CIO as General Manager?

I’ve been reflecting a bit lately about what it means to be a general manager and how that relates to those who manage IT organizations. In the days that I’ve been thinking about this, a post on the same subject caught my eye called Can good IT make great business leaders?. There is a quote in the article that I want to highlight and discuss:

Largely shielded from the real work of the business, IT…

which is a key point in the article. IT shouldn’t be largely shielded from the real work of the business. Instead, it should be part of the business, part of the conversations, part of the planning and certainly part of the solutions.   The mission of IT shouldn’t be something about IT, it should echo the mission of the whole enterprise. If the enterprise makes widgets, then the mission of IT should be to help the business design, make and sell great widgets. If IT has that kind of mission, then it is not shielded from the real work of the business, but it is the real work of the business.

I do think learning the language of the business is important as well as great collaboration and communication skills. In many firms, IT can be a $100M or larger business itself complete with contracts, infrastructure, sales, customer support, engineering and finance responsibilities.  If you are the CIO you should run IT as a business and try to maximize your results with minimal costs.  It seems that if you do these things, then you are on the path towards being a great general manager.

IT Hard Problems

the current IT hard problems are not well-defined

I’ve thought a lot lately about the hard problems in IT.   There was a time that an ERP upgrade was considered about the hardest thing an organization could undertake and certainly those involve a lot of work and time and cost.   ERP upgrades also have a lot of risk associated with them and we’ve heard the stories of blown conversions, delayed conversions, cost overrun conversions and even blown quarters at companies that are blamed on the conversion of an ERP environment.

ERP upgrades and similar large-scale IT projects are certainly hard and require a lot of focus and attention to execute those moves successfully.  However, they are mostly a very advanced project management project.  By that I mean there is a starting point, there are many big and small milestones in between and there is an ending point.  Furthermore, there is a specific set of outcomes from the effort that are either met or not.   In short, it is a well-defined goal that has an end point.  Yes it might take 18 months and 300 people and $15M in costs to complete, but they are rather well-defined.

I think the hard problems today are not well-defined, they don’t have end points and they may not have clear goals.   I wrote earlier about the challenges of managing software licenses and if I expand that into full asset management, vendor management and software license management, then this is an area that is hard to define, hard to keep under control and has changing rules (by vendors).   It is easy to lose track of some parts of our hardware stack as changes take place over multiple locations across the years.   Throw in some M&A activity and it gets worse.   Vendors like to change the way they count licenses over time and they like to change their licensing strategies and policies over time.   In short, this is a very hard area to keep in control.

Security and protecting a companies IP is another example of a hard problem.   The aim is to protect the enterprise and its IP, and while you may think you are doing it well you can’t be totally sure.   You have to keep ahead of organized and disorganized threats, you have to support changing end-point platforms, you have to deal with social threats and just plain carelessness.     You almost can’t spend enough in this area.  The entire universe of security threats is very, very large.

A third area is collaboration related tools and methods.   Today, half the software vendors on the planet are jockeying for leadership in collaboration tool sets and methods.   An IT shop can create a complicated Venn diagram of the overlap between their different tool sets.   Wrong bets can lead a company in a direction that doesn’t end well and might result in expensive conversions later.  And it is hard to decide which direction to go and of course, there are proponents of each solution inside your own company.   I think that Collaboration is one of the keys to an organizations success going forward as the what got us here won’t get us there.    However, it is hard to figure out the road ahead.

The last hard problem I’d mention is around governance of IT and management of trusted agents in the IT setting.   In many recent discussions, I’ve been re-learning how hard it is to solve segregation of duties challenges, authorization/re-authorization/review of trusted agents, and most importantly logging of transactions for trusted agents.   These are not easy problems to solve in a large-scale IT shop.   These are also problems that are hard to define in some cases and you have to think from the perspective of a threat to the Enterprise, much like in the security area.

These ‘hard problems’ are characterized by not being well-defined, having no end point, having changing conditions or constraints and seem to be very complex.   These are the hard problems in IT these days and I think they are harder now than they were 5 years ago.   We need our some of our best people working in these areas.

I told someone recently I’d rather gnaw off my arm rather than do another ERP upgrade.   I’m rethinking my preferences.

Been Out There – Jump In

Sorry for not posting in a while.  I’ve been sick and moving slow.

I did have two conversations with fellow CIOs today and  lately I’ve had more conversations with other CIOs than ever before.   Lots of interest in cloud computing and what we are thinking in that area as well as I have lots of interest in what others are thinking and learning.

It is interesting to me that we all seem to have the same problems, questions, challenges, etc.  We have all made different decisions upstream that have influenced our current states and we’ve implemented different solutions that best work in our environments (or at least we thought they were best when we made the decision).   I think I’ve mentioned before that we in IT tend to pour lots of concrete with our decisions and systems.   Decisions we made 15 years ago are still affecting us (what ERP system are you using?).  Because of that, we need to be careful with the decisions we make today.

I think going to more cloud solutions is a good thing now.   More importantly, I think that IT shops and CIOs need to jump in somewhere and start learning more about what is going on here.   You can’t sit on the sideline for years and wait for all your questions to be answered.  Jump in and start learning.  Get your hands dirty.   Figure out the security issues and the identity management issues and the SLA issues.   You are only going to learn if you jump in.  Remember the expression that fortune favors the bold.

IT is a fast moving space.  If you don’t jump in and start making things happen, you’ll be left behind.    Go for it.  Have fun.   Learn something.   Don’t hide.