by Tom Kaneshige

CIO Challenge: Mobile App Vendors Bypass IT

Jan 13, 20124 mins
Business IT AlignmentCIOConsumer Electronics

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.

Uh-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.

Even Paul Lanzi, mobile application team manager at Genentech, a giant in the biotechnology industry and an aggressive adopter of iPads and iPhones, agrees that IT is not in the driver’s seat with new technology.

As software vendors court line-of-business executives, a CIO’s relationship with the business side will be heavily tested. The idea is to get business executives to come to the CIO for advice before signing off on anything.

But the only way this happens is if the IT-business relationship is built on mutual trust. CIOs need to respond positively whenever an executive suggests a new technology idea after meeting with a software vendor. “You want the first call to be to you,” Lanzi says. “If you keep saying, ‘no way,’ they’ll stop calling you.”

Truth is, IT still has final say—including no. At Genentech, iPhone and iPad-toting employees can’t use Apple’s iCloud service due to security reasons. Android devices aren’t allowed, either. While Genentech has 17,000 iOS device users on its network, the company doesn’t support a bring-your-own-device policy.

So how does Lanzi say no to technology without saying no? It all goes back to an IT-business relationship built on mutual trust. “Instead of saying no, ask them, ‘What capability are you looking for?'” he says.

Not only does fostering mutual trust help counter the end-run around the CIO, Genentech’s strong IT-business relationship has led to a 92 percent user satisfaction rating with IT services.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at