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Don't be a 'CI-NO'

Published on Saturday, 24 Jan 2015
Photo: iStockphoto

Spread of devices and apps means IT bosses should adopt a more employee-led approach

Brian Lillie, chief information officer (CIO) at data-centre company Equinix, had a salesman with a password problem. Remembering the 15 separate logins to use the company's tools proved challenging, the salesman told Lillie, so he was writing them all down.

That would render them pointless if the paper was lost or stolen, so Lillie tested programs to let people use one password for everything, and implemented one across the business a couple of years ago.

The CIO's role is changing quickly in a world where the spread of mobile devices and internet-based programs is resulting in a more employee-led approach to new technology. Companies' top IT executives now must track the use of workers' own devices and applications to decide which programs to roll out companywide. This is a break from the past, when they controlled what software and hardware to buy before it reached the staff.

"It's no longer 'here's what you will use'," Lillie says. He is now tracking what tools employees are already using before making purchasing decisions for the company. His mantra now is "change your mindset - you can't be a 'CI-no'."

Users decide

The shift to internet-based software and the rise of companies that market directly to individual users and engineers - such as Docker, Box and Microsoft's Yammer - has brought with it a surge in cloud-computing choices. That change has many CIOs seeking to adapt by letting workers experiment, while keeping a tight grip on security and spending. It is also upending the traditional way businesses buy and sell gear and software.

"CIOs and IT organisations in general are being forced to be a lot more responsive, because people have options," says Ben Golub, CEO of Docker, which makes open-source software used in app development. "We're not out playing golf with CIOs to pitch them Docker." Instead, Docker gets individual users to deploy the product, and then works with the CIOs only once the program has spread widely within a business.

As corporate technology spending climbs to US$3.8 trillion worldwide this year, according to Gartner, the growth of mobile computing and the cloud is increasingly driving the job description of CIOs.

With more software and apps becoming available for everything from shared calendars to code collaboration, workers have become used to tapping whatever program is most efficient on every computer they use, including home, office and mobile.

Roll with IT

"It's hard for people who for the past 15 years implemented policy in certain ways to suddenly make a 180-degree turn and be innovative," says Adrian van Week, CEO at K2, a software maker of programs that help CIOs get the benefits of cloud software without storing data outside the company. "There are very talented people who can make that shift."

According to Forrester Research, 13 per cent of US technology purchases in 2009 were made by employees outside of a company's IT group, or were initiated by those workers and included the CIO later. By 2015, that combined category will rise to 18 per cent, while purchases led by the CIO only are projected to drop to 22 per cent from 27 per cent.

Smart CIOs are rolling with the changes. At companies like Equinix and Dell, information chiefs are trying to position themselves as gatekeepers to experimentation and flexible approaches, rather than control freaks.

With models like Docker's, which is open source, and Yammer's freemium - where the company offers a free version and then lets users pay for one with more features - new technologies often take root in a company before the CIO notices.

"This just speaks to the changing role of the CIO as every person in a business is now a technologist, and we are all charged with making technology decisions," says Jared Spataro, who oversees Microsoft's enterprise social marketing team.

Keeping tabs

While some companies block various cloud-storage services, Lillie uses software from Skyhigh Networks to monitor employee usage, which also helps him determine which programs are the most popular.

When Rick Hopfer joined managed-care provider Molina Healthcare in 2011, he found his new company was conservative when it came to personal technology. He instituted a bring-your-own-device policy (BYOD) - unusual for companies in healthcare, he says, yet necessary to appeal to younger employees as the company more than quadrupled its workforce to 9,000 in four years.

"We are hiring new people who have grown up with technology," he says. "They are used to mobility, the internet, and getting access where they want and when they want it."

To hang on to their influence and make sure their companies keep in step with new technology, CIOs must work to organise, rather than just control, Golub says. "The people who will succeed are the people who are able to act more like a conductor than a drill sergeant," he says. Bloomberg

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