Guest blog by Gregory S. Smith, excerpted from his recently published book, Straight to the Top: CIO Leadership in a Mobile, Social, and Cloud-based World, second edition. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Reprinted with permission from John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
CIOs today are the primary educators of all things IT for the C‐suite. The technology trends that affect organizations today are being discussed in boardrooms, at watercoolers, and in offices throughout the organization, not just in the IT department. Because of cloud computing, social media, and the consumerization of IT, business professionals no longer are beholden to IT to turn up a new service, launch a new social media feed, or connect a personal device to the institution’s systems, most commonly e‐mail and messaging.
As a result, there are many different interpretations of the complexity and ease of implementation regarding many of the technology trends changing the landscape across the globe today. CIOs must be at the forefront and engage in meaningful conversations with the appropriate professionals, from business and office professionals to the C‐suite to the boardroom, so that decision makers have accurate information about the ease of turning up a new service as well as the risks, the integration requirements, the support costs, and the security implications.
CIOs today must be the teachers to the C‐suite. In addition to fulfilling our day jobs, we’ve evolved to become executive educators—and just in time, before half of our budgets are moved outside IT by 2020. We must become better influencers of technology strategy, spending, and support.
Educating the C‐Suite
Educating the C‐suite is an opportunity to build relationships, enhance trust, and educate at the same time. My research and my interactions with other CIOs across the globe lead me to believe that a winning combination of narrowing the CEO‐CIO gap and changing the direction of effort from operational to strategic is based on the following:
- Teaching the C‐suite and the CEO in particular is done through influence over time.
- Relationships between the CIO and other C‐level executives play a very important role in moving from operational and tactical to strategic IT. Spend time nurturing these relationships.
- Formal relationships are based on trust and respect.
- Respect is achieved through known external and internal perceptions of knowledge, leadership, and accomplishments. You must market yourself and your team’s accomplishments. You need to become an internal sales executive for ideas and accomplishments and an external adviser who shares their experiences, best practices, and lessons learned with others outside your organization.
- Education is a fine art, which is why many simply don’t do it well. A lecture is not educating. Educating is the fine art of influence and sharing of knowledge in a nonthreatening manner. CIOs need to remember that CEOs are some of the most egotistical professionals on the planet. Making bold recommendations and lecturing about the need to use technology A or B to solve a business problem could have a very negative effect and result in a non-trusting relationship. The best professors I’ve ever had taught me a lot. They showed me that caring about why one does something, teaches someone, or recommends a solution is more important than the lesson itself. Thus, teaching the C‐suite is a delicate proposition. Many CEOs might not take kindly, especially in front of others, to the fact that their subordinates are smarter than they are. It’s way too threatening. Balance and tone are the keys.
- If you influence the C‐suite, the C‐suite will influence the CEO. Spend less time trying to teach the CEO personally and more time politely educating the other executives about your ideas and how certain technologies can solve their business problems. These executives will do the heavy lifting by advising the CEO and supporting your position. Suggestions in numbers fare better than lone propositions.
Guest blog by Niel Nickolaisen, CIO at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City.
Over the past 18 months I have noticed a new phenomenon: Some of my most experienced and successful CIO peers have been losing their jobs. These are the IT leaders that taught me how to avoid ERP disasters, how to implement a PMO, on whom I relied to deliver an effective and innovative e-Commerce strategy. These have been some of my go-to people in learning what it means to be a CIO. Yet, they are now looking for their next, great opportunity.
This situation bothered me enough that I decided to do an investigation. I talked with each of my displaced mentors and, in some cases, if I had a good contact, talked with their companies. I wanted to find out what was happening, how the environment had changed, what these incredibly successful IT leaders were now lacking. My CIO friends were as surprised at their situations as I was. They talked about some project and process failures but those were mostly in the past. They thought things were going reasonably well – as well as things can go it IT – and they were pushing the right projects and improving IT operations.
The story I got from their companies was different. In every case, when I talked with the company president or VP of Human Resources, the answer was that the now-former CIO was "not strategic enough." Now, since most people have their own unique definition of “strategy” I pressed a bit more to understand what they meant. It seems that not being strategic enough means not using technology to push innovation forward.
We are not strategic if we are not delivering a mobile strategy, a social strategy, an analytics strategy, and collaboration strategy, and, I suppose, a customer mind-reading strategy. And, all of this in addition to never having an operational or project performance hiccup. That all sounds good and nice but how can we do it?
I try to be “strategic enough” in several ways:
- I meet with my leadership team peers to learn about their short- and long-term plans. I project those plans onto current and future technologies and present back to them ways we can use technology to achieve their goals.
- I conduct a range of experiments to try out advanced methods and technologies before anyone knows they need or want them. We recently finished a little analytics skunk works project that will make a huge difference in the success of our students. No one asked for the project. Very few people knew about the project. We tried some things that failed and then found something that worked. When we unveiled what we had done, everyone thought I was a strategic genius.
- I push for continually improving IT transparency. I want to remove all of the mystery about both IT and technology. I share the status of projects. At the same time, I almost never talk about technology features and functions – I focus my conversations on business goals and drivers for success.
- I invite my business peers to learn about technology with me. If I find an interesting technology that I think will advance our cause, I invite others on the management team to learn about the technology with me. This has led to some interesting reciprocal education. For example, our Chief Marketing Officer now invites me to learn about marketing methods.
- I am always in the “Yes” business (and if you are in the "No" business, get out of it). I actively pursue and say, “Yes” to anything that will make life easier – even if it conflicts with a service I already provide. I had a remote user backup solution – it was hard to use, did not work all that well, and everyone pretty much hated it. When I heard that one office had signed up for a consumer, on-line back-up service, I did not punish them, I embraced the service and made it available. One of the key aspects of consumerization is the wave of lightweight, easy-to-use consumer applications that are now available. I say “Yes” to these whenever I can.
I might lose my job for a variety of reasons but, if I have my way, it will never be because I am not “strategic enough.”
Yesterday was a big day for Research in Motion. First, they did away with that name and will now be known everywhere as BlackBerry. And, unless you live in a cave, you know that they launched the new BlackBerry 10 OS and two new smartphone models to run it.
In the WSJ this week, Barry Libenson, CIO at Land O’Lakes (who let me interview him on how to make the perfect pizza dough a few months ago), said that he is no longer planning on supporting BlackBerrys.
What about you? Does BB10 still have a shot in your enterprise? Why, or why not?
Please share in the Comments section below.
Guest blog by Info-Tech Research Group.
Everything you know about Information Technology (IT) will change in the next five years. Everything. A perfect storm of technology trends (Mobility, Social Media, Cloud, Big Data and Security) is pushing technology beyond the IT department and into the business itself. Did someone in your organization ‘forget’ to tell you about a cloud service they purchased for their department on their credit card? Did they only ‘remember’ you once they needed it to integrate with a core system?
If this has happened to you, you need to change both the value you are delivering and the way you are delivering IT. Your goal should be to get involved in the conversation earlier. To do that you need to be seen as a business enabler, not a business inhibitor. IT used to be asked to “count the beans”. Now your job is to help the business grow more beans.
CIO reality check: If you don’t innovate, you’ll become irrelevant.
Let’s talk about your role in innovation. At one time, you were probably a Firefighter – reacting to problems all day long. In time you established some processes, got your feet under you, and became a Trusted Operator. In a recent study conducted by Info-Tech Research Group, 52% of CIOs still self-identified as Firefighters, 40% as Trusted Operators, and only 8% as Innovators. Imagine the results if you asked their CEOs instead.
If you want to remain relevant you are going to have to cross the Innovation Chasm.
Why does the Innovation Chasm exist? As a CIO, you have been charged with protecting your organization’s valuable assets, and with providing a reliable and stable infrastructure. As a result, you have become the “CI-No”:
- “No, we can’t buy that application you saw in an airplane magazine.”
- “No, we can’t have a new Web site built in two weeks.”
- “No, we can’t do that because it will expose our customer data.”
You could be the CI-No because you were the only game in town: if the business wanted access to technology, they had to come through you. That’s not the case anymore. One of the byproducts of the perfect storm is that the business can now access technology directly from the Cloud without your involvement, and without your knowledge. It happens in companies of all sizes, in every industry, regardless of your IT or security stance. When business has access to that technology, it widens the chasm.
IT has to up its game, and smart CIOs are on a path to help the business use technology to innovate both what they do and how they do it.
Let’s look at this a different way.
Chasms can be daunting, so it’s easier to approach innovation as a series of steps. Traditionally, CIOs have focused on those bottom steps, on helping to get the fundamentals right to provide highly available and highly secure computing platforms that support the business.
But increasingly CIOs efforts have to be focused on the next steps – what we at Info-Tech Research Group call the CIO Sweet Spot. Focus on achieving quick wins in the CIO Sweet Spot to earn a broader innovation mandate. You’ll know you’ve earned your mandate when the CEO, CFO, CMO and other members of the C suite look to you for technology-enabled business innovation that will help them lower costs, increase process efficiency and garner significant revenue gains.
To become an Innovator, you need to challenge your own organizational inertia, stay ahead of trends, and sustain and grow a disciplined process of innovation throughout your company. Info-Tech Research Group’s 3R’s of Innovation were designed to help you meet this challenge.
Reality. A business needs assessment of where you are today, and a mandate of what you need to do to remain relevant tomorrow.
Role. As a CIO, you are lucky enough to have a unique end-to-end view of your business and you should be the driving force behind much of what it takes for your company to innovate.
Results. Innovation does not just happen. It takes focus. It takes discipline. It takes process. We call it institutionalizing innovation. Info-Tech Research Group has a governance model, framework and hands-on tools and advice to help you make this happen in your organization.
By following the 3R’s of Innovation, you will find opportunities to drive innovation within your company, you will position your company for the future, and you personally will be seen as an innovator within your organization, which will reenergize you and give you new opportunities.
Info-Tech Research Group is a practical and tactical research and advisory firm that works with over 28,000 IT professionals to help deliver measurable results. If you would like to know more information about Info-Tech, please contact Jason Esler at email@example.com
Guest blog by MGI Research, excerpted from their State of Enterprise Mobile Apps Report, 2012
It’s not an understatement to say that developing enterprise mobile apps is a challenge. Setting a strategy, determining the right level of investment, creating appropriate metrics, and prioritizing mobile efforts in the next twelve months – this is a tall order to manage successfully. Given the youth of mobile apps, there are few reliable recipes for success, especially for companies looking to deploy on a large scale.
To address this gap, MGI Research conducted a focused study on mobile strategies, best practices, and metrics – The State of Mobile Apps 2012. The results should give every IT executive reason to pause.
With responses from over 250 companies across a range of industries and company sizes, the survey underscores the key drivers of mobile apps. The impetus for investing in mobile apps is quickly shifting from an initial focus on brand building and customer engagement to leveraging mobile apps for revenue generation. In fact, while in general most respondents indicated brand building and customer engagement as being critical or very important, over 70% of respondents from companies that have had a high degree of success in mobile apps rated revenue generation as the primary driver for their mobile investments.
|Over 70% of respondents from companies that have had a high degree of success in mobile apps rated revenue generation as the primary driver for their mobile investments.
The technical priorities are an indicator of where organizations should be focusing their human capital resources and development attention. 88% of study respondents see creating a better mobile app user experience as either Critical or Very Important. For all the hype, creating a corporate app store received the lowest percentage of Critical responses.
The top three budget priorities were:
Multi-platform app development tools,
Building B2C apps vs. B2E and B2B apps, and
Mobile security and privacy.
Looking at annual mobile budgets, those companies who claimed “Huge Success” with their mobile apps initiatives spent far more than the average – they spend $100,000 to $250,000. Ten percent of respondents overall spend over $250,000 annually on mobile apps. The level of spend contrasts with the widely held view that mobile apps are inexpensive, particularly when considering that they are relatively quick to develop – almost 95% of mobile apps are developed in 12 months or less, and nearly 40% are delivered within 3-6 months.
Business units are the dominant financial sponsors of mobile apps (45%), with corporate IT underwriting over 28% of apps development projects. Not surprisingly, there is a connection between successful apps and financial sponsorship – those with the most success engage the business units as the primary sponsor. Even though few companies have a clearly established line-item for mobile apps development and maintenance, especially within IT budgets, clearly this is coming.
Again, it’s interesting to note the relationship between which department is responsible for development and the level of success achieved. When Business Units are the primary developer, there is almost a two to one increase in the level of success. Maintenance of apps is falling on corporate IT – 63% of companies rely on the IT department for mobile apps maintenance.
In summary, the State of Mobile Apps 2012 dispelled a number of mobile apps myths.
Myth #1 – Mobile apps are cheap to develop. While the data indicate this is true in absolute terms, for companies that report having the greatest success, they spend considerably more – up to ten times more in some cases.
Myth #2 – Mobile apps are quick to develop. Yes, apps can be developed very fast, however the most successful companies report taking up to 50% more time than average developing a mobile app with impact.
Myth #3 – Mobile apps are driven and controlled by Marketing. In fact, marketing’s involvement versus the contribution from Business Units and Corporate IT is modest at best. A critical success factor for mobile apps development appears to be the significant involvement of the lines of business (business units), with corporate IT involved as well.
2013 is poised to be a break-out year for enterprise mobile apps. Companies looking for topline revenue growth and new customer acquisition view mobile apps as a key part of their plans. Hiring talent around apps development, especially in the areas of interface development and user engagement, is becoming an IT imperative. And as every seasoned CIO knows, having a strategy for managing the life-cycle of mobile apps – i.e., maintenance and retirement, is essential. In the ever-changing world of mobile apps, it appears that by taking a measured view and having a willingness to invest incrementally more time and money yields the greatest success.
MGI Research serves technology decision makers with independent benchmarking, research, and advisory services. By using proprietary quantitative and qualitative methods, MGI Research helps clients apply data-driven analysis to key strategic, investment, and operational decisions. For more information, www.mgiresearch.com.
View the first installment of CIO quotes from February 2012
"We are trying to get our legacy systems to dance like an elephant."
"You need to figure out if you’re an above the line CIO or a below the line CIO."
"Retention begins before your new employee starts work."
"Cultural changes takes 6 months per layer in your IT organization."
"Getting sponsorship starts with having a track record of credibility."
"You do not want your IT people to be your change agents. You need the business for that. "
from a brand new CIO: "The business wants the nearest, newest brightest shiny object, and right now, I’m it!"
"I feel like I’ve come full circle right back to end user computing."
"If you wait for the CIO to be strategic before you elevate IT to the Officer level, you will wait forever."
"Never confuse effort with results."
"The first 90 days of my new CIO job were like speed dating."
"The IT org of the future will resemble an Accenture consulting organization."
"If you cannot make the case for infrastructure and investments, you will get crushed between the Scylla and Charybdis of legacy and business demand."
"CIOs who struggle with establishing credibility at the executive table are CIOs who have not learned how to lead."
"Go-live day is the start, not the end, of an ERP implementation."
"IT initiatives are won or lost on the strength of the CIO’s relationship with his or her business peers."
"The average executive has an attention span of 4 PowerPoint slides."
"There are no technical solutions to management problems; there are management solutions to technical problems."
from a CFO: "Nobody ever built a monument to a committee"
"We are moving from order taker to order shaper"
"The more simplicity you build into your IT organization, the more complexity you can handle."
" The CIO is the only executive in the company who sees a business process from beginning to end."
"The CIO is one person who cares that everything works together."
"Mobility forces you to rethink your entire business model in a very short time."
"In 25 years we've never seen anything as game changing as mobility."
"Trying to fight BYOD is a losing battle."
"As CIOs, we are agents of alignment."
"You can’t budget-cut your way to greatness."
"I can’t imagine a time when it was more challenging to be a CIO, than today."
"We are no longer the “IT tax”; we drive revenue."
If you have any bon mots of your own, please include them in the comments section below. I’d love to continue growing our collection.
What is the most valuable project, program or innovation your IT organization has delivered in the last 12 months?
It is our ability to ready the organization for business use of smartphones, tablets and mobile applications. These devices are increasingly important to our business, not only for internal users but the wide range of customers throughout our business units.
If you had one piece of advice for CIOs who are embarking on the development and delivery of a mobile application solution, what would you offer?
You need to put yourself in the shoes of the ultimate customer and watch, observe, learn, and understand how they are going to use the device and application, and what functionality they need.
I see a lot of devices and applications developed from an IT perspective. But when developing solutions for your customers, you need to take yourself out of IT and put yourself into a user's shoes and see then how you would react to the application.
Also, be careful about underestimating how different mobility is from anything else you’ve done before. In the mobile world, there are so many other variables to factor into a solution; you can’t possibly understand them until you go through them.
|"Be careful about underestimating how different mobility is from anything else you’ve done before."
What does your IT organization do best, apart from mobility?
We have become very good at putting ourselves in the shoes of the customer and understanding their needs and pain points. We still have a way to go to get where I believe we need to be -- and can be -- in terms of customer service. But the mindset is there to make it happen.
Have you used language -- a motto, a mantra, or a new name to rebrand the IT function?
At Wyndham Worldwide, whether you are a guest at one of our hotels or properties, an internal business partner, or a company associate, our motto is “Count on Me!” So, in IT, we’ve worked to bring that motto into our culture and make it a part of everything we do.
What career advice did you receive at some point in your career, that you think is valuable enough to pass onto others?
Early on in my career, my strong desire was to have an outside-the-U.S. assignment. I was doing quite well in a previous role when my manager came to me and said "Hey, great news! You're going international and you're going to get promoted as a result."
I thought this was great, and in my mind, I was packing for the Alps! I was getting my Swiss chocolates ready. I was thinking of a wonderful European assignment or some great location where I could travel and see all of Europe by car with the kids on vacation.
And my boss sat me down and said, “Well it's not Europe…it’s Japan” And I said, "Japan? But I don't want to go to Japan!”
He said "Listen, Chief, we can keep you here in the U.S. and you can keep doing what you're doing, but we expect major changes in the IT organization. The activities, costs, the spending will be reduced. If you stay here, you are not going to have any opportunities and you are not going to get promoted. You’ve been talking international experience and here’s a move up to the next level. This move to Japan is perfect for you. You may not realize it now, but this is good for you and your career. My advice to you is to accept the gift and take the opportunity." I did, and it was one of the best moves I ever made.
So, the advice is: Not everything that comes your way will seem perfect at first. Just because you can’t see it then, don't miss opportunities that, when you look in the rearview mirror later on, cause you to kick yourself for having passed on them.
How would you describe your own leadership style?
My goal is to build a team of senior people who can work with each other and drive the organization. I like to get to a point where I can turn them loose and don't need to be involved or engaged on a daily tactical basis. But before I get to that point, I tend to sweat the details. I will get personally involved to ensure that projects, support and other things are getting done. Until my leader tells me, "Chief, I've got it,” then I can step back.
Do you have an interview question you ask candidates to see if they're going to be a fit for your senior leadership team?
"What's the one thing -- whether it’s a project, product, or sticky situation -- that you are most proud of, and why?"
I ask that question to get a sense for scale. I get a sense for what motivates and drives candidates as well as what they have accomplished and overcome.
It also gives me a sense of how this person would approach our organization, our team, our work, and our priorities.
If you were not a CIO, what other profession would you have pursued?
I would have pursued architecture – buildings, not technology. I was always great at math, drawing and designing, but not so good at physics. If I were not a CIO, I might have shored up my physics capabilities and gone to a great architecture school and had a great career in this field.
And why did you decide to be a CIO instead?
I decided to become a CIO because I love IT. I love figuring out problems. I love driving solutions. And I love being able to take out mistakes, errors and problems through automation, and take away the manual effort.
About Walter Yosafat and Wyndham Worldwide
As Chief Information Officer for Wyndham Worldwide, Walter Yosafat is charged with working collaboratively with each of the business units to strengthen the IT function company-wide. Yosafat has more than two decades of experience in IT, e-business, and integration planning. Prior to joining Wyndham Worldwide in July 2010, he was SVP, Global CIO and CEO of Americas for Genpact Corporation, a publicly held company that outsources business processes globally. Prior to Genpact, he served as the CIO at Trane Inc., formerly American Standard, a global supplier of HVAC equipment.
One of the world's largest hospitality firms, Wyndham Worldwide's global portfolio includes 7,200 franchised hotels through its lodging segment, which includes familiar brands such as Days Inn, Howard Johnson, Ramada, and Super 8. The company also operates a vacation exchange and rentals segment, which has a relationship with 4,000 vacation exchange and rental properties in 100 countries. In addition, its Wyndham Vacation Ownership segment operates vacation ownership resorts in North America, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific.
Guest post by Thomas Koulopoulos, excerpted from his book, Cloud Surfing.
I just keynoted a gathering of 2000 senior IT execs in Washington DC. As is the case at every IT gathering I’ve been part of for the past five years, the cloud was in nearly every conversation. Yet, most IT professionals continue to characterize the cloud as a way to cut costs and ease the burden of fast changing technology. Even worse, some of the IT professionals that I talk with see the cloud as a threat, as if it were some sort of black hole sucking IT into oblivion.
Guess what? They are right, it will destroy IT unless we quickly shift the attitude and the conversation about the cloud from a focus on IT costs to a focus on business value.
The cloud, as I see it evolving, represents the consummate disruptor to not just the traditional notion of IT as a separate organizational function but also traditional notions about business risk and innovation – and it is IT’s responsibility to get this across by reinforcing the importance and the impact of the cloud, well beyond technology, to leadership.
In fact, whenever a conversation about the cloud begins to lean in the direction of any particular technology, such as E-mail, social networking, cloud computing my first response to point out that these are all just details that may make it easier to define how parts of the cloud work, but they don't get to the heart of how we as individuals and organizations will behave because of the cloud - and it's the behavior of this new cloud-based world order that we most need to understand in order to refocus the value proposition of IT, and build the business models for the future.
|"It is how we as individuals and organizations will behave because of this new cloud-based world order that we most need to understand in order to refocus the value proposition of IT "
First, we need to appreciate that the cloud is a game changer which redefines the notion of business risk, R&D, and so many of the rules about the way we build and run our businesses. At the root of this change is the way that the cloud nearly eliminates the investment required to start a new business or to expand an existing one. What cost me millions of dollars to build when I was creating the infrastructure for services delivery at Delphi Group ten years ago is now available at next to nothing. You can look at that and say it’s a cost issue. But as an entrepreneur I look at it as a risk issue that lowers the bar to experimentation and innovation in a way more radical than any other event in the history of commerce.
Second, please don't confuse the cloud with the Internet. The Internet is just a collection of connections. It is no more relevant to the cloud than phone service is to how you build a business or an economy. You may need phones to run a business, but you don't build your business model around them. The cloud is the foundation for business models that are built on the ability to capture the most detailed nuances of behavior in and create value from them in real time. Whether that’s Google or Facebook or my mobile provider capturing trends in my behavior or the way a company can predict the emergence of new market, the role of behavioral business models that capitalize on the more than 100 billion connections that will exist in the cloud by 2020 is a bastion of opportunity for value creation.
To survive IT has to elevate the conversation about the cloud from the boiler room to the boardroom in order for leadership to better understand one of the most profound shifts shaping the way we do business.
About Thomas Koulopoulos
Tom Koulopoulos is the author of eight books and founder of Delphi Group, a 20-year-old Boston-based think tank that provides advice on innovation practices and methods to Global 2000 organizations and government agencies. He is also an Executive in Residence at Bentley University, the past Executive Director of the Babson College Center for Business Innovation, and past Executive Director of the Perot Systems Innovation Lab, which was acquired in 2009 by Dell Computer.
Tom's eight books include The Innovation Zone, Corporate Instinct, and his most recent, Cloud Surfing.
What is the most valuable project, program, or innovation your IT organization has delivered in the last 12 months?
We recently completed a $35 million ERP implementation for significant part of the business, and it has completely changed the customer experience that we provide. We went from an outsourced model, where we were taking orders through a third party, to doing all of that ourselves through a very sophisticated composite application that gives a personalized experience for the user.
We have also completed other projects that have had an incredible impact on the business. One is providing business intelligence on tablets to 400 sales people out in the field. They are now able to analyze information in ways that they never could before. They can use this information to enhance overall sales success and customer service.
We have implemented a satellite imagery application that allows our sales force to stand in a field or sit at their desks and see what the most productive fields in their territory are, and where the underperforming fields are. The database is updated every day with the most current satellite information. This is pretty cutting edge for agriculture, and it has been great for the farmers’ businesses by improving yield potential.
You talked about a major ERP transformation. What are three critical success factors for an ERP implementation?
I’ve been in IT for more than 20 years, and I don’t think I’ve seen a single ERP implementation that has gone exactly according to plan. But for an ERP to be a success, first and foremost, it has to be business-driven. If the business isn’t embracing the ERP, and it winds up being an IT project, it is more likely to be doomed from the get-go.
The second is that architecture must be well laid out and fully vetted before anyone does any implementation work. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are architecting their solution at the same time that they are coding it.
And the third is to measure everything. You need to measure your existing environment, understand the improvements you would like to gain, then measure the environment after the implementation. If you don’t measure the right things, you will never know if you were really successful. Also, measuring performance on the business side allows you to change certain behaviors. People won’t necessarily change their behavior just because there’s a new system.
|"If the business isn’t embracing the ERP, and it winds up being an IT project, that is more likely to be doomed from the get-go. "
What does your IT organization do best?
In the last two and a half years, we have gone from being a service organization to being a partner to the business. We understand the company’s strategic plan, and we ensure that the technology is in place to make that happen. Not only has this shift generated some significant business results, it’s made everybody’s jobs more enjoyable.
Did you reorganize to make that happen, or did you drive this cultural change in other ways?
Our first move was to reorganize the organization so that it was better aligned with the business and there was accountability at the highest level. The team that reports to me has much more accountability to their respective line of business. We also brought in some new talent. We now measure performance less on whether I am happy with results, but more on whether the business is happy with the results. But at the end of the day, we are only successful when the business says we are, not when I say it.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Everybody who has ever worked with me would tell you the exact same thing. I believe that great ideas come from all levels of the corporation. If you limit your exposure within your organization to your direct reports or one level below, you are missing out on a lot of great ideas and opportunities. I’m not a big believer in big hierarchal structures. I have an open door policy.
I bring my entire team together four times a year so they can ask me any question they want. I believe that they’ve learned over the last few years that there are no bad questions and there is nothing they can ask that will get them in trouble. That level of approachability and transparency is the key element of my leadership style.
What is some advice you received that has helped you in your career?
This was more than 20 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was working at Oracle back in the 1980s when things were moving very quickly and it was a tough environment. I reported to an executive vice president, and remember going into his office and listing out a bunch of challenges I was having. He looked at me across the table and said, “Okay, those are your problems, but what is your solution?” And I realized that I could have come up with a solution, but I didn’t. Instead, I made the mistake of going to him with a bunch of problems without offering any answers to them.
So one of the things I tell my team is that they are closer to the problem than anybody else is and are more likely to have a good idea than I am at first blush. And they probably will have thought about it a lot longer than I have. With this in mind, I ask them to bring me a proposed solution when they encounter challenges.
When you are interviewing candidates for your senior roles, is there a particular question you use to assess their skills?
“Tell me what you would do in the first 30 days if you got this job. What would your strategy and your approach be?” Their answer gives me some idea of how good a listener they are, how strategically they think, and what their approach to management is, especially in the first 30 days, because that’s when people are the most open to changes.
My view is that in the first 30 days, you should be doing more listening than talking. I want to hear them say, “In my first 30 days I’m going to get out there and meet the people in my organization; I’m going to learn how the company functions; I’m going to visit the plants; I’m going to talk to the executive leadership team and understand how the company works.”
I don’t want to hear, “The first thing I would probably do is to restructure the support organization and change out the infrastructure.”
What technology innovation or business trend are you most excited about?
Remember when the big buzz word was “object-oriented programming,” and everybody got excited about it? Now we actually work in service-oriented architectures that are the first usable manifestations of what we were talking about. We’ve been talking about cloud computing and software as a service for the last 10 years. And up until three years ago, it was just time sharing; applications weren’t specifically designed around that model. Today, cloud computing has really arrived, and software as a service has really arrived. These technologies are having a major impact on companies.
I am also excited about mobility. They tablet market is huge. Everybody wants an iPad, and the price point is at a level where we can deploy and benefit from these devices and apps.
The CIO Paradox is a set of contradictions (IT “and” the business, for example) that prevents CIOs from delivering maximum business value. How do you know when you have broken the Paradox?
One sign is when the CEO invites you to report on IT strategy and update the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors is comprised of our members, and our members own our company. I regularly provide an update on how we are using IT to benefit the company and the members who own it.
The other sign is how my PMO team works with their business partners across the company and helps lead projects. We want to show our executive partners—and I believe we have shown—that our PMO team knows not only the IT part of the project, but understands the business as a whole, and can help ensure the overall success of a project, and not just the IT aspect. We have an enormous project that impacts everyone in the company. Someone on my team is in charge of the IT for the project. He works with his business partner and is able to contribute beyond implementing technology, consulting on best practices for business processes.
If you didn’t become a CIO, what would you have done?
If I weren’t a CIO, I would love to run a very successful restaurant somewhere. I love to cook, and my current quest is to make the perfect pizza. I’ve bought a ton of pizza equipment lately, and I’ve been making four pizzas every weekend. I’ve got a mountain of leftover pizza in my refrigerator right now.
What’s the trick to making great pizza?
Believe it or not, it is all about the flour. Most people can get the top of the pizza to be pretty decent. You can put anything that you want on top of the pizza; there’s no science to it. But it is a mistake to assume that the dough is simply a carrier for what’s on top. To achieve the perfect dough is a science, and the first key is called “double-zero Italian flour” which can only be sourced from Italian markets. That’s key number one. The other key is just a brutally hot oven.
About Barry Libenson
Libenson was appointed Vice President, Chief Information Officer for Land O’Lakes in January 2010. Libenson is responsible for aligning Land O'Lakes’ technology strategy with the company's business objectives and he has been instrumental in moving the companies IT resources to a highly efficient, centralized operating company model. Prior to joining Land O’Lakes, he served as Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Ingersoll Rand. Libenson holds a bachelor’s degree in Information Systems from Colgate University and a master's degree in Business from the Fuqua School at Duke University.
For the last 30 years, the goals of IT have been efficiency, productivity and innovation, where the CIO’s role was to make everything faster, better, and cheaper. When businesses were run on spreadsheets, IT could put in a few software systems and deliver some pretty significant value. Along came ERP and CIOs got into project management, business process change and governance. Enter outsourcing, and CIOs put another arrow in their quiver. And now we have cloud, consumerization and mobility -- and a whole new crop of business demands.
Some CIOs I have spoken to lately are getting into product strategy and business model innovation, roles they have not played in the past.
What about you? In this new era of computing, how is your role changing?
Tell us what you think!