CIO Challenge: Mobile App Vendors Bypass IT

At the AppNation Enterprise Summit, mobile upstarts learn to do an end-run around straight-laced CIOs. This will surely test the often rocky IT-business relationship, but could ultimately improve it.

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Fri, January 13, 2012

CIOUh-oh, CIO. You're not going to like this.

A crowd of mostly mobile upstarts came to the AppNation Enterprise Summit held this week at the lavish Bentley Reserve in San Francisco to learn how to sell to the enterprise. The theme of the mobile apps event was one of revolution, with roundtables and interviews entitled "Re-inventing IT," "How to Succeed in the Enterprise Without Really Trying," and the oddly named "The Arab Spring of IT."

The main message: Selling to the enterprise no longer starts with the CIO.

Mobile upstarts listened to Matt Tucker, CTO and co-founder of Jive Software, advising them to do what amounts to an end-run around the CIO and court the line-of-business executives instead. Selling software and services to the enterprise, says Tucker, is about "tipping the balance of power."

In fact, that's how Jive Software, which provides enterprise social software, landed the business of the Redlands Police Department in southern California.

The chief of police liked what he saw and told Travis Taniguchi, a criminologist who doubles as an IT employee and liaison with the city IT department in order to receive services, to install Jive's collaboration software. (The chief also led the transition from BlackBerries to iPhones.)

"There was initial pushback" with the city's IT department, Taniguchi admits. City IT staffers wanted to weigh-in on tech decisions, yet Taniguchi wasn't interested in their opinions. "The chief had said, 'Get on board with it,'" he says. "The chief gets whatever he wants."

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But bypassing the CIO is risky business. A few years ago, CIOs told me that any start-up software vendor caught selling to the business side first would be summarily dismissed. That is, any proposal from that vendor hitting the CIO's desk would get a quick veto.

To be fair, mobile upstarts are in a tough position. The thinking goes that CIOs are stodgy when it comes to new vendors. CIOs will often listen to pitches while leaning back in their chairs with arms crossed.

One CIO told mobile device management vendor MobileIron, 'I don't work with startups," recalls Ojas Rege, vice president of products and marketing at MobileIron. The CIO was concerned that the vendor wouldn't be there for him in the future. MobileIron eventually landed the deal through perseverance.

Today, it's not unusual for the CIO to be late to the game in the tech sales cycle. "By the time IT learns about SaaS, the business is already using it," says Tom Gonser, founder and chief strategy officer at DocuSign.

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