprises, but the real problem is what happens — or should be happening — before a change request even gets to the board.
Here is a rundown of four ways Lonsdale, service management leader and lean expert in the Cambridge, Mass. offices of the London-based PA Consulting Group, recommends tackling change management strategy challenges.
Define what a change is. A poorly defined change management process leads to way too many low-priority changes going to the advisory board. Is it a change request or a project, for example? If a request takes more than 10 days’ effort, it’s a project, not a change request, and shouldn’t go to the advisory board.
Define emergency change request. If you have a lot of emergency change-requests going before your advisory board, your project managers are doing something wrong. The only valid emergency change request is an outage. A last-minute server request is just bad planning, not an emergency change request. In these cases, the project manager should have to queue up behind everyone else’s requests for similar changes.
Automate change management. The approval process has to be automated. You can have standard changes that should be automated — for example, regular changes that happen every month, such as rebooting a server. “Anything that is repeatable, you understand the risk, it’s the same resources involved in it all of the time, it’s never caused an outage — so therefore, it can be a standard change,” Lonsdale says.
Before a change hits the advisory board, complete all approvals and admin processes. “Too often advisory boards waste a lot of time asking, ‘Do you have the right approvals?’ or ‘Have they said yes?’ A lot of the steps that should have been done before it got to the advisory board don’t get done, and it makes the meeting very ineffective,” Lonsdale says.
Let us know what you think about this blog post; email: Christina Torode, News Director
Sometimes innovation begets innovation. This week, check out a gaming company that took the rather innovative step of eliminating hierarchy in the workplace and found it led to — innovation. On a similar note, see how Harvard’s dabblings in big data have led to some innovative results. If that’s not inspiring enough, this week’s roundup also includes some advice on how to keep your best employees and help shape them into leaders.
- Bosses? We don’t need no stinking bosses. A peek inside gaming company Valve, where a lack of hierarchy and other unconventional business practices are promoting innovation.
- If you happen to be a boss, however, check out this advice on how to retain high-potential employees. Turns out, sometimes it’s the managers of those employees who need coaching.
- And speaking of promoting innovation, Harvard this week released “big data for books” — metadata on more than 12 million books, videos, maps and more from its 73 libraries. The university is looking forward to seeing how the information is used. They’ve already gotten a small glimpse: A group of hackers, given one day and information on 600,000 items, created such things as visual timelines of when ideas became broadly published.
- In a workforce increasingly reliant on management skills, these experts weigh in on why IT leaders of today shouldn’t forget about fostering leadership skills in the next generation.
- Got Mac users in your organization? You might want to watch where they’re sticking their USB drives.
Another week, another potential woe for the CIO?
Tuesday saw the long-awaited/speculated release of Google Drive, joining the world of such cloud storage service offerings as Dropbox and Microsoft’s SkyDrive. Google Drive offers 5 GB of free storage for documents, photos, videos and other data. Additional storage can be purchased for a monthly fee.
But simultaneously with the launch of Drive was the raising of red flags from companies questioning the privacy of data stored with Google. In a blog post about Google Drive, New York Times writer Quentin Hardy said the newspaper has already advised its employees not to use the service.
At issue is how customers’ information can be used. Critics were quick to note that Drive falls under Google’s much-scrutinized, all-encompassing terms-of-service agreement, which allows Google to view and use customer content for its own purposes. The most talked-about term in Google’s service agreement on blogs and in the news over the last couple of days is this one:
When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.
But, as Nilay Patel, writer for website The Verge, points out in some detail, this doesn’t differ much from the terms of Google’s cloud storage service competitors. Its competitors just say it a little nicer. The bottom line, Patel rightly notes, is how comfortable you are with the inherent risks of putting your data into the cloud. Agreements are great, but accidents happen.
Google is always aiming for the enterprise, but experts speculate Drive will mostly appeal to SMBs and the single-consumer market. Still, for flag-wavers, this likely won’t lessen their concern. As IT execs well know, just because you didn’t buy it, doesn’t mean it won’t be used. Sure, there are plenty of cloud storage services out there, but the lure of Drive might be greater, based simply on name recognition. Maybe your users have Gmail or use GoogleDocs and won’t see the harm in trying to sync it all up in Drive. One would hope that most companies would have guidelines in place by now to stem the tide of this kind of shadow IT. And further, knowing these guidelines aren’t always adhered to, would have enough rapport with users that they know why the latest thing might not be the greatest thing for their company.
So, what do you think? Have you already put the brakes on Drive, or do you have a policy in place that (you hope) will prevent the adoption of rogue cloud storage? Is Drive being unfairly picked on just because it’s Google? I’d love to hear your take in the comments or in an email.
For those who haven’t seen the recent Gartner CEO survey, CIOs come across in it as the Rodney Dangerfields of the C-suite. Not a person ever likely to occupy a CEO position, in the eyes of the CEO. Not the person CEOs see as leading their company’s “innovation management program.” Fewer than one in 200 CIOs are considered top executive material by their CEO. As for innovation, about a third of CEOs put themselves at the head of the pack of people responsible for the innovation program at their companies. Only the CFO (with zero votes) ranked lower than the CIO (with 4% of votes) as the person most likely to be leading the innovation program.
These CEO survey findings are sobering, but not as surprising as they were at first glance. I learned from Gartner analyst Mark Raskino that for some reason the poll excluded CEOs in the tech industry, where the path from CIO to CEO is more obvious. As for the poor showing of CIOs as innovation leaders, it’s a bummer — but, again, not unexpected from people with the requisite egos and survival instincts of CEOs. Rather than feel miffed, CIOs are better served if they follow the money.
According to the CEO survey, IT spending holds up fairly well: 40% of CEOs said they plan to increase IT spending in 2012. Where CEOs plan their biggest budget increases, however, is in sales (50%) and product enhancement (46%). Spending on risk management, legal and compliance is another priority (46%). On the other hand, marketing is relatively low on the totem pole (36% and seventh on the list of budget increases) in 2012. And what hardly any CEOs plan to spend more money on is business services (15%) and property and facilities (12%).
Gartner’s advice for CIOs, in so many words?
- Do anything you can to help facilitate and lower the cost of sales.
- Make sure you understand the risks and compliance issues the business faces, and do what you can to rationalize these burdens so the company is not spending money on redundant controls.
- Since IT is considered by CEOs to be more investable than “business services,” banish that term from your IT budget.
- And if you are thinking about expanding your duties by taking on facilities management — an area CIOs are sometimes asked to oversee — run the other way.
Have you had a “taxing” week? Bad puns probably won’t make you feel any better, but checking out our weekly roundup of news bits and analysis just might — it’s totally free. Earth Day is coming up this weekend, so we’ve included a couple of items on eco-friendly(?) technology for your reading pleasure, along with a pair of pause-worthy pieces on privacy.
- Kermit was so right: Apple found out this week it’s not easy even to try being green. The company was put on the defensive when Greenpeace activists climbed to the roof of its Cork, Ireland, data center to protest what they say are shoddy claims about the cleanliness of Apple’s energy consumption.
- Innovation is blowin’ in the wind in Nebraska, where researchers are using eco-friendly technology to create a zero-energy-consumption traffic light system.
- There could be so many good uses for this technology, but for some crazy reason we have our concerns about a chip that lets phones see through walls.
- If the previous item doesn’t make your privacy-loving skin crawl, how about text messages that know where you’re going and where you’ve (allegedly) been?
- And here we thought the end of the world was supposed to come in December!
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.
The role of the CIO, the challenges involved and the way it is changing are always front and center for us at SearchCIO.com. 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
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.
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.
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.