by Tom Kaneshige

CIOs Adjust to Enterprise Tech as a Fashion Statement

Jun 09, 20144 mins
CIOInnovationIT Leadership

The state of enterprise tech has moved from company-centric to user-centric, and IT leaders -- faced with fickle consumer-business users -- must learn to understand 'the need' not 'the ask.'

CIOs reeling from their recent loss of technology purchasing power — as it shifts to the front business lines in marketing, finance, human resources and other departments — will find a hero in Ralph Loura, vice president and CIO at The Clorox Company.

In truth, today’s CIOs take their marching orders from line-of-business managers while dealing with rogue enterprise apps and cloud services on a massive scale. In fact, 40 percent of all IT spending is now outside of the traditional IT budget, according to a recent report from CEB. But at an event in San Francisco last week, Loura reminded his peers, “User-led is not the same as user-centric.”

In other words, not everyone gets a vote.

[Related: CIOs Sound Off on a Role in Flux]

Loura was among a crowd of IT decision makers during a panel discussion featuring chief executives from hot enterprise tech vendors: Aaron Levie at Box, Todd McKinnon at Okta, Phil Fernandez at Marketo, Roman Stanek at GoodData, Tony Zingale at Jive, Rajiv Gupta at Skyhigh and Mikkel Svane at Zendesk.

They gathered at the Westin St. Francis Hotel last week to discuss the changing role of the CIO, from tech commandant to tech consultant. The state of enterprise tech has also moved from company-centric to user-centric. If all of this sounds a little obscure, just take a look at the outspoken Levie.

IT outsourcing, Ukraine, war, threat
A panel of IT executives from leading tech vendors talk about the shift to a user-centric culture.

Clad in purple socks with white dots, Levie stood out among his suit-and-tie counterparts and underscored the idea that enterprise tech has become a fashion statement. That is, enterprise tech is now subject to the whims of fickle consumer-business users. It’s a far cry from the days when CIOs favored and stuck by one or two brands, as in the famous motto, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM equipment,” and vetoed most startup technology.

Levie’s Box story also shows the shift in mindset from the vendor side. In 2007, Box pivoted to go after the enterprise. But the CIO proved to be a tough sell and prone to payback, shutting down rogue Box deployments at the network level.

Levie says he decided to bypass the CIO and create pockets of rogue business users instead, essentially forcing the CIO’s hand to support them. Today, this is how a lot of enterprise apps and cloud services are sold.

Does this mean the modern CIO must be led around agreeing to every business user demand?

“If you say ‘yes,’ you’ll have one of everything,” warns well-known author, management consultant and panel moderator Geoffrey Moore.

When a business user rushes up to Clorox’s Loura asking him to support a cool new app, Loura doesn’t sign off right away. If he did, he might end up with a couple dozen, say, collaboration apps. Instead, he’ll gather multiple requests and then find a solution that works for both the front-end users as well as back-end IT, such as continuity and security.

“Islands of collaboration do no good,” which is the result of being user-led, Loura says. “User-centric is about looking at and understanding the need, not the ask.”

[Related: Cloud Apps Soar, CIOs Take on New Role]

In the aforementioned example, Loura recognizes that he’s already in a tough spot. That is, he doesn’t want to react to a business-user request and come off as a control freak. So instead he lets business users do what he calls “shallow exploration” of cloud apps and then monitors their activities. Based on this, Loura identifies opportunities to pitch his solution and get ahead of the request.

“I’ll go tap the user on the shoulder, not as IT saying, ‘Please stop’ but as an enabler saying, ‘Hey, I noticed you’re doing this. Can you tell me why you’re doing it and what value you get?” Loura says. “And I’ll go back and design a system and say, ‘Hey, we found a better way to do that.'”

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at