Tag Archives: Chief information officer

Unleash the analyst in you

Flying in to do strategy
Flying in to do strategy

I have recently made a big change in my life, leaving a CIO role to join a top notch consulting firm. My business card calls me a Strategic Analyst, I get half the pay and have twice the fun. So how different are the jobs of an analysts and a CIO?

I have come up with 4 areas that highlight the similarity:

  1. The CIO as a strategist – The heart of any strategy is analysing current state, developing a vision of a future state and working out what is needed to get from one to the other. The future state is developed with the help of research, providing insight into trends in customer, marketplace, regulations and technology.The output from this enterprise analysis work may be a strategy and roadmap or a business case, all of which need to be bread and butter for a CIO
  2. The CIO as a builder – Much of the executive focus goes into the projects that IT are working on. While these typically represent only 30% of IT expenditure, projects are exciting and presage business change. While many see the skills of project managers and business analysts as the key to success, the CIO should be thinking at the program level. A well designed program focuses on how to integrate many initiatives to deliver an outcome that furthers the business strategy.Pulling good programs together needs enterprise analysis. CIOs need to be thinking about how all the moving parts of projects, programs and BAU knit together to deliver an outcome. The more components that are in motion, the greater the risk and the more strategic the analysis needs to be.
  3. The CIO as an operator. IT systems are not much use if they are not working! CIO careers can easily come unstuck when outages and security breaches cause embarrassment to the businesses.
    To operate IT systems well, the analysis effort needs to go into the IT processes up front. With a good service management framework in place, the CIO needs to ensure that operations are adequately resourced with skilled people committed to outcomes
  4. The CIO as a leader. One key skill for CIOs is as a leader of their team and as a networker / leader of stakeholders. Leadership is open to analysis. There are management techniques that are known to succeed and some CIOs develop a formal relationship architecture.In the end, relationships are about people and your personality type has a big impact here. You don’t have to be extrovert to be a CIO, but you do need empathy and excellent communication skills.

For me, CIO as an operator was my Achilles heel. I could never see how fixing the CIO’s phone was more important than keeping a mine site running or ensuring the intensive care ward was operating. I can now focus on what I am really good at – enterprise analysis, strategic thinking, business case development and program formulation.

So how many of the areas above does your CIO tick off?

Gregory House for CIO?

The right approach?
The right approach?

Being in a household full of teenage kids, it is hard to find TV programs that everyone wants to watch. One series that we all agree is intriguing and entertaining is House – the story of a brilliant doctor saving his patient’s lives through his intellect. Along the way he struggles with drug addiction, dysfunctional personal relationships and, most intriguingly, managing a high performing team.

I see all sorts of similarities between this evidently contrived medical environment and my experiences as CIO trying to get the best out of my team for their own sakes and to deliver to the organization.

So how does Dr House stack up against my principles of what makes a good leader and especially a good CIO?

  1. Integrity. For me this trait stands above all others in importance (as it does for any executive). On the face of it, House lacks integrity – he lies consistently, is always taking money off Wilson and almost always avoids answering questions. Behind this somewhat dispiriting façade, you know that House holds certain values with incredibly high integrity. He puts his patients first in front of his career or image. He is open and honest about the life that he leads, even if it doesn’t fit society’s norms; and he bases his decisions on fact and not prejudice.
  2. Strategic thinking – CIOs need strategic bones in their bodies (see The Reluctant CIO!) and this takes a certain thought process. They have to be comfortable “in the fug”, not having the full picture but still being confident enough to move in one direction. This is House’s life: a patient presents with lots of data, but insufficient information to diagnose. He has to weigh up the risks of each test or treatment against the risk of inaction (usually the patient will die). He never just sits and holds his head; he always picks a path and follows it.
  3. Domain expertise – This is a tricky area for CIOs; they need domain expertise but it needs to be in the right area. They should not be experts in configuring routers or writing code. They do need to be great at managing risk, optimizing architecture, process management and governance functions. House is the ultimate domain expert in managing risk. He doesn’t know the diagnosis any more than his team (until the last 5 minutes), but he can weigh up the risks of various options and tells the team to “Go!”
  4. Communications – A core requirement of a CIO is to communicate the opportunities, challenges, risks and achievements of information technology. In this area you would have to say that House fails dismally, at least at face value. He interacts rudely with his patients (he would rather not talk to them) and prefers to hang out in the morgue or with coma guy. To counteract this perspective, we know that House is the best asset of the hospital, so somehow the word has got out. Maybe he really does know how to communicate – just in unconventional ways.
  5. Relationship building – I have always thought that the relationship web that a CIO weaves is his or her biggest asset. The CIO must work up, down and across developing trust and enthusiasm. House has a strange set of relationships with Cuddy (up), his team (down) and Wilson (across). The recurring challenge with his team is to let them make their own decisions (and mistakes) but not let them kill the patient (which sometimes happens). This is like any CIO challenge – let the Operations Manager manage operations, but know when you have to step in to save a disaster.

So how would you like to be in Houses’ team? A mixed blessing I think!

To interim or not to interim?

Ankor Wat temple
Built to last
There is an approach that is gaining popularity in Australian organizations called “Executive Transition”. This is where the departure of an executive leads the organization to take stock of where it is, where it wants to go and what kind of executive it needs to get there. They might bring in an interim specialist manager who can immerse themselves in the organization, reviewing existing strategies and updating them to reflect contemporary thinking. The interim can then paint a picture of what the replacement executive should look like and assist with recruitment and ongoing support once appointed.

So how well would this approach apply to replacing a CIO?

There are some real positives for the organization:

  1. Many executives have real frustration over the performance of IT in their organization. Complaints are often met with the mantra that IT does not have enough resources, yet they see money being wasted on ineffective IT projects and high third party costs. Getting a reliable and reasoned perspective from an experienced interim CIO is very valuable
  2. There are basic practices in IT that are widely accepted as fundamental to an organization realizing value from technology. These include a business case approach, project management, IT governance, enterprise architecture and service management. An interim can assess the performance in these areas and in a short timeframe restore broken processes.
  3. Different organizations needs different CIOs. In some cases, the CIO is there to keep the infrastructure running – particularly when a business feels that there is little threat from IT enabled market pressures. Where IT is a key part of a transformation agenda, a strategic CIO is needed to ensure that the broader opportunities from IT are leveraged.

Of course there are also down sides to this approach:

  1. Developing an IT strategy involves stakeholders from throughout the organization. To be effective, the stakeholders have to hold a degree of trust in those implementing it. If the replacement CIO does not feel that they own the strategy, the strategy can become a hinderance rather than an enabler.
  2. A critical part of any IT turn around is the IT team. To perform consistently at a high level, the IT department must have the right people with the right motivations, meaning a career structure and associated accountabilities. An interim only has so much influence here as this is the critical work of the permanent CIO.
  3. The time that an interim is in place may seem like treading water. The interim must balance the need to take long term decisions against the reality that they will not be in place to implement them.

I have held roles as interim CIO and as permanent CIO. I believe there is an underutilization of executive transition in Australia. As an interim CIO I can bring a range of experience and knowledge that you would not normally find in the market. Developing strategies, creating relationships with stakeholders and engendering turn-arounds are all high on the list for my “high satisfaction” days.

Do you think your organization could do with an executive transition program for IT?

Awesome Bill

Bill Gates on Q & A
go Bill

I watched with great fascination the visit of Bill Gates to Australia this week. His session on Q&A was excellent with great questions from a diverse audience. He was also good at the Press Club lunch, although the questions from the press were decidedly average (proving that no journalist can go a lunch and desist from drinking a full bottle of wine).

Bill was spot on the money with his message – that properly targeted resources can make a real difference to the tough problems in the world. He showed us the outcomes, highlighting the reduction in infant mortality as a key indicator of success. He also highlighted the influence that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has had in driving towards that success.

This set me to thinking why a “software geek” should be so effective when countless billions of aid money from other sources has done less. I think there are a few imperatives that he has learned as a CEO of Microsoft that stand him in good stead for the task:

1. Outcome driven. There was very clear purpose in the work that Bill presented. The purpose could be expressed simply (eradicate Polio) and no matter how complex the issues, all initiatives could be measured against this target.

2. Information Technology. Bill knows that IT is really about the information and not the technology. You have to gather good information, work out what the problem / opportunity is, postulate a solution, implement and measure, react to the outcomes with new programs or improvements to existing programs. Technology allows you to do this at scale, but information and analysis point you in the right direction.

3. Governance. Bill understands how powerful a force governance is. As the world’s richest man, he must be tempted to decide unilaterally, but evidently that is not his style. His position on GM foods was telling – don’t stop the science, but put in place governance structures for countries to decide whether the risk outweighs the benefit.

I contrast this with my experience as CIO for the International Red Cross. I was besieged by donors wanting to put technology in the hands of the poor. The purpose was to provide wings so the poor could fly! I would emphasise that technology costs resources to operate and unless the value proposition is clear it withers (as happened to innumerable high tech aid projects). Where resources are needed is in the systems and data that can be used to improve livelihoods.

Well done Bill for squeezing $80M from Julia for his cause celeb, and well done for inspiring us to keep trying to make the world a better place. I have just one request – please don’t die before you eradicate polio!

The reluctant CIO

executive lifestyle
executive lifestyle

There is a lot of focus in Queensland right now on getting on board the digital bus. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry completed its digital readiness study and Brisbane City Council has its Digital Brisbane Strategy. These initiatives highlight that Queensland businesses have a long way to go to capitalize on the digital economy. This set me thinking about who should be dragging their organizations into the technology age.

In many organizations this is not the Chief Information Officer; it is either the Chief Executive Officer or the Chief Financial Officer. Very often these people are reluctant CIOs, forced to become the IT strategist because the IT department is 100% focused on day to day issues. So how do reluctant CIOs achieve success?

1. Insist that IT becomes transparent: open up the opaque layers that technologists use to obfuscate issues. Projects running over time and budget, dissatisfied customers and investments with poor or no return must be identified and fixed. The business needs to understand how their actions drive costs through a granular recharge arrangement.

2. Invest well: these days this does not mean servers and data centres. The areas that do need the right investment are strategy, architecture, processes, documentation and training. It is hard to put money to these areas when there are other immediate priorities. In the long run, these areas bring order and discipline to IT spending.

3. Get help: doing things wrong in IT is a very expensive mistake. Selecting the wrong system not only stymies the business, it means the investment must be repeated. In the most extreme cases the cost can exceed the initial investment by factors of hundreds

Many reluctant CIOs would like to find that silver bullet that repositions technology in the organization as a true enabler. While a slick app on an iphone may provide some gratification, the true path to success is through a good IT strategy, implemented with vigour and patience.

It takes a long time to put the right technology in place and create real business value (Gartner believe up to 15 years ). The new cloud based platforms might accelerate this, if you pick the right platforms in the first place.

For the reluctant CIO to become a digital leader they need to identify and realise opportunity for business improvement and value through IT. This might be a whole new set of skills and finding a trusted advisor is the key to success.

Is your organisation likely to get on the digital bus?

Invest to succeed

strategic wrapper
strategic wrapper

As I have described many times in this blog, investing in IT solutions is notoriously risky. Just 1 in 5 projects succeeds and failures can bring down companies and governments. How then do enterprises manage this risk?

The answer is challenging to the project sponsors, who just want IT to get on with the job. With other areas of the business they assign accountability and expect the business unit heads to deliver on outcomes. With IT this approach is ineffective given the number of stakeholders and the limited ability to control events.

One example that springs to mind was when I introduced a recruitment and on-boarding system. The project was well run with a solid business case and good governance. Unfortunately the HR staff were too busy to contribute as a result of a high recruitment load from a major mining project. Rather than delivering a poor product, I slowed the project to allow them to engage. The final system was very successful, but the project ran over budget and over time.

To deliver on time, budget, scope and value, you need a strategic approach. The best way to do this is with a strategic wrapper, run by someone who can bridge the business / IT divide. They should by preference be independent from project delivery.

The wrapper has 4 components as per the diagram above:

1. Framing question. This is probably the most important step and is designed to test the business engagement. In an accelerated workshop format, the key senior stakeholders agree to the high level problem statement and commit to change. A great outcome is an email from the CEO to all staff “We are making this change for this reason and expect it to deliver this”.

2. Business case. A well written business case will surface any inconsistencies between the project and the organization’s strategy. It then sets out the options, scope, benefits, costs, risks and timeframe. Once this is agreed by all stakeholders, you can use the document as a bible for all future steps.

3. Project governance. The people delivering the project will put in a governance process. This needs to be made accessible to senior stakeholders and you need a highly experienced individual to ensure that you make the right calls on the difficult decisions.

4. Value delivery. This step is so often missed out on IT projects. Organizations commit to the investment, they should also commit to the return. An independent analysis of returns against the business is guaranteed to focus the efforts of business unit leaders.

The strategic approach will cost money – typically 10% of the cost of a project. The approach is likely to deliver many times this benefit from a focused project that does not spend money on unnecessary features; cost reductions and quality improvements from best practice processes; and more business value delivered at the end of the project.

Does your business approach IT investment this way?

Don’t get comfortable, the internet of things is coming

Flat out
Flat out

The role of a chief information officer in a large company has its challenges. They have to intermediate between the messy world of business and the even messier world of IT. Their focus is on the risks, costs and opportunities of today and they have few resources to prepare for the future.

I would argue that the next big challenge in IT is something that most CIOs are not ready for. This is the integration of information technology (IT) with operational technology (OT). It is a question of how we manage the internet of things – devices communicating over the internet without human interaction.

To give a personal example, as CIO I supported the operation of a newly purchased ore crushing machine (OT) at a remote mine site. The machine needed to run optimization software that was hosted on the vendor’s computers. This meant connecting the machine through our corporate network (IT) to the vendor. The vendor had no security accreditation and did not offer the security tools that we insisted on from our regular IT suppliers.

The machine had been purchased and the investment in a second communications link was substantial. In the end we accepted an increased security risk, given the costs of mitigation.

There are 3 big challenges with the internet of things:

  1. Security. As soon as we connect devices to the internet, there is massively increased opportunity for malicious attack. Hackers from anywhere in the world may obtain access, as highlighted by Mandiant. Many suppliers of OT do not have the resources to invest in properly secured systems.It is just a matter of time before serious mechanical or safety incidents occur. The Stuxnet virus destroyed hardware used to enrich uranium in Iran, but also infected over 200 Australian based devices. The Australian Government Computer Emergency Response Team found that 35% of attacks were non-targeted and indiscriminate.
  2. Integration. As the complexity of internet of things devices increases, so does the ability to store and utilize data. This data needs to be exchanged efficiently with corporate IT systems, however there are few standards.One example I came across recently was from an engraving firm. They had a web site through which customers could place their orders. To get the details into the connected engraving machine required them to rekey all the data, leading to errors and wasted time.
  3. Purchasing. The people buying OT hardware and software have a focus on the performance of the system. They are often less expert at understanding the license conditions and costs of ongoing support. It is not uncommon to see the same corporate license purchased more than once in an organization.

Some organizations are taking the bull by the horns. At the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, they have put the engineering services for recording and digital editing under the CIO. The critical infrastructure providers such as the utilities and airports have invested in professional approaches to OT. For many however, this is another problem just waiting to happen.

Do you have any plans for the internet of things?

Is technology too expensive?

Leap of faith
Leap of faith

Successful business leaders ensure that the scarce resources available to them are best used. They focus on all aspects of spending and ask is it absolutely necessary? Is there a cheaper way of doing this? Can we squeeze out more for the same cost?

Given the challenges of the last few years, most of the low hanging fruit has already been harvested. The competitive pressure has not come off and CEOs are looking to balance an increased demand for services with a reduced ability to attract income. There are 3 main options to achieve this:

1. Transformational change. Radically changing the operating model through acquisition, amalgamation or strategic repositioning is an option. James Carlopio from the World Future Society suggests that these efforts fail 50-80% of the time.

2. Intermediation. This is where the relationships between suppliers and consumers is modified and may be as simple as consolidating suppliers to achieve discounts. This strategy can sometimes be affected with little of the risk associated with business change.

3. Incremental. Typically this involves turning the handle on business processes to make them more effective, reducing cost and improving quality. Technology is likely to be a core component and the biggest risks are around organizational change.

As a CIO I have been involved in a number of successful incremental change projects. One example was the introduction of a logistics management application in a large not for profit organization.

The new application had many technology challenges causing delays and frustration amongst the users. The business processes were standardized and simplified, which made some users feel disempowered. Fortunately there was a clear vision from senior management on what they wanted to achieve. The turning point came when a major disaster struck, requiring a highly complex logistics operation.

The simplified processes improved productivity of staff who were working 18 hours per day. The on line nature of the application meant that geographically dispersed stakeholders collaborated effectively. The biggest impact came from being able to analyse the supply chain and optimize ordering, reducing delivery time by a factor of 6 and costs by 80%.

Of course for every success story, there are litanies of disasters where IT investments have soaked up huge amounts of money. I have a few tips for making sure that you get value if you are investing scarce resources:

1. Create a business case. This clearly states the expectations behind business drivers, strategic outcomes, options, scope, benefits, costs, risks and timeframe. If the costs and risks outweigh the benefits, cancel the initiative early.

2. Assign accountability. You need to have individuals who are fully accountable for the business case and in particular the delivery of business benefits. The expectations should be clearly stated in the individual’s personal performance objectives

3. Excellence in delivery. Running IT projects is risky. The concensus from a number of surveys on IT projects is that just 1 in 5 are fully successful. A solid project methodology, experienced project managers and executive support focused on delivering the promised benefits will increase your chance of success

4. Connect initiatives. Running a series of disconnected IT initiatives will lead to lower agility and higher costs in the long run. Plan your IT like you would plan a city to make sure that your roads connect and you don’t build an abattoir in a residential area.

How confident are you about investing in organizational change?

How do CIOs befriend the miners?

Hole in the glacier
Undermined

I have worked as a CIO in a number of industries and each has their peculiarities. One segment where the CIO has to be particularly nimble is in the mining sector. There are a few top tips that I have learned from working for a contract miner, producing ore from working mines.

I’ll try to frame up the key requirements in this industry

1. The mining industry is cyclical and when it is hot, it is hot. They need solutions quickly and run high profit margins in the good times. As the cycle turns there is a focus on cost control. In many cases IT is delivering projects late in the cycle and appears out of step with reality.

2. The equipment used in the mines has become technologically complex. There are management systems on the trucks, the crushers have IT components and there are a myriad of complex systems such as slope stability monitoring. The vast majority of this equipment is purchased without IT involvement, but these days most of the systems connect to the internet via the corporate LAN.

3. Many in the mining workforce are engineers or technicians and technologically literate. They often source their own technology solutions and have the skills to make them effective in the workplace. Examples are collaboration systems and mobile enabled ordering systems. These are nearly always disconnected from the corporate IT systems.

As CIO, I was keen to get onto the front foot with these issues. I wanted to understand why the IT department could not deliver the solutions as quickly and cheaply as business units buying it themselves. I succeeded in providing solutions quickly, cheaply and properly supported (my perspective), but I don’t think I won the business over for the following reasons:

1. Acceptance of risk. The business had a higher tolerance of risk than that practiced in IT. When the business implemented their own technology there was no business continuity planning, security was dealt with in a superficial manner and there was often a complete loss of capability when a key staff member left (key man risk). The truth was that these systems would fail, but as different systems were used on different sites the impact would not be catastrophic.

2. Opaque costing. The actual costs of these systems were not well understood. There was no aggregated cost (as you would find in an IT budget) and the costs were often wrapped into other high value contracts. The costs benefits were calculated simplistically by referring to the punitive expenses of having plant not working.

3. Inconsistent expectations. Business provided solutions would fail and they often had poor maintenance arrangements. The business was surprisingly accepting of these issues (given the costs of down time) and much more accepting than for corporate provided IT systems. I put the inconsistency down to the extra control that the business had over the issue. They would deal directly with the supplier and often leverage a relationship to accelerate resolution.

So here are my 3 top tips for success (or at least avoiding disaster)

1. Know when to get out of the way – you may not have the capability or resources to deliver. Ensure that you engage the key stakeholders in this decision.

2. Map the risk – ensure that you have a holistic view of technology risk, not just IT risk. The Audit and Risk committee should be thankful for such a perspective.

3. Be excellent at project management – if you are providing solutions apply a professional, agile project management technique. Good people, a strong methodology and business involvement is a recipe for success.

What are your experiences with IT and the mining industry?