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CIO 2.0 Conversation with Dan Greller, consultant, speaker and ex-CIO at Legg-Mason

dan_grellerDan Greller, the former CIO at Legg Mason, and currently technology innovation consultant, speaker and writer (with a great blog), was kind enough to join me for my second CIO 2.0 Conversation.

Dan has 30 years of experience managing global technology organizations, mostly within the financial services industry. Having first entered the job market when the debate between mainframe and desktop computing was raging, Dan has seen his share of technology innovation battles – which made it particularly interesting to discuss this latest battle between innovation and control taking place within most companies around adopting new technologies.

According to Dan, that balance between innovation and control has remained the hardest balance for CIO’s to manage. Between the increasing demands that organizations put on their IT departments and their CIO’s, the accelerating pace of change, and the ease with which employees can now bypass their IT department – that balance will become harder to manage, not easier.

The consumerization of IT, which refers to the phenomenon that consumer technology innovations are increasingly driving enterprise tools development, and also to the fact that many employees now expect their personal tools – their phone, tablet and home laptops – to work within their work environment, is clearly here to stay. The user experience that enterprise tools provide sorely lacks the experience that consumer services provide. Think of doing a Google search vs searching for content in your corporate knowledge management system, compare your corporate procurement process with the Amazon buying process, or look at how your corporate software provisioning differs from the experience you have in the iPhone or Android app stores. There is no comparison, and it is that difference in experience that leads to the consumerization of IT. CIO’s react to these forces in different ways – some say NO, and some put their head in the sand. Clearly neither one of those strategies is a workable strategy. Both will leave your users dissatisfied and relegate your IT department to irrelevance. CIO’s need to partner with key constituents and business unit owners and decide on strategic technical directions that match the culture of the company and deal with the risks associated with those strategies – human resource (HR) risks, compliance risks, legal risks, reputation risks, security risks, IP leakage risks, etc.

Risks are a thorny issue for many companies, and one that can stop innovations in their tracks. Many people, who by nature are averse to change, will hide behind potential risks, often unreal ones, to avoid having to deal with that change. In assessing risks, Dan suggests that people look at the Netflix manifesto about their culture, where they talk about a concept called the waterline. The way they look at decision-making and risk is that they think of their company as a boat, and they think of decisions being above or below the waterline. If a decision is below the waterline, then the risks of having something go wrong is much higher than if the decision is above the waterline.

We then talked about the changing role of IT and CIO’s as it relates to shifting their position from order takers to strategic business partners. CIO’s need to be the leaders who understand technologies and how they apply to the business. They need to be the ones that recommend and provide guidance on how to leverage social computing, mobility, universal access, cloud computing and “big data” as part of business processes.

Social computing should be on every CIO’s agenda, not because it’s a fad, but because eventually it will have to become part of every enterprise process and the systems that support them.

On the topic of measurements, Dan believes that there are two types of measurements – hard measurements and the anecdotal comparisons with peers. And while Dan is not a big proponent of hard benchmarks, which would require the ability to compare apples with apples, something that is virtually impossible in diverse organizations,  he does believe that comparisons with other people and companies in your industry are important. This makes sense in a competitive environment where the winner is the one that can stay ahead of the others. One of the most important measurement criteria for IT departments should be customer satisfaction, but that needs to be balanced with metrics that reflect the increasing strategic partnership that needs to exist between IT departments and the business units.

Culture trumps all and CIO’s should be thinking about culture as part of everything they do. It is what motivates people to do what they do, and it is what ultimately determines the effectiveness of all organizations. Dan believes that companies should listen to Daniel Pink when he says that people have three motivations, autonomy, mastery and purpose. They want to have a say in their destiny, they want to be recognized as a master in certain fields, and they want to be connected to a higher purpose. It’s important to have a culture that understands and promotes those values, both for your employees and also for your customers.

To create or change a corporate culture, you need to articulate where you want the culture to be, communicate it clearly with your employees, walk the talk, and reward and recognize behavior that supports that culture. The latter is especially important for IT departments, where metrics around on-time delivery and zero tolerance for failure have often stood in the way of creating a collaborative and innovative culture.

Dan ended the conversation with a few pieces of advice for IT professionals – don’t just focus on the bits and bytes, but focus on humans, their cultures and their biases; reach out to other disciplines like psychology and economics; think beyond your technical expertise when you think about the competencies that are needed to get your job done.

Well said.

Other things that we discussed include:

  • How smart companies now deal with risks through a combination of education and guiderails rather than through policies alone
  • The importance of e-discovery and archival systems in regulated markets
  • The positive aspects of operating in regulated environments where everything gets recorded on business communications
  • The importance for CIO’s to stay abreast of what happens to their industry by networking with peers
  • How companies and individuals deal with innate human/cognitive biases like the confirmation bias

As usual, you can listen to the actual podcast at the CMO 2.0 Site.

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