Is it me, or this the pace of change accelerating as we speak? I can remember as a kid, the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas just seemed to drag on and on. Christmas would NEVER arrive! Today, as my wife and I follow our time honored tradition of tearing apart the house so we can decorate for the holidays, it seems like yesterday I packed all the tinsel, garland and ornaments away in the closet. It seems like yesterday, the trees were blooming and the grass was greening, now I look across Whitetail Meadow at flurries of snow, the meadow and the forest now shades of brown and grey. Maybe its me and the fact that I have reached the point in life that there is more behind me than ahead, maybe, just maybe, its the world changing at an incredible pace.
Think about how fast technology and communication are changing. In my career, we’ve gone from mainframes that fill rooms, programmed by punch cards, that produce reams of greenbar reports; to client-server, programmed in an alphabet soup of languages, that put the power into the hands of the end user; to the world we live in today with apps, cloud storage, communications so fast our data can be stored anywhere in the world and be instantaneously accessed, with more power in the palm of our hand than the computers just two decades ago.
Even as I sit here writing this blog (ok who knew what a blog was 10 years ago?), I am completely untethered from an cables, in fact I am hurtling down the highway at 70 mph (while my wife drives), fully connected with my Chromebook to Google Drive, my email flowing in and out, my social media streams of Hootsuite, Addvocate, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter all current with the up to the second happenings around the world (anybody remember 300 baud, acoustic coupler modems?). By the way, my cell phone that I am using for my internet connection at the moment is less than six months old and it has already been replaced by a newer, faster, more powerful model.
Over the course of the last twelve months, we have explored many confluences of change impacting technology leaders today. In my series “The CIO is Dead! Long Live the CIO”, we have looked at SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud), along with marketing technology, appification, gamification and other changes. It is mindboggling! How is a CIO, who is responsible for delivering value to the their business, at the same time protecting its informational assets, all the while “keeping the lights on” for millions of dollars of legacy, equipment supposed to keep up?
There are no easy answers (sorry, if you were looking for one, you will have to look elsewhere, but in the mean time...read on), however focusing on three key areas can make the job a bit easier: People, Partners, Platform.
It has always been important to surround yourself with talented people, however, the faster things change around you, it is paramount to have “the right people in the right seat on the bus” (thanks Jim Collins). You have to build a team that has complementary skills to your own, one that wholeheartedly embraces change, and one that is focused on business from top to bottom.
Obtaining and retaining the right people can be incredibly difficult. Bringing people in who have complementary skills to yours can be frightening, they will be better at some things than you are. Perhaps when you are considering technical skills, this is easier to swallow. After all, the last time I wrote code, I used COBOL on a 3270 Terminal. But what if you brought someone in who was better at building relationships than you, or better at communicating than you, or better at visioning the future than you? It could be very intimidating.
Finding people that embrace change can be very challenging, even in technology. There are many who like to hold on to what they know. Case in point: several years ago we changed our email platform. We moved from a traditional on-premise model to a cloud-based model and a non-traditional provider. Two weeks after our conversion, our senior systems engineer resigned. He had always seen himself as an administrator and expert on our prior platform and could not see himself in an environment without that platform. Contrast that with the senior engineer in my current shop who has embraced Recovery-as-a-Service and Infrastructure-as-a-Service and who in a sense has eliminated a significant portion of his job and his comfort zone. He has re-invented himself into one of the city’s top cloud architects.
Creating a business-first focus instead of a technology focus in a team of career technologists begins with you. You must be focused on the business: its issues and challenges; its strengths and weaknesses; its industry trends. You have to get out from behind your desk and be “in the business”, but more importantly, you have to have an environment in which your team is encouraged to get out and be “in the business”. There is no better way to understand the challenges of being a cashier than to be a cashier. Allowing your team the time to immerse themselves in the business will be critical to your team’s success.
I have written a lot over the last few years about partnership. It is a word that is bandied about in our industry quite a bit. Vendors say they want to be your partner. You say you want partners not vendors. What does it really mean? In my post “Three Keys to a Lasting Relationship”, I talk about Partnership, Transparency and Trust. I won’t go into detail here (hey, you could click the link and read all about it), but I want to add, that it starts with you Mr. or Ms. CIO. If you want a partner relationship with your vendors, you have to be the one to start to be transparent and to exhibit trust.
Partners can be an excellent resource to dealing with the pace of change. They are out in the trenches where change is happening, where the new is being implemented, on the cutting edge. They have the scars to prove it. Leverage your partners for the skills you don’t have in-house. Since you already have all the right people on the bus, they are probably skills you don’t want to own, such as legacy systems support; or they are new skills your team has not yet acquired and you need a jump start.
OK, I could have used the term “cloud”, but I would have lost the alliteration of People, Partners, Platform. The lowering cost and the blazing speeds of communication have provided the ability to put your data and applications virtually anywhere in the world. The cloud model has provided the ability to “pay for what you use” to an extent never before possible.
Moving to a cloud-based delivery model (in this instance, I am referring to “true cloud”: someone else’s hardware, someone else’s data center) unlocks two parts of the holy grail of IT: agility and elasticity.
Agility means your team can respond to the pace of change in business and the pace of change in technology. The underlying hardware and OS layer become almost irrelevant, or at the very least, someone else’s headache. Your team can be focused on spending time in the business to learn and understand the challenges. They can be focused on the A-C projects, not the C-F projects (thanks Andrew McAfee).
Elasticity means you can expand as your business expands. It can be done smoothly on a growth curve as opposed to the traditional stairstep approach where you always have too much or too little capacity. However it also provides the ability to contract when needed. I know, no one likes to think about their business contracting, but...it happens...it happens a lot! Having the ability to pay for what you use provides the ability to scale down when needed so you are ready to leverage the next growth cycle when it comes.
While the pace of change is not likely to slow down anytime soon, leveraging People, Partners, and Platform can help you with the peace of mind that you CAN keep up, maybe even stay a step ahead.
This is a continuation of a series of posts titled “The CIO is Dead! Long Live the CIO!” looking at the confluence of changes impacting the CIO and IT leadership. #CIOisDead. Next up “It's a Small World After All - Globalization and the Impact on the CIO”.
Jeffrey Ton is the SVP of Corporate Connectivity and Chief Information Officer for Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, providing vision and leadership in the continued development and implementation of the enterprise-wide information technology and marketing portfolios, including applications, information & data management, infrastructure, security and telecommunications.
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