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Structured Problem-Solving Maximizes IT Effectiveness


Guest blog by David X. Bonnar, Manager, Web & Application Development and ERP Systems, Community Medical Centers, Fresno, CA.

David bonnarOne of the duties of a leader is to grow his people so that they can help improve the organization.  Providing smart people with good tools and techniques makes them better professionals, and that should also help the organization improve while it helps the leader fulfill his mission.

Providing my leaders with structured approaches to different situations and problem sets is key to their effectiveness. Teaching them roadmaps through situations adds value to their career.

Providing tools and techniques to your people requires various degrees and styles of training, and as a leader, you should be ready to teach them (or at least make sure someone is teaching). Helping your team adopt and use tools that are new takes time and repeated exposure.

A Common Language for Problem Resolution

There is one tool set that I’ve found to be equally useful to my technical systems/network staff, as well as my project managers and analysts. This tool is not a product—it is a way of thinking: the Structured Problem Solving Roadmap (SPSR). It also creates a common approach that I can manage to. This means it’s useful to both leaders and followers and is worthy of mastery.

I learned some parts of SPSR in the 1980’s as part of the formal training provided by Novell for their Netware Certified Engineers program (CNE). They wanted to teach an orderly method for troubleshooting complex networks (ok, in 1980 we only had SPX/IPX and networks weren’t as complicated as they are today - -- but I appreciated the tools).  The approach taught was to “cut the problem in two” repeatedly until you thoroughly understood it (Define) and then work to Resolve it.  I fell in love with it as a way to work with my IT staff on problem resolution.  I’m not sure where else it’s been taught, but I am documenting my version of it here for the benefit of the reader.

The SPSR provides a common language and a structured approach for problem resolution. It is a lifelong skill that I have gotten better and better at using over the years. I teach it to others by repeatedly emphasizing the five steps, and asking them to explain where they are in the structured problem solving cycle. 

People at all levels can use a structured approach to problem solving. When they do so, my experience has been that people simply perform their jobs better.

Right when things go wrong, always remember:  Discuss and determine with the team what activity/phase of the SPSR you are operating in at the moment. Start documenting immediately.  You’ll want to review assumptions, activities and results all throughout the problem resolution process.

The Structured Problem Solving Roadmap Process

The five steps of the Structured Problem Solving Roadmap (SPSR) are:

1)     Detect

a)     Detection has to happen before a problem can be tackled.  Most activities around improving the Detect phase happen after the fire is out, but you start thinking about improving Detect immediately upon learning of a problem.  Did you get that?  Even before the problem is solved, be thinking about improvements your team should make to their Detect competence.  This is the leader’s job – get through the crisis, but ponder how to improve at every stage.

b)     Later, during the Prevent phase, perhaps during an RCA (root cause analysis), ask questions like: “How well did we do at detecting?” Once everyone is done assuring you that the detect Detect is flawless, ask “Were we the 1st to know of this problem or did someone else know before we did?”  Here’s the deal: If someone knew before your team knew, then there is room for improvement in the Detect phase. Your team should know before anyone else that something is wrong in their area of responsibility.  In other words, if someone on another team (or a customer) alerts you to a problem, you have two problems! One is the problem, the other is your team’s competence at the detection of problems. Your Detect skills should be so good that they are confused with prevention.

c)     Communicate: Be sure to share the alert around an issue with other responders so that they are aware of who is working to solve the detected issue.  Avoid too many cooks at a critical time.

2)     Define

a)     Don’t try to contain or solve a problem until it is defined and understood. It’s fun to whack moles, but that doesn’t define what the future should look like. People sometimes want to resolve so quickly that they try to skip the definition of the issue.  However, I’ve learned that a formal written definition of the problem is the seed for my later root cause analysis, and for good documentation about how to diagnose similar issues in the future. In other words, a good definition is how we will know in the future if the problem reoccurs, so Define it even if your team wants to rush to solution.

b)     Communicate: Be sure to share your definition of the issue with all involved so that everyone is working to solve the right thing. I’ve had my team send a problem definition out to stakeholders before, and seen it blown to bits because my team only had visibility into a small part of the problem. Communicating out our Define helped us contain, and then solve the actual full scope of the problem, not just our small vision of it.

3)     Contain

a)     Stop the bleeding – quickly, even if temporarily.  In fact, temporarily and rapidly is sometimes best as it stops the panic, and lets people engage their creative side for long term thinking.

b)     Normally, Contain involves workarounds—quick, temporary changes that can involve lots of trade-offs and negotiations about the immediate and longer term impacts of the containment steps. You have to negotiate any tradeoffs rapidly in this phase.

c)     Communicate, let all involved know what the workaround (Contain) actions are, and that the issue is not completely resolved.  The feedback you receive from communication about your containment plan or steps may protect you from missing the mark.

4)     Resolve

a)     The fourth step is to solve the problem for the longer term.  Resolution = Long Term.

b)     Communicate the resolution, and that you are moving on to the Prevent phase of problem solving. Let people know that you know that you need to prevent, even while you take some deserved credit for resolution. Maybe even share the improvements your team discovered about the Detect phase in this announcement. Earn some credit!

5)     Prevent

a)     Leaders don’t back off here.  Respect is earned here.

b)     How do we prevent?  Seems easy but takes focus and commitment.  Most people want to move on, they hate prevention if it requires introspection. Stay with it – there is gold here. In my experience, people are initially annoyed, but they quickly realize that you’re right to focus here and expect written plans and procedural changes. 

c)     While we’re here – go back to phase 1 and ask how can we improve our Detect capabilities/processes for the future? Can we improve our ability to communicate detection (more timely, more clear, the right people, etc.)?  Improving Detect now is almost like free money. It’s all good.

d)     Communicate your Prevent plan. You will be amazed by both the positive comments, as well as the challenges to your Prevent plan that you will receive. Those challenges will refine your Prevent plan, then you can communicate it out again. Continuous improvement!  Trust me – people will know exactly what you are doing that it is the right thing. 

Structure Engenders Support and Respect

I’ve found that people who love excellence expect and support my use of a very structured process for problem resolution/solving. This goes for my own team, as well as for leadership who can see what we are doing.

I continually remind staff to consciously identify which phase(s) of the SPSR they are actually in at the moment. Did you notice that Resolve is the most briefly described step here? It is the most important for the moment, but for the long term, I’d rather focus on asking my people for improvements in detection and prevention any day. I Resolve because I am paid to.  I make improvements in my team’s ability to use the roadmap and to find opportunities for improvement in each and every phase because I care about them, the company and the customer. 

As you use the SPSR, you’ll learn that people can still be in the Define phase, while ideas for Contain and Resolve are being generated. That’s OK.  Just make sure folks agree on the phase we are “mostly” in so they can bring their attention to bear on that phase primarily. 

After the dust settles, lead an “after action” analysis, step-by-step asking “What did we do well, and what could we do better?” in each phase, one at a time, look for improvement ideas.


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Transforming IT Means Transforming Your Team


Guest blog by Rich Richardson, who served as VP & CIO of Peter Kiewit & Sons, a $12 billion construction and engineering company, for five years. Rich is currently founder and president of Unravel-IT, an IT consulting firm.

Rich Richardson, IT TransformationWe CIOs work amid a daunting set of challenges and contradictions, what Martha Heller calls "The CIO Paradox." Our teams need to be as prepared for these challenges as we do. A top CIO priority must be shifting the team’s focus from delivering and maintaining systems at the lowest cost to partnering with business unit leaders to solve business problems. When you add to this shift the increasing velocity of change in technology, we can all recognize a need for a game plan to help our teams be successful.

Soon after I became VP & CIO of a $12B+ construction and engineering company, I presented to the CEO and board of directors a focused technology strategy to lead us toward our goal of creating an integrated construction lifecycle.

During our planning meetings, the CEO said, “Technology should be a differentiator in the way we work and I believe it will be a legacy improvement for us all.” He also said to me, “The company is moving toward total dependence on technology, so be sure that you and your teams are ready for the change.”  He also added, “Oh, and watch the cost!” Who knew that was coming? ;-)

I walked away from the meeting with the following question going through my mind” “How do I develop a team that continuously masters new technology while delivering increasing value to the business, and managing costs, all at the right pace?”

“How do I develop a team that continuously masters new technology while delivering increasing value to the business, and managing costs, all at the right pace?”

I immediately realized that I needed to get organized about “getting my teams ready for our IT transformation.” I started by establishing five key indicators by which I would assess the team’s progress:

  1. Business Engagement – What percentage of time is the team engaged with business partners on technology education and opportunities?
  2. Business Feedback –  Would our internal customers promote our services to others?
  3. Technology “Freshness” – Is new technology being introduced at the pace we’ve targeted?
  4. IT Process “Freshness” – How often are processes evaluated to ensure they meet business needs and are relevant?
  5. Team Development – How much training and development do team members participate in per year on average?

Know Where Your Team Stands

When we started on our journey, our scores across these five indicators were quite low.  Business Engagement was disorganized and unfocused;  some of our technology was 30+ years old and new technology was introduced only when forced by failures and outages; IT processes either did not exist or were so cost-driven that they did nothing to ensure reliability of service; team development activity was random and unstructured.

The organization had not clearly defined job titles, job descriptions or expected performance levels.

Looking at the team’s current capabilities, we found we were solid in the infrastructure and support areas but weak in the software engineering, architecture and leadership skillsets.

We inventoried all current technologies based on fulfilling the total lifecycle of our business. At the time we had well over 1000 applications that were decentralized across the business, mostly custom developed.

Making Transformation Happen

With our performance indicators in place, and knowledge of the status quo, here are the high level steps we took to transform IT -- and the IT team:

  1. Vision: We established a clear vision of simplified business processes and standardized technologies.
  2. Brand: We established a tagline that the team and business could rally around: “OneIM”. It was about being one team focused on delivering technology innovation for the business.
  3. Ownership and accountability: We reorganized the IT department around hardware, software, support and governing disciplines.
  4. Alignment: We developed performance measures based on business outcomes, not directives.
  5. Talent Development: We created a talent development program made up of the following major areas:
      • Process
      • Technology
      • Delivery
      • Support
      • Business acumen
      1. Vendor partnership: We partnered with technology and service providers to generate expertise needed to deliver the IT transformation on time, set a baseline where we wanted to go, and further define our talent needs.
      2. Communication: We implemented a business engagement plan that included communications, technology ownership and performance measurements that ensured a feedback loop, and also generated new business objectives.
      3. Revisit Key Indicators: We continually tracked progress against the five key indicators above. When any of the key indicators needed adjusting, we did so to ensure a continuously improving methodology.


      We are in a time of rapid change in our industry. As leaders we must create a clear path and a set of behaviors for how our teams must operate to ensure both personal and professional success for all during this new age of transformation. For the CIO, this requires the creation of a vision of where IT and the business are going, and communication of your vision through branding and marketing. Results must be reported out to the entire business so that the impact of your team’s efforts is known. Finally, develop your teams so that they become comfortable creating, delivering and communicating amid constant change.

      The Anticipator CIO: Procter & Gamble's Filippo Passerini


      Guest blog by Dan Roberts and Brian P. Watson, excerpted from their new book, Confessions of a Successful CIO (Wiley CIO Series, March 2014).

      Filippo Passerini rndFilippo Passerini is group president, Global Business Services (GBS) and CIO at Procter & Gamble. He and his team of 6,000 deliver services and solutions to the company’s employees in 75 countries.

      Not long after Passerini led the integration of P&G’s IT and services groups to form GBS, one of the largest and most progressive shared services organizations in the world, GBS employees posed an interesting question to Passerini: “Are we done yet?” Passerini’s answer goes to one of his fundamental leadership principles: staying relevant.

      Passerini asks three major questions of his team before undertaking a major initiative.

      The first is, what right does the organization have to win? When it comes to technology, too many CIOs think that buying the latest software or systems will automatically translate to business value. “CIOs will normally think, if I do what is right, it will translate to good for the business. We don’t think so,” he said. “We think you need to start with the end in mind of what is the business value, and then work backwards into all the steps that unequivocally lead to that business value creation.”

      But to get to that value creation, Passerini asks tough questions. Does his organization have better skills? Does his team have more passion?

      The second is, what needs to happen for the initiative to generate that business value? “What needs to be drilled in to be successful?” Passerini asked. He forces his team to look beyond vendor buzz and spin—and also to acknowledge how fast business and technology are changing today.

      “The only thing we’re interested in is being relevant to the business—creating value for the business. What can we do to be more relevant? This is a most critical question, and one that we should ask ourselves every day.”

      The third is the most important: What can go wrong? Passerini says he lives his life by that critical question. And it helps his team understand the concept of anticipating issues before they spring up.

      With those three—he calls them the rocks of his organization—he forces a larger discussion around relevance. “The only thing we’re interested in is being relevant to the business—creating value for the business,” Passerini said. “What can we do to be more relevant? This is a most critical question, and one that we should ask ourselves every day.”

      Confessions of a Successful CIOSo, when asked if the organization is done yet, Passerini points to relevance. Instead of thinking about the huge outsourcing deal that was just completed, he refocused his people on what was yet to come. They still had jobs to do, services to provide. If they could stay relevant, Passerini said, then the organization will prosper. “Our future, our destiny, is in our hands,” he told his team.

      But these weren’t just casual (or popular) words of encouragement. He broke it down further—if GBS gets complacent or becomes a commodity, then they must compete with other providers in developing nations, and in the process, they’ll lose confidence from the business. That’s the opposite of the relevance he seeks.

      “So the question for us is not whether or not there will be more outsourcing,” Passerini said. “The question for us is, what needs to be true for us to stay relevant in the business? Otherwise we’re at the mercy of ‘anything can happen.’”

      To Passerini, relevance needs to come with a certain degree of humility. He emphasizes to his team to not act like know-it-alls, but to also have the confidence to accept more responsibility and the self-assurance to propose innovative ideas to the business.

      There were plenty of positive outcomes from the massive outsourcing deals P&G cut, but for Passerini, perhaps the biggest was the capacity to focus on doing what he preaches the most: adding value to the business. That came with farming out the “mundane” IT tasks so they could focus on more strategic undertakings. “It [gives] us more flexibility, it is more strategic for P&G, it allows us to focus on bigger ideas,” he said.

      “I’ve come to the conclusion that anticipating in life is fundamental to stay in control. This applies across most areas. Think about sports. Skiing, for example. If you’re falling behind, you fall down. If you’re playing tennis, if you anticipate the ball just a bit, you have much more power,” Passerini said. “It’s about anticipating what’s coming. If we anticipate, we stay in control.”

      It all circles back to getting ahead of the business, analyzing the overarching global trends that affect P&G’s business, and creating solutions that keep the company ahead of its competitors. That ability to anticipate influenced his and P&G’s belief in leading any initiative with the outcome they desire. When they know what they’re after, they thrive—they play to win—and that drives how their staff reacts.

      “This is what creates a lot of energy in people—they feel like they’re players, not spectators,” Passerini said. “There’s a big difference with sitting on the sidelines and waiting for the business directions. It requires different skills; it requires an agility and ability to respond. So we spent a lot of time crafting the mind-set, the skills of a successful, progressive, innovative IT professional.”

      They spent a lot of time crafting the exact qualities Passerini has exhibited throughout his career—though, albeit obvious, he’s far more than an IT professional. Ask him about the latest buzzword technology, and he’ll give you an answer you won’t get from most CIOs: “I consider any technology a ‘commodity,’ unless we find a proven and concrete business value.”


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      Leading IT Through Trust and Ownership


      Guest blog by Niel Nickolaisen, CTO at O.C. Tanner, and co-author of the new book, The Agile Culture: Leading Through Trust and Ownership.

      Niel NickolaisenNot to sound too much like an English major but it seems to me that we have arrived at IT’s Dickensian moment. It is either the best of times for IT leaders, or it is the worst of times. Given the accelerating pace of change – change driven by technology – the high expectations of our internal and external customers and the fact that every aspect of the organization now craves technology, it should be the best of times. Everyone needs us like never before. But, if we CIOs do not have our acts together, it could very well be the worst of times.

      How do we make sure this is the best of times? By finding ways to transform our roles and our organizations, then setting a course for continuous transformation. That might sound nice, but how do we do it?

      Leading Through Trust and Ownership

      Over the years I have learned, developed and applied a set of tools that have helped me to successfully lead IT transformation. At their core, these tools create of a culture of trust and ownership. Not trust alone. Not ownership alone. It is the combination that is powerful. When people feel ownership for organizational results and are empowered to deliver those results, great work happens. I cannot create such a culture if I micro-manage. Micro-management kills innovation and motivation. Rather, I trust that my team knows how to do its work.

      The Agile Culture, IT Leadership CIOI cannot be in the business of “how.” Instead, I focus on “what” needs to be done and “why” it is important. Then I get out of the way. I cannot create such a culture if I am the only person who understands the desired results and feels accountable for achieving those results. How many of us have ever thrived in a culture of low trust and low ownership?

      The CIO Cannot Know All

      As a part of becoming a leader who trusts, I accept the reality (and it is the reality) that I, by myself, will never have the answers that the organization or my department needs. No matter how good I am, in our fast-paced environment, I cannot know it all. And, if I don’t know the answers, I need to get them from others. So, in accepting this reality, I become a master of collaboration and of teaching collaboration to others.

      I must also focus innovation on the very few areas that generate competitive advantage. Too often we create unique and interesting ways to do things that will not move the needle in a customer’s life. Our resources are too scare and valuable to waste them on a wide range of important, but not market-differentiating, activities.

      To be successful, I form relationships of trust with pretty much everyone in my professional life: my boss, my peers, my staff, my internal customers and my external customers. What does it take to have relationships of trust? I put purpose over my personal agenda, I keep my commitments and I make it my goal to help everyone else achieve their goals.

      Simplify and Standardize IT

      Because my resources are scarce, I seek out ways to simplify and standardize everything we do. Doing so creates excess capacity that I can apply to meet the insatiable demand that everyone has for technology. For example, why have three CRM systems when one will do? Why create complexity by handling numerous, low-value exceptions? Why not get to and resolve root cause so that the issue never repeats? Over the last two years, we shifted the IT resources allocated to new projects from 28% of staff to 52% of staff. We did that by simplifying processes and systems and by defining and adhering to standards.

      I need my entire IT staff to think “outside / in” by learning about and caring about the lives of our customers. We can do that by walking a mile in their shoes. What is it like to be a call center agent? Spend a day with them and see. What is it like to use the technology we create? Ask to be on the implementation team of our newest customer. This not only creates better context for the decisions we make but also builds those relationships of trust that are so important, which free us up to lead our organization into the technology-driven future.

      CIOs and Managing the Innovation Cult


      Guest blog by Peter Waterhouse, Senior Technical Marketing Strategist at CA Technologies. Peter is co-author of the book Service Management Process Maps: Your Route to Service Excellence.

      Peter Waterhouse, CA TechnologyIf you Google “CIO Innovation” you’ll get about 26 million hits. It seems you can’t have one without the other – they go together like mother and apple pie. Heck, they’re so aligned, we’re now comfortable replacing 'information' with 'innovation' in the CIO acronym itself. So go ahead and search “Chief Innovation Officer” – you’ll be amazed.

      Now search for “innovation” across any technology business website and you’ll find reference to it everywhere. It’s like confetti at a wedding, liberally sprinkled – the magic fairy dust promising business growth, happy customers and productive employees.

      It’s no surprise then that innovation is often illustrated by high-tech examples and mega success stories. Like the iWorld according to Apple and the social universe of Twitter – all strong (but somewhat hackneyed) examples of companies challenging the status quo and bending business models with new disruptive technology.

      The Innovation Problem for CIOs

      So innovation shouldn’t be a problem for the CIO and the IT team, right?  Well it better not be since it’s become such an accepted part of our vernacular that employees, customers and citizens expect and demand it. They talk about it at work – in presentations. It’s whispered in the hallways and debated by the water cooler – all hail the new idol to be worshiped – a new cult is born – Innovation.

      CultThe innovation cult presents a thorny problem for CIOs. Not only pandering to a mass following of devotees (who are now well versed in technology), but also reacting to new demands when people with influence join the movement. And you’ll know they’re part of the cult when the word innovative finds its way into every IT related conversation – usually prefixed by those immortal words “we need to be more…”

      What’s a CIO to do?

      The easiest option of course is to blindly follow the cult by committing the IT organization to delivering more innovation. But there’s a problem. Not every CIO has access to the unlimited talent pool of a Google or Netflix, and even if they did, the operational tax  accrued over the years means much of the IT spend is dedicated to maintaining the “IT plumbing”. Also, just hoping that technology alone will provide the answer is a recipe for disaster. Consider, for example, a large auto insurance company who developed a superb mobile app to connect customers in an emergency to their call center, but who didn’t take into account customers’ have a lot more on their mind than downloading an app after a car accident.

      Challenging or trying to control the cult won’t work either. Tech adoption is happening outside of traditional IT, while the CIO and the IT team is often being viewed in the same context as the IT plumbing (systems and infrastructure) – which as we all now is now in the “easily replaced” category. This latter point is nonsense of course, since the era of massive technology change and disruption make strong leadership in areas such as sourcing, business process change and integration more critical than ever before. But as with any dangerous cult, those of the tech innovation kind aren’t always founded on common sense principles and sound logic.

      So when it comes to managing the innovation cult, CIOs must accept that they’re no longer in the IT plumbing business, but that their primary goal is to facilitate the use of technology innovations to create important differentiators. Those that don’t will wither and die, while those that survive this first critical test will guide the business using plain old fashioned common sense.

      Put Technology Innovation in Business Context

      Common sense starts with understanding the context in which the application of technology can enhance the business. That sounds pretty straightforward, but with  all the innovation rants and raves it’s so easy to get lost in the noise. So imagine for a moment you’re a CIO working in the mining sector and you present an “innovative” BYOD strategy to your CEO – would they really care? But now imagine discussing how the application of low cost industrial sensors (M2M/Internet of Things) in heavy excavation equipment would help increase ore yield potential and reduce capital expenses. Now, that’s what I call an attention grabber. Similarly, imagine working as an IT leader for an airline company and extolling the virtues of a comprehensive new mobile development strategy that will “delight your customers” (another cult like term), then being painfully rebuked because customer service is diametrically opposed to a low cost / no frills strategy. Ouch!

      Understanding business context is only the start. Great CIOs will go much further by challenging what I commonly refer to as the “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. By this, they’ll question the merit of the status-quo and stability by seeking out opportunities for change and disruption - using new technologies, yes, but firmly focused on how they can be “innovatively applied” to increase both business and scope.

      This is a tough journey for many CIOs, involving hard decisions in everything from organizational structure and talent dynamics to agile development, vendor management and sourcing. But all this counts for nothing if you forget the golden rule - today’s technology movement (however innovative and unorthodox) will, like any cult, quickly be superseded by the next shiny new piece of wizardry.

      The innovation cult is dangerous, so avoid becoming enslaved by a word that, in reality, has lost meaning. At the end of the day, results will be measured by your ability to accomplish business results; not your technical achievements. Unfortunately that’ll only get harder as the cult intensifies.

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      Getting Your Global IT Organizational Structure Right


      Guest blog by Dennis Hodges, CIO at Inteva Products.

      Dennis Hodges, CIO, Inteva ProductsTake a $1 billion company that is primarily North America-based, and add a second, company of about the same size, but with sites across the globe, and "Presto – instant success!" Well, maybe, with a few hiccups along the way...

      I have been fortunate enough to work with “global” organizations for most of my career. I’ve seen a number of these mergers and I was never completely comfortable with the models for global IT that I saw implemented.

      Defining Our Global IT Org

      As CIO at Inteva, I've had the chance to define and create the IT organization for a company in eighteen countries on four continents. With the original company, we had basically grown IT from scratch to about thirty-five team members. With the acquisition, we inherited about 115 employees and contractors in a number of sites and with varying backgrounds.

      The first thing we did was layout the strategic requirements of the new company. We had an ERP system to which we would migrate the acquired sites. This would be a total change in network and system support philosphy for the acquired company (we were cloud-based while they were accustomed to on-premise with dedicated support).

      Build a Technology Skills Matrix

      The next thing we had to do was take an inventory of skills, aptitude, and interests of the IT staff. We did this by creating a skills matrix. Each individual was “interviewed” to see what activities they were performing and what they wanted to do longer term. This was critical in areas like ERP support, where everyone knew that there would be only one system going forward. We made it clear that experience dealing with the business operations was more important than any particular system expertise.

      Company leaders "tend to build the management structure from the group of managers that they know and, very often, who work in the same building...It certainly doesn’t send the message that you are a global support organization."

      Finally, we created a management structure that reflected the blended family we had built. This is where many company leaders take a very xenophobic approach. They tend to build the management structure from the group of managers that they know and, very often, who work in the same building. While this may be easier for the executive to manage, it certainly doesn’t send the message that you are a global support organization.

      Hybrid Global IT Organizational Model

      The quandary for any IT organization is how to make the staff feel empowered to do their jobs, but in a globally consistent mode. There are two worlds that tend to emerge: 1) a corporate IT function where the remote staff feel like they are nothing but hands and eyes and 2) the more chaotic world where each site runs autonomously. The first can cause a higher attrition rate than one would want (Who wants to just babysit systems and then call “HQ” when there are problems?). The second can cause serious security issues if someone with inadequate training is managing networks and systems.

      We’ve introduced a hybrid model that is working for us. We focus on global support with virtual teams composed of staff at headquarters and remote sites. For example, our network manager sits at headquarters. His team is composed of staff from India, Europe, and the US. The Indian and US staff are corporate resources, but the European team is borrowed from their other duties at manufacturing locations.

      In another case, our Security team is based at a remote site where the local support team has very little local requirements (other than that someone is on site to manage the sequencing system).

      At this point, my direct reports are pretty evenly split between my local managers and directors in other regions.

      This approach has a number of benefits.

      • First, we have been able to provide round the clock service to the organization without building a large organization. When I say we have 150 people in IT, over 100 of them are located at our thirty-five remote locations. This spread has given us the ability to provide 24X7 support and is being built out to provide similar functionality to other IT services.
      • Second, this has provided our team members with opportunities to learn and expand their capabilities. We’ve stuck to the skill matrix to encourage people to identify what area they would like to grow in and whether they would like to support local, regional, or global clients.

      The critical dimension of the global matrix we’ve built is the regional manager. Each regional manager helps identify the primary business requirements of that area and understands the capabilities and goals of the staff in their region. In that way, they are the 'go-to' people for understanding business requirements in their region. Each Regional Manager is also tasked with a global responsibility (such as rotational leadership of our Change Advisory Board) to ensure that they understand the larger issues of the company and are prepared for new roles as they come up.

      While there are as many possible organizational options as there are companies out there, this model has continued to work for us as it has matured over the past three years. I believe we have seen lower than normal attrition, even in some of the regions where ther is greater opportunity for movement, such as India and China.  And I will stack up this team’s productivity against anyone’s. I am very proud of what our team achieves daily.

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      CIOs Must Disrupt IT


      Guest blog by Ian Cox, excerpted from his new book, Disrupt IT.

      Ian Cox, Disrupt ITFaced with the disruption of their roles, the CIO and the IT function need to change. To survive the perfect storm of disruptive technologies and trends, tech-savvy colleagues, higher expectations, vendors going directly to other executives, business units bypassing the IT function and shadow IT, CIOs need a new model for IT in the digital age. But this new model is more than just another step in the evolution of the IT function; to close the gap between the capability of IT and the expectations of the rest of the business, this change has to be equally, if not more, disruptive in order to create a sustainable and long-term model for IT.

      CIOs need to think disruptively

      Disrupt IT Cox bookcoverDisruptive thinking involves challenging constraints, questioning even the most basic and long-standing of assumptions to create different thought patterns and a new model for IT in the digital age.

      True disruption comes from redefining business models, not business processes. In other words, it is about starting again without being limited by what has gone before, old ways of working and thinking, and legacy solutions and technology. That is one of the advantages companies, and particularly start-ups, have when entering a new market; they do not have the constraints of legacy systems and processes, and ingrained thinking. New entrants can look at markets afresh, identify customer needs and then take advantage of new technology, ideas and thinking to design business models that offer products and services that better meet those needs.

      A new business model for IT

      So how does the CIO disrupt IT? How do they design a new model for the IT function that is not constrained by what IT departments look like today? How do they make a truly disruptive change to the IT business model that forces it from the Service Provider era in which it has become stuck into a model that is fit for the digital age?

      What would a new player in the IT market do? Would they start by buying, building and configuring servers, buying and installing software, establishing service desk and support teams, etc.? Certainly not. In fact, given the way technology and its use within business has changed in the mobile computing era, it is unlikely that someone creating an IT department from scratch for a business in the digital world would ever do those things.

      To create disruption in IT a new entrant would start by identifying what the rest of the business needs from its IT department. It would then design a new business model for IT that met those needs in the most efficient and cost-effective way using the latest technology and vendor offerings, combined with new thinking and lessons from other industries.

      With the gap between the capability of the IT function and the expectations of the rest of the business now so wide, the result of this process would inevitably be a very different looking type of IT function compared to the service provider model that exists today. This new model is also likely to have a more focused role and a clear understanding of how and where it adds value to the organisation.

      An IT function for the digital business

      The range and type of technology products and services has grown significantly over recent years and so has the number of technology vendors. As a result it is now possible for an organisation to source most, if not all, of its technology needs from external service providers. Indeed, this is how most start-ups operate; cloud-based systems are used for everything from finance and HR through to customer relationship management, collaboration tools and content management systems.

      And every day, new and improved devices, applications and services are launched into an already crowded and complex market place. And they are being marketed directly to non-IT functions. So when asked what they need from IT, the rest of the business says that they need their IT department to work with them to decide which products and services are relevant to their needs and to advise how they can be deployed alongside other tools. But they do not expect IT to be the provider of those products and services or to be involved in supporting or administrating them on an ongoing basis.

      The IT department needs to be a partner to the business in the selection process, not the gatekeeper it has been in the past. The days of the CIO alone making decisions about which technologies, tools and systems are allowed into the organisation are over. Decisions about technology need to be made jointly between IT and the relevant stakeholders.

      The business needs IT to act as its broker for technology and services, knowing what is out there, how (and whether) it works, assessing vendors, validating security and understanding service levels. And once a decision to purchase has been made and the solution deployed, the business needs its IT function to manage the technology and service providers on its behalf. The IT function needs to ensure solutions continue to be secure, that service levels are met and integration points with other solutions are maintained. But the rest of the business also needs IT to step back on a day-to-day basis, leaving the other functions free to use the tools, systems and data as they require and without the involvement of the IT department.

      Technology is fundamental to the digital business. It is being used to create new business models, products and services. As the organisation’s technology partner and broker, the IT function needs to play an integral part in the design and transformation of new business models and in creating new and enhanced products and services. The CIO and IT staff need to be capable of engaging in the full business lifecycle, contributing to the discussion and using their knowledge of both the business and technology to help shape business outcomes, create value and increase revenue.

      The new era for IT has started, but CIOs and IT departments are behind the curve and are in danger of being bypassed as a result. CIOs still have time to transform their departments and their own roles but they need to act now. They have to disrupt IT to break out of the service provider model and create the type of IT function needed by a digital business: the technology and service broker.

      IT Resource Constraints, or Too Much Demand?


      Guest blog by Bob Kantor, IT executive coach and author of Shatter Your Leadership Limits - Better Results in Less Time with Less Stress.

      Bob Kantor, IT ConsultantA comment I hear more and more often from IT leaders these days is, “We can’t do that because we are resource constrained.”

      I believe that there are helpful ways to reframe this common situation. Just as the quality of the questions that we ask determines the quality of our answers, the way that we frame our challenges determine the effectiveness of our approaches to solving them.

      So, I’d like to reframe the “resource constraints” challenge. When we see our IT organization’s ability to deliver business solutions as constrained by the amount of resources we have available, then the most apparent solutions look like adding or finding more resources. More often than not that means raiding other projects, asking for budget increases for headcount, or additional project funding for consultants.

      Reframing IT Resource Constraints

      What happens to the way we view our options if, instead of seeing the issue as “not enough resources,” we see it as “too much demand?”

      Does that sound like I'm splitting hairs? “Same problem,” you say? Perhaps. But think about it for a minute… What options do we have when we have the problem of too much demand?

      There is the still the option of going after more resources, just as before. But now we also can consider options for managing the demand that exceeds our current resource capacity.

      One such option is to reduce demand by dropping specific requests for new services, and/or by reducing service levels for existing services.

      For example, if your infrastructure or DBA groups currently provision new servers in 10 business days, what happens to “resource management” when you provision servers in 15 business days instead? If the Help Desk time-to-answer target is 90 seconds, what happens when you increase it to four minutes?

      IT Service Management as a Business Partner Choice

      Please note that this is not to suggest that the IT organization makes any unilateral decisions regarding changes to service levels. With this approach, and the others that follow, the idea is to offer your business leaders business investment choices. Each choice has different investments levels and performance impacts. Each aligns differently with your strategic business drivers and operational requirements.

      The same approach applies to dropping or postponing requests for specific new services or projects. Which requests might be deferred until the following fiscal year, or postponed until a current project is completed? What happens if you force-rank the business priority of all the requests for IT projects and services across the enterprise, and then identify how far down the list of requests your current resource level can take you?

      This approach significantly changes the dynamics of the dialog between the IT organization and all of its constituents. No longer is IT complaining about resources or saying “No” to project and service requests.

      Now, IT is engaging business colleagues in making collaborative business choices to maximize the ROI from the company’s investment in IT. You now have joint ownership of exploring options and making the best collective business decisions.

      Similarly, you can explore changing the scope of new requests so that you can address a larger number of them. For example, instead of rolling out a mobile application interface to all the functions of your legacy ERP system, maybe you roll out mobile access this year to just the most used functions.  

      Manage IT Resource Constraints with Technology Platform Choices

      One more strategy for managing demand, rather than resources, is to consider the impact of different technological approaches to providing services. One way to manage this approach in the past had been the ‘build vs. buy’ decision. Today, we can take that one step further and look at the ‘buy’ approach as SaaS vs. in-house deployment and support.

      While there are certainly more options and approaches for managing the insatiable demand for IT services, I’ve offered these to illustrate a few ways to rethink the challenges related to managing “resource constraints.” I hope that I’ve provided a couple of ideas for reframing your conversations on this topic that result in reduced stress, stronger partnerships and improved outcomes.

      Please post your comments or questions here.

      Bob Kantor is an IT executive with over 25 years of leadership experience at companies like KPMG, Lotus and Ciba-Geigy. He is currently an IT executive coach serving Fortune 1000 clients and members of the CIO Executive Council. He can be reached at

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      CIO 'Selfie:' A Look Through the Eyes of the CEO


      Guest blog by Dr. Lance B. Eliot

      Lance EliotThe Oxford Dictionary declared that the word-of-the-year winner in 2013 was "selfie," the social media self-portrait phenomena that even ensnared President Obama in some controversy when Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron snapped a selfie shot with the President.

      A selfie, though, can be more than just a narcissistic exercise. Now, as the New Year gets underway, undertaking a CIO Selfie can be illuminating and instructive. Take a moment to look at yourself via your smart phone’s camera, and reflect upon how you are perceived in your CIO capacity. 

      I recently had an opportunity to chat with several CEOs about their perceptions of CIOs, and you might find it useful to augment your own internal reflections by the external views that CEOs hold of our vaunted CIO role.

      I’ve boiled down the CEO feedback into three key areas. The numbering of the areas is intended for ease of reference, rather than a priority ranking.

      CEOs Reflect on Their CIOs

      1) Be more politically adroit

      Several CEOs complained of CIOs who lack political savvy.

      One CEO told the story of a CIO who convened an IT Steering Committee meeting and seemingly got blindsided by the CFO about IT budget issues and a major ERP implementation that was underway. The CIO complained afterward to the CEO that the CFO had been unfair. But, it turned out that the CIO had not done his homework and had failed to prep with the CFO before the meeting. 

      "Even though the notion of “politics” is currently eschewed, being politically savvy is part and parcel of success in the executive suite."

      Thus, from the CEO’s perspective, the CIO had not exercised good political judgment. He called an important meeting and did not work out critical issues with his peers before the meeting took place.

      Even though the notion of “politics” is currently eschewed, being politically savvy is part and parcel of success in the executive suite.

      In short, for 2014, CIOs need to improve their politicking skills, which includes having the motions that exhibit political acumen, but that do not overtly trigger the stench of political maneuvering that can then undermine their actions.

      2) Observe the doctrine of absurdity

      For those of you with a passing familiarity with the American legal system, you might be aware of the so-called absurdity doctrine. It states that adhering to the strict interpretation of something is potentially absurd, especially when it violates common sense reasoning.

      One CEO shook his head in disgust as he told me about a recent circumstance involving the doctrine of absurdity and his CIO. The CIO had reworked her IT Service Desk and decided that henceforth, all callers to the IT Service Desk would be treated equally. This was a reaction to some callers that had tried to elevate their priority by either trickery or subtle bribes to get on the top of the Service Desk response heap. 

      Though an “every person is equal” policy may seem fair, in a business environment there are top executives making crucial business decisions and others who should be treated as high  priority. A caller from the sales team who is about to land a big account, and requesting help with their tablet to close the sale, is far more important than the R&D junior staffer requesting a memory upgrade in her PC.

      This new “equality” policy put in place by the CIO seemed to defy common sense reasoning, and the CEO was aghast that the CIO could have purposely instituted such an approach.

      In short, CIOs need to look at their operations and activities, and make sure that common sense prevails and that the doctrine of absurdity does not overtake their heroic efforts.

      3) Be a heads-up team player

      On a day-to-day basis, it is easy to fall into the trap of narrow mindedness, failing to see what is going on around us, or opting to ignore aspects that do pertain to us.

      One CEO described his CIO as having the proverbial head-in-the-sand on a recent rollout that was promulgated by the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). 

      The CMO had pushed hard for a saturation social media campaign (perhaps something akin to actor Will Ferrell’s recent nonstop scorched-earth marketing for Anchorman 2).

      In the case of the CEO’s tale of woe, he lamented that his CIO had stepped away from the CMO, and blindly let the CMO work on his own using powerful technology to execute a social media campaign.

      Unfortunately, the CMO was not especially technically gifted, and the customer file that had been used to do various email blasts got posted onto a web site that was easily lifted by nefarious hackers. 

      The black eye on the company, along with potential lawsuits and legal ramifications, though perhaps not as striking as the recent 40 million swiped credit cards at Target, nonetheless presented a large financial and PR nightmare for the company.

      Had the CIO and CMO worked together, it seems likely that the CIO would have been able to foresee the potential technical hazards and help to secure the valued data.

      In June of this year, I attended one of the first major CIO/CMO Conferences (produced by CIO magazine in conjunction with The CMO Club), and it was readily apparent that gaps still exist between CIOs and CMOs. One way or another, the gap needs to get closed, especially since the rise of social media has increased the ways in which technology can help, or potentially harm, an organization as it pursues new and exciting marketing techniques.


      For some of us, 2013 was not a bellwether year, given a government shutdown in the U.S., Congressional deadlock, sequestration, Obamacare website blow-ups, and the breakup of the Jonas Brothers (well, that last one wasn’t so bad).

      For 2014, some soothsayers are predicting a banner year, including added bipartisan cooperation in Congress, no more government shutdowns in the U.S., the stock market continuing to rise, modest growth in Europe and no large crises within the EU, and further growth of technology and IT budgets (well, that’s a relief).

      Using your CIO selfie, think about 2014 and what you plan to do, both at your job and for your career. If nothing else, try to ensure that you are politically adroit, observe the doctrine of absurdity and practice common sense reasoning, and be a heads-up team player.

      It just might make 2014 a banner CIO year.

      Dr. Lance B. Eliot is a noted IT executive and thought leader. He has written over 200+ articles and columns, consulted with Fortune 500 companies, appeared on CNN, and co-hosted the Technotrends radio show. Previously a professor in business at USC and UCLA, he has served on the Board of the Society for Information Management (SIM), and holds a Ph.D. in business strategy and technology, MBA, and Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. He has been a serial entrepreneur and has served in various high-tech advisory capacities.  He may be reached at


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      IT Business Partner Job Description


      Guest blog by Joseph Topinka, excerpted from his new book: IT Business Partnerships: A Field Guide. Joe is CIO & VP Multichannel Commerce at Red Wing Shoes.

      Sample Job Description

      Job Title: IT Business Partner

      (Other titles for the same role include Business Relationship Manager, and Business Information Manager)

      Department: Information TechnologyIT business partnerships bkcover

      Reports To: Chief Information Officer (CIO)

      General Purpose of the Job: The IT Business Partner (ITBP) has the overall responsibility to serve as the strategic interface with assigned business units or functional area for the purpose of business technology strategy development, solution discovery, service management, risk management and relationship management. The ITBP serves as the business relationship link between business units and IT at the executive level. The ITBP provides highly valued strategic consulting level support and guidance through key IT initiatives. They communicate decisions, priorities and relevant project information to appropriate levels of staff regarding business unit requests and projects and initiatives. They proactively share knowledge of technology risks and opportunities to build competitive advantage and improve efficiency and effectiveness of business units. They partner with business leadership and other key stakeholders to define opportunities and identify and prioritize projects based on predefined criteria (e.g. return on investment, productivity, compliance).

      The ITBP proactively serves as a “trusted advisor,” and is the primary IT point of contact to business line executives and managers. They operate as the key business contact representing IT in promoting IT services and capabilities. The ITBP provides support in delivering technology products that meet the needs of the business. The ITBP focuses on strategic initiatives and planning activities for their business area. They strive to understand market challenges, including customer priorities and competitive issues. ITBPs are proactive and anticipatory in their thinking. They are, by nature, driven and provide significant value to business units. ITBP’s facilitate the investment intake process and the high level planning and execution of business initiatives through the use of technology. They serve a lead role in enabling the business to achieve their objectives through the effective use of technology.

      Related articles on this role:


      • Responsible for the development and implementation of solution roadmaps and to ensure successful introductions across the organization and with customers.

      • Collaborate with management to develop annual budgets for respective business areas.

      • Develop solution concepts and business cases for new investments.

      • Perform business analysis and prepare recommendations and business plans as needed.

      • Create and analyze relevant information and develop recommendations that they present to senior management.

      • Act as the key liaison across all functional areas, including business units, the information technology department, and outside vendors.

      • Possess a broad knowledge of most technical and business resources and use them to effectively coordinate team members and external resources.

      • Create shared vision of their respective solutions and facilitate decision making and arbitration relating to trade-offs both within and between different solution platforms.

      • Develop and implement sound rationale for portfolio management and managing product phase-in-phase-out plans, proactively anticipating gaps and overlaps within the portfolio.

      • Create consensus with other functions as to the timing of solution introductions and withdrawals.

      • Oversee the launch of solutions and help to maximize the positive impact on the organization.

      • Identify, screen and evaluate new solution opportunities to address unmet (internal and external) customer needs.

      • Partner with key staff members to create strategic business plans.

      • Possess strong analytical skills, including an understanding of business economics and financial resources.

      • Utilize the appropriate technologies and ensure that customers have the solutions they need, when they need them, and in the media best suited to their requirements.

      • Collaborate with architecture and operations teams to ensure solution compatibility with company standards.

      • Collaborate with the Project Management Office on the intake process and prioritization of candidate projects across the company.


      • Participate in strategic and budgetary planning processes, prepare and administer work unit operating budgets; provide recommendations on desired policies and goals and implement new/revised programs according to established guidelines.
      • Participate in field research in pursuit of new solutions and to evaluate the applicability and usefulness of current solutions.

      CUSTOMERS (Internal and External), Business Units (e.g., wholesale teams, retail teams, supply chain teams, HR, Finance), and key vendors

      EDUCATION and EXPERIENCE: Bachelor’s degree (B.A. or B.S.) from a four-year college or university or 10 to 15 years of IT and business/industry work experience, with at least 3 years of leadership experience and 5 years developing and executing strategic plans and/or project portfolios or an equivalent combination of education and experience. Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in Computer Science, Business Administration, or other related field or equivalent work experience. Product Development Management Association- New Product Development Professional (NPDP) certification is desirable.

      Breadth: Typically has 10 to 15 years of IT and business work experience with a broad range of exposure to various technical environments and business segments. At least 3 years of experience with managing team(s) responsible in strategic planning, business development or client management and working with a broad range of diverse and complicated business units.

      The incumbent must possess strong business acumen.

      The ITBP works with senior level management, business units and corporate staff executives to develop a technology strategy that is integrated with IT and across all business units. ITBPs must have a strong understanding of each business unit to include their business drivers for success, process and approaches to business models.


      • Strategic thinking and planning
      • Operational execution excellence
      • Nimble LEAN thinking to drive change that enables efficiencies and drives growth
      • Systems thinking
      • Team and collaboration orientation
      • Problem solving
      • Performance driven
      • Learning orientation
      • Public speaking
      • Effective written/verbal communication skills


      • Strong written and oral communication skills
      • Strong organizational skills
      • Ability to plan strategically
      • Knowledge of and experience with the Product Development Management Association and/or the Project Management Institute



      • Some overtime or adjusted hours required
      • Moderate travel required
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