The CIO of the Future: Conductor not Controller

April 5, 2012 Balakrishna Narasimhan

Balakrishna Narasimhan (@bnara75) and Naoki Tsukamoto (@nikes63)

How will the cloud change the future of the CIO?  At Appirio, we have the privilege of working with innovative CIOs who are shaping their own companies as well as the industry as a whole.  Experiences with these early “cloud first” CIOs provides us insight into how the role of the CIO will evolve in the future.

The pace of change in the IT industry is as rapid as ever and has only accelerated over the past few years. We’re now in the midst of a significant transformation of enterprise technology driven by cloud computing,mobility and social technologies. As the world changes, CIOs are losing decision-making power and many are out of the loop about cloud adoption within their own businesses. Yet, CIOs who embrace these new technologies and drive innovation (such as Enterasys’ Dan Petlon or Flextronics’ Dave Smoley) have become true business advisors and changed the role of IT within their businesses. Here’s what we’ve learned from these innovative CIOs.

Become a Conductor, Rather Than a Controller

Shrinking corporate IT budgets and innovative cloud services have made it possible for business users to fund their own cloud projects. However, without early IT involvement those investments, it will become expensive to scale across the company.  Leading CIOs get involved early in cloud projects in order to become the local experts.   Business units will then seek out the advice of these CIOs, providing the CIO with authority to influence the design of how all these cloud services will interact with each other, as well as with legacy systems. CIOs have to have the credibility to implement distributed controls, orchestrate a variety of services, and maintain a cohesive view of what’s happening across the business. This trend was highlighted in a recent Forbes Article by Daryl Plummer, Gartner’s Chief of Cloud Research. 
Focus on Business Outcomes, Rather Than Pure Cost Metrics
These CIOs have recognized that business value is in controlling the vision of outcomes without worrying about who does it.  Traditional measures of success – like reducing headcount or fixed costs – are viewed by the business as low value add.  CIOs that will have a game changing impact on their companies are instead those that can drive discussions on transforming business processes and orchestrate an IT system that can keep pace with the speed of change in their business.  Tim Campos, CIO of Facebook, lives this by focusing his team away from managing the bits and bytes and instead to envisioning what it means to have efficient business processes.  For example, by using cloud-based solutions to manage recruiting and offer letters, his team can focus on business outcomes such as why recruiting cycle times are slowing down and how recruiting processes can be improved to identify and recruit the best talent when it’s needed.  In a traditional IT organization, all IT effort would’ve been focused on planning for capacity to handle inbound applications with little time to think about business outcomes. By using cloud solutions to free their teams from having to expend all of their effort to keep the lights on, these CIOs have been able to break IT out from being a cost center and into business process experts that deliver real business outcomes.
Focus on Your Internal Customers AND Your Business’ Customers
To deliver real business outcomes, CIOs must have their teams engage with all of their users which includes internal business unit customers but also their end customers.  For example, a CRM solution is not complete when you have delivered a solution that helps sales teams manage their leads, accounts, contacts and opportunities. A true CRM solution is one that brings together a complete view of the customer to every interaction that the customer has with the company. Doing this involves bringing together multiple internal applications (sales, support, services, etc) as well as external applications (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, etc.) and creating solutions that bring the right information to the user at the right time. The shift is in thinking – not only about the person who will use the solution within the enterprise but also about the end-customer being served. The CIO of the future spends just as much time thinking about the company’s network of stakeholders and how to best engage with them using technology as they do thinking about internal users.
Embrace Consumerization, Rather Than Fighting it
With the broad consumer adoption of devices like the iPhone and iPad, and applications like LinkedIn, Dropbox, Twitter, Evernote and many others, the paradigm of applications in the enterprise is changing dramatically. There are two takeaways for CIOs. First, this is a wave that cannot be controlled – employees will bring their own devices to work. Second, CIOs need to make sure the solutions they provide integrate with and provide a user experience that’s comparable to these applications that employees want to use. This means that CIOs and anyone who is developing enterprise applications need to focus on the user and find out how to create simple and compelling applications that fit within the user’s work process. The days of applications whose user interface stems from the way they store data is over. People will ignore applications that are hard to use and aren’t available on their favorite devices. While CIOs may be able to mandate usage of a small fraction of applications, in most cases applications will need to stand on their own merits.  As a result, leading CIOs and IT departments are increasingly focused on what their users are trying to do and working with them iteratively to build what they need, rather than designing applications purely as systems of record. Of course this doesn’t mean throwing out what you have and starting from scratch but it does mean looking at current systems of record and understanding how the data and transactions they storecan be surfaced in new ways to engage end-users.
Extend Your Team with Crowdsourcing, Rather Than Increasing Headcount
The cloud has changed the way information technology is delivered to enterprises. Now, any company with a browser and an internet connection can access compute power, storage, and  applications as needed. However, when it comes to enterprise development, even cloud development, companies are still using traditional resourcing models. The standardization and public APIs that cloud platforms provide make it possible to work differently. Since everyone is working on the same platforms with the same APIs, it’s possible for anyone to spec an application and tap into a global pool of developers to fulfill that request.  Last year, Appirio launched CloudSpokes, a cloud-focused developer community with more than 37,000 developers available on demand to every enterprise. For example, a customer of ours wanted to build a mobile application to scan attendees at their events. Rather than trying to hire a team of mobile developers, they used CloudSpokes to build out an application in a matter of weeks for a total cost of
Ultimately, the CIO of the future focuses on users, customers and business outcomes, rather than on keeping the lights on. This is what IT departments have always aspired to, but now both the technology and the community are in place to enable this vision!

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