Top CIOs: Start with 'Yes' When it Comes to New Technologies

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CIOs from a handful of major companies say that IT departments are taking on a new role in their companies, one that initially says "yes" to user requests and one that works with users rather than acting like a dictator. They say it's a middle ground, between a free-for-all that could lead to problems and the old way of locking down IT environments.

"A lot of IT shops grew up in this command and control model," said Ralph Loura, CIO for HP's enterprise group. "IT made the choices and then deployed them." Loura and others spoke today at BoxWorks. 

The problem is, that model worked when IT could tell workers that the technology was the best available. "CIOs could get away with saying this is as good as it gets," said Sonny Hashmi, CIO of the U.S. General Services Administration. "Now people know better. They have better iPhone apps."

But creating an environment where users can use absolutely any tool they can find isn't ideal either. "I think people got the idea that user-centric was the opposite, where users can pick anything. It's chaos," Loura said.  

IT has good reason for wanting to have some influence over the technology choices that workers make, Rebecca Jacoby, CIO of Cisco said. "In IT, today I think we have more risk management responsibility almost than finance," she said.

But the CIOs said they realize that if they give employees tools that work, they'll use them. "If you give employees a good or better solution than they're using, they aren't evil. They aren't using stuff you tell them not to because they're evil. They just want to get their jobs done. When you give them something they can use, they'll use it," said Eugene Lee, vice president of IT for Viacom.

The question now is, how to figure out what users want. One way that Jacoby figures out what kind of tools employees want to use is with Skyhigh. Skyhigh examines what cloud services workers are using and has reported that employees typically use hundreds of more apps than their employers are aware of.

Instead of using Skyhigh to clamp down on the use of apps, Cisco uses it to serve employee needs, she said. "If I see everyone is doing file sharing, there's a need," she said. That means her team can investigate which file sharing solution it thinks is best and encourage employees to use the authorized service.

She also says "yes" more often. That started years ago when she first adopted a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.

"When we wanted to go BYOD, I said, we'll start with yes and then figure out what obstacles to knock out of the way," she said. "The reason I did that was I was spending probably an hour or two a day listening to business people complain about how we were too rigid with devices. That was a waste of my time."

Jacoby said Cisco has been working hard to shift the way that IT works. "We need to change the way we release technology into the system," she said. Her team thinks about making technology decisions in active partnership with business units. Together, IT and the business unit work on requirements up front and have a collaborative process about how to move forward, she said.

That kind of shift can prove worrisome to some IT departments, particularly when it comes to budgets. IT budgets have been shrinking as other groups have growing budgets for technology investments. For instance, some companies are finding that marketing departments, which often have responsibility for analytics, are becoming the largest software centers in the organization, said former Microsoft executive Steven Sinofsky, who is a board partner at Box investor Andreessen Horowitz.

At the GSA, Hashmi doesn't care whose budget a software purchase comes from but he does want to weigh in on decisions. "I can have a CMO outspend me, that's fine. But I'd like to be a broker of the platforms we're using and let them innovate on top of it so I have a sense of structure and a common sense of what we're using," he said.

He's adamant about only choosing technologies that are open and extensible so that different platforms can interact. "I hate point solutions," he said.

Interoperability is particularly important for the work he does. For instance, during Hurricane Sandy, the GSA wanted to quickly create an app to track medical supplies. Historically, building something like that might take years. The GSA did it in three days.

"But a whole body of work happened before those three days. You have to have the platforms in place that are secured and managed by people with the skill sets using them so they can develop on top of it within three days," he said. Those platforms needed to be able to interoperate too.

Symantec feels similarly about giving business groups freedom, with oversight. "I want them to have all those features but I'm responsible for protecting the company's assets and customer data. As long as we do that jointly, I'm OK if the CMO wants to buy" technology products, said Sheila Jordan, CIO of Symantec.

While CIOs are currently seeing this shift in buying power from marketing groups, Sinofsky said marketing is probably just the first. HR, sales, and practically every part of the organization will start making more technology decisions and IT will need to learn to work with them, he said.

This story, "Top CIOs: Start with 'Yes' When it Comes to New Technologies" was originally published by CITEworld.

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