Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Noli contendere Amor Omnium

As the title would suggest, in the world of technology the CIO is rarely the recipient of an abundance of love.  Because most business processes are automated by software and the like, it is logical to assume that IT is the first stop when things go wrong.  But conversely, IT is also one of the first places people go when they want to make things better.

Good CIOs know that in normal times the demand for IT projects and services always outstrip the resources available to meet them.  A "good" CIO will have mechanisms in place to accept, track, and process work

requests.  As always, a solid project management methodology (demonstrated in the graph above) is the key to establishing a a structure that allows for predictable delivery against a litany of demands. Enforcing rigor and discipline establishes two things:  (1) transparency and buy-in from customers, many of whom are peers to the CIO and (2) goals that the IT staff can rally around.  Time and again I am amazed at how much an IT organization can accomplish if they only have a clear understanding of expectations that do not change unpredictably!

Since I've described what good CIOs do, let's now address what great CIOs do differently.  The difference is remarkably similar and yet profound.  Great CIOs cover all the fundamentals of work management and technical excellence that are expected from their "good" counterparts.  What great CIOs do in addition is relationship management.  I'm not just talking about what some refer to as "playing politics".  What I mean is that these CIOs get out of the office and into the areas of the business where operations are occurring, customers are being serviced, and money is made.  These CIOs get to know the needs of the company by seeing firsthand how technology is helping or hindering profitability.  They think, conceptualize, and develop ideas which are turned over to the excellent teams they've built.  It becomes a productive cycle - the great CIOs get out in front, build relationships that can be used to give them real-time information, and use that knowledge to build the most productive systems that the company can reasonably operate.

This all sounds great, so why don't all CIOs do what I've just described?  While there are many reasons, getting out in front creates one big problem.  With great visibility comes great resistance.  Even though we don't like to admit it, people with high energy and drive constantly battle what I refer to as "organizational inertia".  What I mean by this is that not everyone wants to line up to work harder to support a CIO or any leader who is trying to lift a company to a high level of productivity and energy state.

So, if you want to be a great CIO, think back to the title of this article: "Noli contendere Amor Omnium".  This is an abbreviation of the full Latin quote: "Noli contendere Amor Omnium; Deus Non!"  In English this phrase translates to, "Don't strive for the love of everyone; not even God does that".  Those that set themselves apart will never be loved by all.  But they will earn the admiration of those that count.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

SAP Throws Manna (HANA) From Heaven

Occasionally a new technology comes along that is so radical that it forces changes in behavior seemingly overnight.  Some are revolutionary and make a big splash on the world scene: the car replaced the horse, the rifle replaced the sword,  the jet engine replaced the propeller, cell phones replaced payphones, etc.  Others are just as magnificent but generate much less of a "splash".  For example, the washing machine/dryer replaced the tub and clothesline, Google replaced (almost everything), fuel injected engines replaced the carburetor, HDTV replaced CRTs, arthroscopy  replaced scalpel surgeries.

In all cases, the newer technologies were marvelous, but some appeared with great fanfare while others just...appeared.  Few people can point to the exact time that they ditched their analog phone for a "smart" model but they can tell you when the Wright Brothers made their first sustained flight (11/9/1904 in Kitty Hawk, NC).

Over the past 25 years the modern world has been run on the ever-evolving relational database (RDBS).  The king of the RDBS has been Oracle Corporation, which has been so dominant and profitable that their product is on all seven continents and runs most of the world's businesses.  It also made Larry Ellison, one of its founders, a multi-billionairre.  While the RDBS technology was revolutionary for its time, it could now be described as a little "long in the tooth".  In other words, the technology is getting pretty old.

The whole concept of RDMS is simple.  A command originates with a person (user), which is then processed by a server and the result is stored on the database and sometimes is displayed on the screen as well.  This system works well but is heavily dependent of what is called "I/O", or input/output.  Even operating in microseconds, the data must travel across a network and be written to or recalled from a disk drive.  When dealing with millions of records the time needed to satisfy the user can reach into minutes if not hours.

One of the biggest running jokes in IT circles for 20 years is that, while SAP and Oracle are both bitter competitors, SAP is the world's largest reseller of Oracle RDMS products.  Why, you might ask?  It's because SAP makes really good application software but has never developed its own marketable database.  So, while SAP and Oracle compete for market share in the application space, when Oracle loses out to SAP it usually wins anyway.  That's because SAP has been forced to sell Oracle's database as the platform on which its software will run.  At least until recently.

In late 2010, SAP made a massive leap forward in technology.  In one fell swoop, using its new "HANA" product, SAP eliminated the network, database, and storage device from the equation.  Imagine now a large instance of SAP that runs completely "in-memory".  In other words, the SAP application software and all the data reside within active memory on one piece of hardware.  No more storage, no more disk drives, fewer networks, and now NO ORACLE RDMS.  To date, the performance results have been amazing.  In addition to processes taking seconds instead of hours, the need for a whole host of things has been reduced.  No storage, server banks, or databases have greatly reduced the load on the data center.

It seems that SAP has not just improved the game but changed the entire landscape.  You can quote me that in 10 years or less, disk drives will be artifacts of the past.  And if Oracle is not forthcoming soon with a viable competitor, they might get relegated to past as well.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Body follows the Head

Even though CIOs focus quite a bit on technology, they are also leaders and managers.  For them this means that they must constantly deal with difficult situations.  To list every type would be redundant but suffice it to say that CIOs are people managers, politicians, coaches, and triage experts.

Just like every other type of senior leader, all of these activities contribute to a high level of STRESS.  While I'm not a doctor I think it's safe to say that stress can cause all kinds of problems.  Ultimately, without some way to cope with stress, even people with the hardiest of constitutions are going to be looking at an early death or at the very least some type of physical breakdown in the future.  If you think that's too extreme, we could go for lack of sleep, joy, satisfaction.  In any case, untreated stress leads to bad consequences.

Here are some examples of  leaders from history who didn't cope well with stress:
  • Mozart - died at 35; worked himself to death
  • Alexander the Great; died at 33; drank himself to death
  • Sigmund Freud; used cocaine to "calm and expand" his mind
  • Janis Joplin/Jimmy Hendrix/Jim Morrison/Amy Winehouse/Michael Jackson/Whitney Houston/River Phoenix/Bon Scott, etc.; leaders in entertainment and all went out pretty much the same way
  • Winston Churchill; didn't die young but was drunk almost his entire adult life
  • Jack Welch; philanderer
  • Jack Kennedy/Bill Clinton; philandering
  • George W. Bush/Barack Obama; both admitted using cocaine
  • Howard Hughes; went insane
While the list above is somewhat sensational, it does highlight that those people who have great responsibility of some type are also at higher risk of developing poor coping mechanisms.

I tell leaders that I manage, especially those on track for the CxO level, that they need to develop positive coping mechanisms proactively.  As I tell them, if you don't find an outlet on your own, one will find you - and it may not be the one you'd pick given a choice.  The body always follows the head - this means that if your mind is not in harmony, neither will your body be.

If you are a CIO, CIO-in-training, or a leader in general, my advice to you is to find an outlet early.  Find that special way that works for you to bring on harmony and peace within the mind.  Be it golf, tennis, reading, volunteering, writing, whatever, but find it!  The responsibility of leadership, without some sort of coping mechanism, will tear down even the hardiest of us all.  Find that outlet!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

As it turns out - Resistance WAS Futile!

If you're a technology professional, odds are that you've watched your own fair share of Star Trek.  And every "Trekkie" knows about the Borg.  They were the ultimate villain - superior technology, very adaptable, and relentless.  Like a bad virus or Miley Cyrus song, they barreled through the Galaxy sweeping everyone and everything into their collective.  For the Borg, every piece of technology integrated brought them one step closer to perfection.  While each new piece of tech, it changed them together.  Like a school of fish swimming in unison, so moved the Borg.

As we all know, every good character on TV or the silver screen needs a catch phrase.  For Arnold Schwarzenegger, it was, "I'll be back!"  For the Borg it was "Resistance is futile!"  What the Borg meant is that no matter what you did, the end was going to be the same.  You were going to end up assimilated in their Collective with a cool, albeit weird set of black-green armor and a funky laser eye patch.  You would lose all your free will and essentially become a willing drone in a vast army of like-minded creatures, all doing and thinking the same things.

Well, the Borg may have disappeared with the end of the various Trek series but their legacy lives on in our lives.  Whether you know it or not, you have become assimilated by your own technology.  You may not have the fancy drone armor, but you probably don't go anywhere without a phone in your pocket, maybe an iPad, and it's highly likely that a computer is within 500 feet of you at all times.  If you're like most people, you touch, physically, some type of technology right before you go to bed and right after you rise.  In just 10 years technology has gone from being an exciting novelty to something nearer a silicon/organic symbiosis.  How many times have you thought about how much easier it would if you could just call up information directly into your brain rather than typing, scrolling, or tapping about?

Let's take a quick look back in time, starting say at about 1930:
  • In 1930, the radio had been out for almost a decade.  At night rather than going out, socializing, or even sleeping, the entire family gathered around the radio to listen to the nightly "serial".
  • In the 1950's, many families were getting TVs.  More and more activities ceased in order for people to sit, quietly, in front of a box with pictures and sound.
  • In the 1980s computers, video games, and networking emerged.  The computers weren't very portable, but Generation X became the first whole group that could not only "live" virtually within computers, they were also the first to actually be able to make a living working on them.
  • The year 2000 marked the end of almost all things analog (although I'd still like a Rolex!).  Around this time computers, processors, electronics, appliances, cars, etc. all became completely dependent on technology to function.
Today, technology is ubiquitous.  The first world is completely dependent on it as are most people.  The workplace is also completely enabled by technology.  If you don't believe this is true, imagine turning off the power to your office (please don't actually do this).  I can guarantee that, as a CIO, it would be like the world just ended.

I predict that within 10 years the need and purpose of the traditional office environment will end.  And there is nothing that any of us can do about it.  While I'm sure that offices will still exist, the employees won't need to be there in order to do their jobs. We have now had two whole generations of people born that are new in certain special ways:
  • They have always had wireless connectivity
  • They are always connected to their friends and family in a multitude of ways - texting, Facebook, etc.  (The significance of what I'm saying in this bullet is that these generations don't need to SEE you in order to be connected to you)
  • Information has always been instantly available to them.
CIOs are now, along with CEOs, responsible for the ensuring the integrity of the entire organizations.  This is no way belittles or reduces the importance of any other leadership role.  It's just a fact that because IT is in everything and soon to be in everyone, CIOs must become orchestrators rather than mechanics.   

Right now and into the future, technology will drive changes in our lives, relationships, jobs, and most everything else.  Even if you don't like technology it will influence if not outright control your behavior.  So maybe the Borg were actually real and not just a story that you saw on TV or the silver screen.

Resistance was futile - You have been assimilated

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Math Professors and the Cost of IT

As an engineering student I was taught many technical courses including LOTS of mathematics.  While I was never more than a mediocre student when it came to math, I had a very difficult time reconciling the belief that there was only *one* correct way to solve a problem.  In my second semester of calculus I had an even more difficult time because, for some reason, the correct answers would many times just "pop" into my mind.  But I never received any credit for being right (thanks a lot John I. Cobb!).  As I was told, there is a formula that is always integral (pun included) to the solution because it drives the correct thinking about how to solve the problem.  Linear thinking was the way to succeed in Cobb's class and many others.  You can guess how that worked out for me, although I did graduate!

So fast fowarding into real life and remembering my college experience I spent part of my career believing that problems must always be solved in the same ways used by the people who came before me.  While the leaders that came before me had much wisdom to impart, I realized that many solutions are geared to be specific to the problem at hand in conjunction with events current to the time.  If you've ever heard the phrase, "Those guys are always fighting the last war and that's why they lose...", you may get what I'm saying.  Solutions and strategies need to change and adapt with the times or they become like clothes on a toddler - ill fitting, stained, and out of date.

Somewhere around the turn of the new millennium I figured out that my job was to design solutions to fit the problems of tomorrow.  When I started down that path I realized several things, many of them contrary to popular belief.  For example, if I want to provide an email service to my company I may not need:

  • a data center
  • my own servers
  • server administrators
  • overhead required to allow me to support physical ownership of the "soup-to-nuts" solution
Same thing with just about every major application today.  External and cloud-based application providers have become so good at providing superior low cost services that in 10 years I might not even need a data center!

The most important thing to remember as a CIO these days is that, unlike my math professor tried to teach me, there are almost infinite solutions to the problems we face today.  What you really need is (a) a vivid imagination anchored to a strong business acumen and (b) great people who can actualize your strategic intent.

Don't let yourself be boxed in - live in the future and use the past as a good consistency check.