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Being a CIO Isn’t Fair

Why isn’t being a CIO fair? Because you have to pay attention to both IT and the business, and the business only has to pay attention to the business. It’s like you have twice the work.

It’s even worse than that, though. Your colleagues on the business side don’t really care what you do. They just want to make sure what you do enables them to do what they need to do –  without interfering with their ability to do it. They don’t care about infrastructure – they just want it to be reliable. They don’t care about security – they just don’t want their data hacked. They don’t care about technology – they just want to be innovative. But CIOs have to worry about all of that – the technology and how it affects the business.

I’m thinking about the inequity CIOs face because I recently spent a few weeks meeting with customers across the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Africa. I was lucky enough to see a nice cross-section of today’s IT challenges, talking with executives at various levels within IT, working at companies of various sizes and in multiple industries. Many of these executives have simply gotten over the idea of IT being fair. It’s like saying doctors have to deal with being on call at night – that’s just the way it is in this line of work.

These CIOs have moved to a new level of understanding, of acceptance, to a new place where they don’t talk about how difficult IT is, they just focus on how they can best serve the business. It’s all about transformation, about delivering agility. Some of it is about reducing cost at the same time, but most of it is creating a stage upon which the business can perform, where nobody sees or cares what IT is doing behind the curtain.

Here’s what three transformational CIOs are doing to make the business more agile:

One CIO I met serves a global builder of ships, of all sizes and configurations. In order to serve customers better, the company needed to design quickly, get those plans approved, and begin construction. That required follow-the-sun operations with a combination of in-house and outsourced design, which meant that shared design tools had to be accessible from anywhere in the world. The CIO oversaw the creation of a highly virtualized network with automated access to design applications (and appropriate security based on roles). The result: reduced design-to-build time for customers around the world while maintaining security and privacy for their sensitive data.

Another CIO leads a financial services firm, part of an industry that’s besieged by distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks from hackers around the world. In order to provide the highest level of protection, this CIO deployed a state-of-the-art virtualized architecture – while also rethinking how virtualization and security should work together in specific zones to create better data protection. The architecture incorporates new application design that takes into account both cloud computing and security, in such a way that data is protected. The result: more uptime and protection, with reduced risk of attack. The implementation has been so successful that the CIO is sharing it with other CIOs in the region.

Savvy CIOs are collaborating with their business counterparts on how technology can enhance revenue. At one manufacturer I visited, the CIO is working with the business to expand revenues through new value-added services. The IT requirements included improved connectivity to the cloud and mobile access from anywhere. He supported the effort by ordering significant data center consolidation in order to improve operational efficiencies, driving down costs through virtualization and creating a standardized software-defined data center. The result: more innovative services, competitive differentiation, higher revenue, and deeper customer engagement.

These are all examples of how CIOs moving from defense to offense and transforming their IT roles in order to better align with the business and drive change. What’s the common thread here? The infrastructure – the stage on which the business performs. These CIOs understand the needs of their business. They understand how to link technologies such as cloud and virtualization to make change happen. It’s still not fair that CIOs have to make those transformational connections, and do it without the satisfaction of knowing the business understands and appreciates what it takes to make transformation happen. But these CIOs have been able to improve agility, as well as increase revenues, reduce risk, or both. What they lose out in fairness, they gain in results.

Ramin Sayar is senior vice president and general manager of VMware. He blogs regularly about the ongoing challenges customers face in a changing IT world.

Previous posts in this series:

Five Key Steps Toward Innovation

Shifting from Infrastructure to Innovation

The Inflection Point Looms

Five Key Steps Toward Innovation

In my last blog post, I talked about shifting from infrastructure to innovation. Innovation has always been a key goal of IT, but the pathway to achieving it has never been easy. The cloud has made it easier, but you need a solid foundation on which to build innovation.

Here are five key steps toward building that pathway, best handled in sequence.

Focus on What’s Important. This goes back to the age-old idea of alignment; that is, how can IT best serve the business? Let’s assume you and your business colleagues have worked out the portfolio of services you need to deliver to help the business meet its objectives (of course, that’s a whole separate discussion in itself). The next question is, how should you deliver them? Is it with internal resources or through a third-party service provider? Most CIOs believe that their IT department can handle anything the business can throw at them. But even if it can, should it? Leave ego out of the equation. You should reserve the skills of your IT team for the most mission-critical needs, and outsource or co-source what’s less important.

Rely on Standardization. Standardization is king. Flexibility and choice are nice, but following the 80/20 rule will reduce costs while still delivering sufficient capability for the needs of the great majority of your business partners. Standardize and enable self-service for 80% of the common requests/requirements. Outsource them to the cloud if it makes sense (and not just financially – compliance and security are vital as well). Then leverage your team resources in shared services or infrastructure teams to do the heavy automation and lifting for the custom 20% of projects.

Calculate Your Baseline. To make informed sourcing decisions you have to develop a sound formula for calculating your service costs. Educated guesses and gut feel no longer cut it. You can achieve this through IT financial management tools that automate the capture of your costs (no more spreadsheets!) and allocate them to specific services. Next, compare your baseline to the competition – benchmarking shows how you stack up against your peers and cloud service providers (and how you’re improving over time).  These capabilities are all about confidently making the right sourcing and investment decisions for IT and the business.

It’s All About the Data. No matter where your information lives – on-premise or in the cloud – there’s got to be an easy way to send it back and forth. If you don’t make it easy, you’ll be creating your own bottlenecks. And make sure you develop a cast-iron governance strategy. Just because you don’t control the data in-house doesn’t mean you’re not responsible for it. The flexibility of the cloud bestows great power, and with great power comes great responsibility.

Strive for Visibility and Transparency. I talk to many CIOs who have a definitive mandate: reduce your budget either by real dollars or percentage costs. To do this you need transparency. Think about how you can create a “bill of IT” that clearly states not just what your services cost but who is consuming them. Leverage metering and reporting capabilities to empower a fact-based discussion with your business stakeholders, with showback or even chargeback. This will help you and your business counterparts make better decisions and drive down costs. Use transparency to prove your efficiency – remember, you must be able to show the payoff.

Here’s my recommendation: establish a small, greenfield private cloud deployment for a key line of business and expand from there. Track everything, from costs to ultimate benefits. Show how your investment paid off – that is, how your foundation for innovation enables you to invest limited funds wisely and generate the projected payoff.

Demonstrate that you’ve mastered your costs, targeted business problems, and delivered business value. You’ll have not only created the pathway to innovation, but ratcheted up your reputation within the company.