by John Gallant

HBO’s CIO Airs Strategies for IT Success and Developing Next-Gen IT Leaders

Aug 13, 201235 mins

HBO CIO Michael Gabriel explains why it's imperative for CIOs to understand how their businesses and customers are changing. He also explains why professional development is critical to IT success and shares his views on how business, academia and government need to work together to build strong job growth and develop the next generation of IT leaders.

Those of us of a certain age remember the early days of HBO, launched in 1972, when paying for TV was a novel idea. How quaint that seems in today’s always-on, always connected world of three — or is that four? — screens (computer, television, smart phone, tablet). The pioneering movie channel is now an originator of top-shelf content like Boardwalk Empire, Curb Your Enthusiasm and (personal favorite) Deadwood that is consumed on demand on virtually any device by viewers around the world.

HBO CIO Michael Gabriel

That HBO is so nimble and successful amidst a multiplicity of content choices and display options is due in no small measure to the vision and drive of CIO Michael Gabriel, the former NBA CIO and VP, IT for EMI-Capitol Music Group, North America. Gabriel applied the painful digital business lessons learned by the music industry to help drive development of HBO Go, which gives subscribers access to programming everywhere.

In this installment of the IDG Enterprise CIO Interview Series, Gabriel spoke with Chief Content Officer John Gallant about why it’s vital for CIOs to not only understand but foresee how their businesses and customers are changing, and why professional development — particularly around his key ‘triangle’ roles — is critical to IT success. He also shared his passionate views on how business, academia and government need to work together better to ensure the development of the next generation of IT leaders and strong job growth.

Gabriel is a member of the CIO Executive Council — IDG Enterprise’s peer-based global community of leading CIOs. For more information on the Council click here .

Tech Titans Talk: The IDG Enterprise Interview Series

Q: Let’s begin by talking about the business opportunities that HBO is embracing today. How is the landscape changing and how is HBO taking advantage of these transitions?

A: HBO’s previous business model was what primarily is called linear television. Basically, we broadcast channels out to our affiliates, the cable companies — and now the telcos and the satellite companies — and they get rebroadcast. It’s a very scalable business because we send our signal to a few and they send that to many.

About five years ago that started to change with respect to on-demand digital distribution, also called non-linear distribution, which comprises a few forms: Electronic sell-through, like iTunes or Amazon; subscription video on demand, like HBO On Demand, where you can watch a show over TV when you’d like to as opposed to waiting for the broadcast, and similar models for Internet video on demand, like HBO GO or Xfinity.

My group supports those delivery mechanisms both domestically and internationally, partnering closely with our Media Production and Digital Products organizations at HBO. What used to be a very simple process is now a situation where almost every distributor needs the video encoded a certain way, and needs different metadata about the assets so they can display it on their programming guide the way they’d like. They need the data structured and packaged in a manner that they can receive it, and it really varies distributor by distributor. Even the same distributor in different countries may have different requirements for the same content. The IT responsibilities of making that possible are much more complicated and much less scalable just due to the variability.

The second thing that’s happened is HBO is producing a lot more original programming, and that programming is resonating around the world, so it’s opening up a lot more licensing opportunities. When we had a handful of assets to license, it wasn’t that complicated, but now we have a lot more programming, and it’s much more complicated to understand the rights that we’re licensing to different entities in different countries or regions. IT has had to support that effort with more sophisticated rights management and license tracking systems.

Q: That’s an awful lot going on. Can you go into a little more depth, Michael, about the challenges that these opportunities present for the IT department and how IT is enabling those big corporate initiatives?

A: The biggest challenge is that most of those are opportunistic situations. The distribution is much more dynamic and, in this new world, it’s not as consistent as you sometimes would like. It’s not like we have a very set schedule where we exactly know what’s going to happen month by month and week by week, so it makes IT’s job much more dynamic. We have to be a lot more flexible than we ever were to meet changing needs in terms of these distribution relationships.

We’ve tried, and we’ve been successful, in creating some programs that provide flexibility, but just as soon as we think we have the last combination of things someone may ask of us, the next distributor asks for something different or one that we’ve already put into production decides to change the way they’re doing things. It’s a very dynamic world out there.

The standards around all of the metadata and video still haven’t been established cross-vendor, cross platform and internationally. It just makes our job much more challenging because we need flexible resources, we need to be able to scale quickly, and we also have to be able to change things more frequently than I’d like. No matter how well you test something, anytime you change it you run the risk of breaking something.

Q: HBO has gotten a tremendous amount of praise for HBO GO and I know you were deeply involved in the development of that. Let’s talk about how you and the IT team shaped that and how your background prior to HBO contributed to the success of that.

A: When I first interviewed at HBO, Jeff Bewkes, who is now the CEO of all Time Warner, was the CEO of HBO, and Bill Nelson, who is now the CEO of HBO, was the CFO at HBO, and both of them have had a marvelous career trajectory based on their insight into the business and their tremendous business acumen. When I interviewed, I was really interested in HBO because digital video at that time was barely in existence on the Internet. Coming from the music industry, I saw what digital distribution did to the music business. I saw how the executives in those companies didn’t embrace this new method of distribution. They didn’t embrace what the consumers were looking for, which were disaggregated albums. They wanted songs and they wanted to play them when they wanted to play them.

The industry didn’t adjust and was decimated by a tremendous drop in sales because they didn’t see what was happening and didn’t embrace it. My conversation with Bill and Jeff was really very focused on that. I said the pipes aren’t that big yet and the encoding isn’t that good yet, so it’s not something that’s a real concern right now. But some time in the not-too-distant future those things are going to be addressed and consumers are going to want to see video through the Internet. I asked them: What’s HBO’s position on that? And both of them said — it’s a distribution mechanism, we still expect to use the distributors we use, but just like we went from the larger dish satellites when HBO first started to the smaller satellite dishes, cable, and telcom distribution, we’ll be there and we’ll be ready when we need to have our content distributed through the Internet.

I said I would like to focus on that as one of the key things to make sure we’re ready for it, make sure that the systems we need to support it are in place, and make sure that the expertise we need to do that is something that we get to cut our teeth on before it’s too late. They both supported it. That was really a key reason for my coming to HBO. I didn’t want to go to another industry that was sticking its head in the sand and trying to ignore what was clearly going to happen.

With their support, after I got here and got established, understood the company better and the challenges that we had, I asked whether we could put together a little skunk works project just to encode some videos and create a player and try to play them back and distribute them through the Internet, just to see what it would be like. Bill Nelson supported that and gave us a little funding, we didn’t need a lot. We did it all in-house and it was really successful. We were able to demonstrate that we could encode a video with the metadata, put it into a player, select the show and play it. That was really the start of HBO GO, about eight years ago.

Q: Michael, did that establish a direction or a model for how the IT organization and you would work with the business to keep the business current and to help the business meet these new kinds of opportunities?

A: That definitely was something that we really embraced. We didn’t want to just be order takers, waiting for clients to ask us for things. And the group, even before I got here, was pretty progressive in terms of looking at what the future needs would be as we went from one channel to multiple channels and the complicated scheduling systems that you needed to be able to do that, including supporting our international entities with their broadcast support systems.

The group was good at that, but this was an opportunity that was going to be groundbreaking. We needed to really be part of that evolution early enough so that we didn’t have to rush and so that we could do it at a pace that made sense for the business. It gave us a chance to experiment. It actually gave us a chance to experiment with one of our cable affiliates, Time Warner Cable, in Milwaukee and Green Bay. That test was a lot more successful than a lot of people thought it would have been.

We saw consumers actually start to embrace it. It actually gave us something that we could then demonstrate to our affiliates to show them what HBO through the Internet could be for them and for us, if we partnered together, and it really allowed a concept to become a reality by being able to create the prototype and show that it really wasn’t such a onerous thing. It really was a nice way to see HBO in another manner. We always envisioned it as something that would complement our broadcast. It would just be another way to see HBO if you had a subscription.

Q: A lot of CIOs and IT departments would love to have that kind of influence and that kind of involvement in driving such a game-changing project. Are there a couple of lessons learned out of that project that you think would be valuable to other IT leaders?

A: I think there were. First, understanding where your industry is going and what its interaction with the consumer needs to look like is something that you just need to be exposed to and be aware of, so that you have a context behind any recommendations you’re making. We saw what the competition was doing. There weren’t many players that were doing it, but being aware of what other companies were trying to do just gave context to that.

At that time, looking at companies like AOL and what they were doing with respect to video, or trying to do, was important. YouTube didn’t exist yet, but Movielink did, which was an Internet distribution movie service that wasn’t profitable, but was successful in creating a product. So the first lesson is — be aware of what’s happening with your competition, be aware of what’s happening in the business world with respect to your industry.

sThe second is to not create a false sense of urgency just to drive your own area. It could have been very easy for me to say that the sky is falling and if HBO doesn’t embrace Internet distribution that’s going to be the end of HBO, just like the music industry. Creating that kind of extreme viewpoint earlier than it really was going to be a factor would have destroyed credibility. So creating more of a context around the direction that we needed to go in and a pace that could be controlled at a low cost, as opposed to rushed and expensive, gave it credibility.

Others saw where the industry was going too, they knew we needed to do some things to get there, but no one knew exactly when we’d need to be there. So why spend a lot of money and a lot of resources rushing to go somewhere earlier than you needed to? Having the patience to work with the business, trying to help figure out what it would mean to us, and not creating a false urgency gave us credibility.

Third, of course, we needed to have the technical ability to execute, and finding the right people in my organization who could do the prototype, who really were big thinkers in terms of trying to do different things, and really were aware of where technology was going, and giving them the opportunity to experiment a little bit in the sandbox really helped. Those three things together allowed us to get a little traction, to get business buy-in and to do it at a pace that really made sense.

Q: That’s a great set of lessons there. I want to talk about four key initiatives that are underway under your leadership at HBO. One is the program governance group. Explain what that is and outline the goals you’re trying to achieve.

A: We’re in a situation where every IT director, every vice president and senior vice president is good at what they do. They have really good staff, they know how to develop systems and deploy them and support them, but they all do them in different ways based on what they’ve learned from whoever they worked for, whether it was here or somewhere else. I was seeing that while we were really good at that kind of execution, we really didn’t have as much consistency as I’d like across our group in terms of the way we developed systems through the systems development life cycle. That variability sometimes made it difficult to move resources from one group to another.

It made it more difficult to on-board consultants who might have worked for one person in my group and now they’re working for someone else, and they’re doing things in a different manner. It made the variability of the program delivery a little broader than I would like. I wanted to have a little more consistency in how we did things, how we estimated, how we built, how we shared code and requirements.

With everyone being busy doing what they do in supporting their client base, sharing happened, but it was more opportunistic than a real part of the way we operated. I decided it was time to put a centralized program governance group in place to make sure that we had more consistency in how we did things across IT to reduce some of the variability and how we estimated and delivered. To try to ensure that we would share best practices, especially for larger projects, where when you have an issue you end up spending far more resources than if a small project has an issue. I put the group in place about three years ago, and at that point it really didn’t have a charter other than to figure out what we needed in process and structure to develop and support applications more consistently across IT.

We started in application development. The understanding was that after we got that done, we were then going to extend it to the infrastructure and operations group, because they also have projects. While they’re not developing code, they are deploying systems and, in many cases, software also that deals with monitoring and supporting the application portfolio. We then extended the governance group to the infrastructure sites and then all of IT was operating in a similar manner, with flexibility based on the types of projects that they needed to do. They’ve been very successful.

Q: What is the result? How have you measured the impact?

A: The impact is really measured more by the feedback of my staff in terms of whether these things that we’ve put into place have actually made it easier for them to do their jobs, or have made it easier for them to move from group to group, or have made it easier for them to work with outside consultants who could then see a process consistently that they needed to also adhere to. It’s really the feedback from the people involved about how it’s made their job more consistent and more effective.

The major impact is that we have avoided any large runaway projects. I can’t say it’s totally due to program governance, but certainly program governance is a big part of that, in reviewing how projects are begin run, making sure that there is an outside perspective that may not be as close to the project, so they may see some things that the project leader might miss. It provides a second opinion. It ensures that the right things are being done and corners aren’t being cut due to expediency, which sometimes happens with the best of intent. When it does happen it increases risk and could increase the likelihood of a runaway project. Not having those kinds of projects certainly supports that the program has been effective so far.

Q: I also wanted to explore — because I know you’re very passionate about this — your professional development program there. Talk about how it works, why it was started and what it’s achieved.

A: I’ve been a big advocate of professional development since I got involved with IT 30 years ago. But unfortunately, even though I’ve worked for a lot of really good companies, I never had a very formal professional development program. You learned by doing, you learned by reading books and maybe going to conferences or seminars or training programs, but I really never had anyone work with me to come up with a program to develop my skills. It was more me figuring it out, as everyone else did, and you got by, but it probably wasn’t as effective as it could have been. So when I became a CIO and knew I was going to be around here for a while, I decided to put the effort into trying to create a professional development program that would be more consistent and better thought-through for all of the job families we had.

But there really wasn’t any easy way to put that program into place and we had a lot of different perspectives on what made, let’s say, a good business analyst or a good software engineer or a good database analyst. If you ask 10 IT people what the key skills and competencies are that make those jobs effective, you’re probably going to get 10 different answers. It was important to have a program that was consistent across our group, and it became clear to me that to do this I was going to need to have someone who could focus on this as a full-time job.

So I needed to get the backing of the company to hire a director of IT Professional Development. That was a new position. It didn’t exist here before. It didn’t exist in many companies, so I had to come up with a way to justify it, and in my mind it was pretty simple. IT people are pretty highly paid and if there’s a way to improve their efficiency, a way to improve the way they do things, even by a small percentage, you could measure that. If someone is making $100,000 a year and you can improve what they do by five percent, you’re going to get a $5,000 benefit, so to speak. If you extend that across IT salaries, if you make people better on the things that really mattered, in terms of making them more effective and efficient, is it unreasonable to get a five percent increase in their productivity? It was just a logical argument.

At the same time, if you had a more developed program for how you on-boarded people, you can make them more effective more quickly. If it took four months to normally get someone up to speed on all the things they needed to know about, and you put a formal program in place that got them up to speed in three months, then you’ve got one-twelfth efficiency on that. You’ve gained a full month of their salary. Again, if you’re talking about a $100,000 person, that’s about another $8,000 to get them up to speed faster.

We also had some issues where people were getting promoted based on who they worked for and what that person thought was important. Different people with the same roles reporting to different managers could get promoted not based on what they had to do for their role, but based on the particular thing they were doing for their supervisor and what that supervisor felt was important. If you had a technical supervisor and you had strong technical skills, you were more likely to get promoted. If you had someone who was business focused and you were strong technically, you might not get promoted, and vice versa. That was creating some concern among the staff about how promotions were happening, a lack of consistency, and feelings of favoritism.

When I did an IT survey on things like that, in terms of how they felt our professional development program was, how they felt the promotion process was, how they felt the on-boarding process was, the feedback I was getting was that there was a lot of room for improvement. We had a way of showing what that improvement could provide in terms of increased efficiency or money saved. There was one more thing too. If you improved people’s skills and competencies and showed that you cared enough to put effort into doing that, and you promoted people in a more consistent manner so there was a lot less favoritism involved, so they saw that it was equitable, the likelihood is that you’re going to retain people longer.

And if you reduce the turnover even a little bit, that saves you recruiting dollars. And that saves you on the on-boarding process of now having someone who takes a while to get up to speed and isn’t as efficient as someone who had been doing that job for a while. When I put all those numbers together into a spreadsheet, it was clear to see that across my entire IT organization, there was a lot of money to be saved and a lot of opportunity to improve the way we delivered, enough for me to easily justify hiring a full-time director and also putting a training budget in place that ensured that we were going to be able to execute on the training program.

Q: Have you been able to measure the results of that?

A: The results, again, are measured a lot by internal feedback, by surveying the staff in terms of how strong they feel the people they team with are and whether they feel that they’ve seen improvement in their skills and the skills of their team players. Whether we have seen improvement in groups, whether it’s the database group or business intelligence or business analysts or project leaders, we’re able to ask: How consistently and well is that group doing? We’ve shown tremendous improvement in every job family. It took a few years to get the program up and running, but within those few years we started to see improvement to the point where the issues that we used to have just didn’t exist any longer.

What I did learn, however, was while it’s important to develop every job family and every level within those families, it became increasingly clear that the three jobs that could most impact whether a project would be able to be done on time and on target were the project leader, the business analyst and the technical leader. If the business analyst really understood what needed to be done because of the knowledge of the client and the business and they way they’re able to convey requirements, if the technical leader, through those requirements, understood well enough how the system needed to be architected with the right amount of flexibility and the right kind of performance and architecture to meet those needs, and if the project leader knew how to manage the resources and gauge how the project was doing, it would be really difficult to have a runaway project.

What we’re focusing on now are those three job families. I call it the “triangle area” with the project leader at the top of the triangle and the business analyst on one side and the tech leader on the other, and the focus is really to get our triangle job families to be the best that they can be. Once we get that done, then we’ll continue to focus on the other areas. But right now that’s going to be a focus for the next few years.

Q: You also have a new, or relatively new, VP of IT Strategy role. Can you talk about that and what was behind the development of that?

A: When I got to HBO, the business was a different business than it is today — much more static in terms of what we needed to do and more incremental than revolutionary. I could pretty well understand the IT portfolio off the top of my head. I knew what projects we needed to execute on, I knew what kind of flexibility we needed in terms of timeframe, and I really didn’t need anything too formal to be able to take that and turn it into an annual business plan. But as the business changed, the number of projects increased, and the variability increased. The dynamic nature of them increased to the point where I couldn’t really manage my portfolio in my head. It was much more complicated than that. And with most of our IT management time focused on partnering and delivering to the business, they didn’t have as much time for planning as we would have liked.

It became clear that I needed to have a person focused on long-term planning and strategy partnering with my IT executives, making sure that we had a consistent framework around the decisions we were going to be making, whether it was the prioritization of the systems that we did across the company, in terms of the sequence and timing, or whether it was the R&D that we were focused on and the benefit that we thought we were going to get from those initiatives.

We needed someone to put a program together that was more formalized — one that would allow us to look at how we could resource projects for the long term and plan better so that we could get better resources at better costs. Strategy would enable us to plan our resourcing with respect to our organizational structure and where it needed to be in the future, as well as to better deal with multi-sourcing and figure out where we can get the best resources at the best price and where we should be focusing our staff versus where we should be focusing our consulting resources.

Q: I know there’s also a big shared-services initiative underway at Time Warner. Can you talk about that, the impact on HBO and your team’s role in helping shape and drive that?

A: Sure. As Jeff Bewkes looked at Time Warner as a complete entity and determined where he wanted the company to go to best benefit our shareholders, he also made a decision to focus on content creation as opposed to some of the other businesses that we were involved with. We had music, we had AOL and we had Time Warner Cable, and while all those were good companies, they really weren’t core to content creation, which is really where he wanted us to focus. Because of that, it was clear that there were some things that we were all doing individually to support our lines of business that made a lot of sense for that line of business. Each business was operating as effectively as it could operate, but Time Warner as a whole wasn’t necessarily leveraging that across similar kinds of businesses.

Other industries were able to implement enterprise or shared services to reduce cost and also allow the businesses to focus on what they did best and what made them different. The thought was we probably could benefit from that within Time Warner. So we started looking at the things we’re all doing that don’t necessarily differentiate our divisions, but that we might be able to do together to leverage scale in terms of resources and focus. We began looking at that more broadly about a year ago. The CIO Council at Time Warner had been discussing some of that even before I got here. We leveraged our procurement, even going back that far. There really wasn’t any low-hanging fruit in terms of things like procurement leverage, we needed to start getting into the areas of infrastructure and see what we could do, and we’re in the middle of that process.

Sometime toward the end of this year, we’re going to have some recommendations on the kinds of things we think we should be doing to better leverage our resources and to take advantage of certain enterprise services. One that is moving forward right now is HRIS and payroll. We’ve also done it with travel and entertainment processing and we’ve done it with E-Discovery and we’re continuing to look at other areas of opportunity. We expect this is going to be a multi-year project and something that we’re going to continue to learn from as we do it. But we want to make sure whatever we do is successful, and it has the full support of all the divisions along with corporate.

Q: Let’s talk specifically about mobility and the changes that mobility brings about. Why is it so important for CIOs to be thinking about mobility and how it changes their business?

A: IT used to be something that most clients weren’t that familiar with, other than the computer in their office. Consumer electronics, and probably Apple more than anyone, led the way to creating devices that were very user friendly and gave end users a lot of capability. As they started to do things on their own, managing their own personal lives with their mail and their calendars and their contacts and getting access to applications on those devices, they started to see the need for doing that in the work environment also.

Mobility has created an ability now to extend our domain to anywhere they are, anywhere in the world. But it’s created a lot of complications because it’s not a fixed environment any longer. There’s a lot more variability with the different types of devices and their capabilities, as well as with the bandwidth they get with their services. It’s made the CIO job more complicated because as our clients have embraced these technologies, they’ve come to expect them in the work environment.

It’s a lot easier for them to be on the newest version of Windows or iOS or Android on their own, because when they upgrade they only affect one device and they’re only affecting themselves. It’s a lot harder to do that across an enterprise. To keep as current as we can in a cost-affordable and reliable way across the enterprise has just gotten a lot more complicated. But we realize it’s a capability that we have to extend and we have to continue to get better at doing that.

Q: You’ve talked about this concept of multi-sourcing versus outsourcing. Explain the difference and explain why that’s an important concept for your organization.

A: I like the phrase “multi-sourcing” better because outsourcing has connotations of giving something away from the U.S. to companies, usually overseas, because they’re lower cost and may have more scale in terms of resources available. While there definitely is value from some situations like that, we really wanted to look at how we source in a different way, using multiple resources, or multi-sourcing, which covers how we use our staff, where our staff needs to be located. They don’t have to be in New York. We also have staff in Los Angeles. We also have staff in Budapest. To really look at where the staff could and should be located to be effective. To look at different vendors and what they bring to the table, whether they be offsite in the U.S. or overseas, and to really look at that whole mix in terms of the capabilities they provide for the type of job we need done and have flexibility in doing that, so we can scale the way we need to by using multiple sources and continue to hone that mix as our business changes and as the industry changes.

Q: I wanted to get your thoughts about the topic of Big Data. Big Data is one of these terms that some people think is all hype, some people are really excited about it. I think a fair number of people don’t really understand the concept. What, in your view, is Big Data and why is it so important to your organization?

A: Big data is another one of those areas that’s increasingly important to us. We don’t have, other than in a very few instances, a direct relationship with our ultimate consumers because of our distributor relationships. So we really weren’t gathering a tremendous amount of data previously. But with social networking, with electronic sell-through, which has increased the number of transactions that are occurring, and even more specifically, with HBO GO, where there is a lot of usage data we getting, we went from getting about 2,500 rows of data a day — which isn’t a lot for most companies — to 2-1/2 million rows of data a day.

So the scale of the information we’re getting is just exponential and it’s growing with every new device we distribute to, both domestically and internationally. The data stores we have are just so much larger and trying to figure out what that data is telling us and how we can use that to either obtain new subscribers, retain the subscribers we have longer, or potentially sell them home entertainment through electronic sell-through or Blu-ray is increasingly important to our being able to drive revenue and to understand what our consumers are looking for. Big Data becomes important because, for one, it’s a cost that’s increasing because of storage, because of reporting and the resources needed to deliver all that and handle that. But we also have to be able to make sense out of that data in a way that drives the business, not just from the perspective of capturing the data and just getting bigger and bigger closets to put it in.

Q: Is there a skill set need there as well?

A: We’re definitely dealing with different skills of Big Data versus just standard reporting, the data relationships are much more complicated. The data sources are much more diverse and they’re increasing. We really need our business intelligence people to understand the business well enough to be able to partner with the business to help figure out how we could use that data most effectively and to not keep data that doesn’t add value.

Q: You have some pretty strong views about the education system and how it is not delivering the kind of IT talent that we need. What’s broken and what needs to be fixed?

A: I began looking at this about five years ago as we were starting to look at multi-sourcing, and I was starting to question why everyone was getting their resources overseas. At the same time, I was reading articles and I’m on a few college advisory boards and I was seeing that kids weren’t getting involved with technology in colleges. The enrollment was going down. The enrollment of women and minorities was really low. At the same time, we had all these jobs that were going offshore.

Something just didn’t make sense to me. We have all these jobs, but people aren’t interested in getting involved in IT, partly because of the perception that the jobs are all going overseas. But at the same time, we weren’t developing people effectively here so that when they got out of college they could hit the ground running. The candidates we were seeing might have been smart, but they couldn’t be as effective as quickly as we’d like, whether we got them in as interns or we hired them right after they graduated, and it just wasn’t as effective. With cost pressures on the business to deliver faster and to deliver less expensively, that just fed more offshore efforts.

So when I started to analyze that and try to figure out what needed to be done, it became clear to me that first of all, most people don’t even understand what the IT profession is. If you ask people what IT was they said it was either help desk or Web sites and that was really it. They didn’t understand the different job roles — business analyst, business intelligence, project leaders. They didn’t understand the compensation. At the same time, the universities were developing broad information technology skills, but really weren’t partnering with the business, in most cases, in a manner to deliver people that could come in and really get a job done quickly and effectively. The educational system was flawed from K-12 on through college.

It hit home with me when my daughter, I think at that point she was in the third grade, said to me: Dad, I’m terrible with technology. I asked her why and she said: Well, I’m not good on the computer. We’re taking this computer class and I’m just not good in it. I don’t type fast enough. The class was about typing. It’s a typing class on the computer. Well, I said, that’s not really a computer skill. Typing is something we do, but that went away a decade ago. You use a mouse more than you use a keyboard. That’s not really a technology skill, but that’s what was in her head. She was going to a good elementary school, but it just wasn’t part of the curriculum. So you extend that through junior high, high and then the university system. We’re not creating a feeder system that communicates or explains to kids that there are really good, high-paying, interesting jobs that could be business focused, that could be technically focused, that could give you a very interesting profession and be very profitable at the same time. Give you mobility from industry to industry. You can take those skills and work in different industries in different states, in different countries if you wanted to. It’s not marketed that way.

So the marketing of IT was a problem, we had the education of IT being a problem, which also feeds into my professional development focus. The third thing was that corporations needed to partner better with the universities to have placement programs. But if the universities aren’t educating people properly, then it’s hard for the corporations to really do that with any scale. While everyone has intern programs, we’re still not seeing any uptick on the hiring due to that, due to those other problems, getting people interested and then educating them.

Lastly, even if those things are happening well, if the cost of those resources is too high, then you’re still going to go to different places to get them, whether they be lower-cost U.S. cities or international locations where the cost of living is lower. State and federal governments need to better provide incentives to support the lower-cost hiring of U.S. resources.

If you don’t have those tax incentives to reduce that cost to allow us to become competitive, we have a problem. So we have those four quadrants that really needed to be addressed — marketing, education, corporate involvement and state and government incentives. I felt that if all those four things happened successfully, we’d be able to drive enrollment and drive placement of jobs in the U.S. There are hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of jobs sourced outside of the U.S. If even a small percentage of those came back it would help our unemployment situation and that would be a really great thing for America.