Thursday, October 20, 2011

IT Leadership: Two Days with Leading CIOs

I'm writing this at Logan airport as I fly home after two full days in Boston, attending EMC’s IT Leadership Council. At it, senior EMC staff were able to spend nearly two full days with a room full of IT leaders from some of the world’s largest and most respected companies.

What made the time unique was the quality of interactions as well as heady topics. EMC’s own leaders and practitioners interacted with our leading customers about  IT Transformation, IT as a Service, managing IT change, and cloud computing futures.  But the conversations were rarely about technology, and did not touch on product at all. Rather, they focused on challenges facing IT today and on IT’s renewed role to support the business.

This was the first time EMC has attempted something so ambitious with such a senior audience. And the results were fantastic -
  • For our customers: EMC was able to share our experience in transforming our own IT, helping to validate many of their approaches. Our customers got to interact directly with our internal consultants and practitioners, and exchange views on best practices, pitfalls and works-in-progress.  And I believe we also transformed our customer’s view of EMC's knowledge and capabilities as an enterprise vendor/partner.
  • For EMC: We had a unique chance to get out of the “weeds” of technical details, and to focus on the high-level business drivers that are really facing (and affecting) our customers. This was a chance to hear the unfiltered voices of the customers first-hand, for two days. Our thanks to them cannot be overstated.
It’s hard to summarize all of the themes from all of the sessions – including dozens of breakouts on various topics – but follows are my personal takeaways and “high points” from many individual and group conversations:

IT transformation isn’t about technology: Almost everyone was in agreement on this. The technology problems can be solved for. But the real barriers to IT reinventing itself lie in the area of new operational and organizational models, evolving roles and skills, and new financial models. Often-heard was “My technology is ready. My people are not”.

IT leader’s focus: To support business agility:
Yes, IT agility and infrastructure agility were still points of conversation. But more important was providing business agility – the ability to help lines-of-business be more productive, more profitable and more competitive. Linking the business case between cloud, IT investment and LoB top-line is becoming an increasingly important strategic conversation for the enterprise.

IT will compete for business: This theme was becoming more prevalent. Users are turning to external service and cloud providers because of pricing and/or convenience. Sometimes termed “shadow IT”, internal IT now has to think of itself as having to “win the business” from lines-of-business. It has to reinvent itself as a competitive internal Service Provider (and/or service broker) to the business. IT is now rarely the only game in town.

Public Cloud isn’t (always) the panacea: There were more than a few customers – mainly banks, government contractors and the like – for whom the public cloud is simply a non-starter, usually due to regulations and compliance needs. But private cloud remained appealing. They were eager to learn more about private clouds and the IT transformation needed to make them productive.

IT must move away from a “hero” culture: IT heroes used to embody all of the organization’s tribal knowledge, and could parachute into a problem and solve it at any time of the day or night. But this SWAT culture has to make way for the “new guard”, consisting of IT staffs trained as generalists, who can work with increasing levels standardization, automation and shared infrastructure. Many practitioners agreed that entirely new staff rewards systems needed to replace those that awarded those with superhero powers.

Marketing? In IT? As IT shifts to becoming an internal service provider that competes for business, it’s also faced with acting like a business unit – replete with marketing functions. And these are skills that are somewhat alien to the organization. They include outbound marketing: publicizing and actively marketing their services to business units to drive demand, and inbound marketing: working alongside customers to identify needs and requirements for future product/service development.

Financial transparency more important than ever: To compete, to forecast, and to model, IT has to know its per-unit costs, whether or not chargeback/showback is implemented.  Knowing capital, operational and incremental costs helps the organization make better buy-versus-build decisions, and allows the rest of the enterprise to make similar decisions about how/where to apply infrastructure. And most important, if/when IT chooses to price services, they do so with detailed information. 

Overall, IT is having “new and unfamiliar” conversations: IT is talking with lines-of business regarding business agility. They are learning about inbound and outbound marketing skills. They are discussing competing against consumer service - and/or brokering them. They are being asked to support any and all employee-provided devices. They’re entertaining buy vs. build for application services.  They are being asked to meet or exceed demand for services… rather than to limit them. And they’re shifting from structured data and heavyweight GUIs to unstructured data using throw-away apps.

Much debate was had over whether IT is going through a Transformation or an Evolution. My answer? Evolution takes an awfully long time.

Event Agenda

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