The Accidental CIO

A collection of thoughts about being a CIO and all that stuff…

We’ve got two tribes

boxing gloves

When two tribes go to war
A point is all that you can score

So says “Frankie” and he’s right. There’s a lot of verbal warfare and point scoring going on at the moment when it comes to the so called “digital revolution” but one phrase is being shouted louder that all the others – “go bimodal”.

It’s almost religious – Yea, verily, hast the almighty passed amongst you with two tablets. One shall be called the “slow tablet” for it doth contain all that is legacy and difficult and complex and old.  And the other shall be the “fast tablet” for it containeth all that is good and pure and connected and social. And lo! the fast tablet shineth in the night sky and all thy congregation shall be drawn to its glow whilst the slow tablet withereth, shrouded in the clouds of legacy.

Perhaps that is a tad old testament but sometimes it seems like this Bimodal IT is a religion – take all the old stuff, everything you’ve done before, data, transactions, resilience, security and so on, and put it in the slow lane. Meanwhile everything that you apparently need in this digital age lives in this new fast lane – including customer interaction, analytics, user journeys and the like.

And what about the people. Imagine coming home to your family: “Guess what?! Today I was put in charge of “Slow IT”. Yep, I know it sounds a bit dull but we call it “Mode 1” and it’s where all the really important stuff lives – honest. It’s the heart of the company but, well it’s just, er, slow… Incidentally we also hired this young chap from Amazon to run the new division – Fast IT, although I’ve been told we can also call that “Mode 2”.

How do you think these “Fast” and “Slow” tribes will get on?

Sorry folks but this Bimodal IT stuff has the potential to do even more damage than that old chestnut of business and IT alignment – remember that one? Everyone running around focussing on alignment instead of the working together on the important things like customer delight, revenue, employee engagement and growth. The fact that when you focus on alignment you reinforce the very separation you’re trying to avoid was lost on most people. And yet here we are driving wedges into organisations again, only this time with a new risk – tissue rejection.

Does anyone actually work in a bimodal company? Of course not. Business by its very nature is multimodal with customer needs, services, adoption rates, behaviours, products, business models, threats, competition and a myriad of other factors all moving at differing speed across different sectors, industries, and geographies. This digital tsunami hasn’t changed our world into a simple two-speed model. It’s accelerated and polarised the challenges we already faced and added a whole lot more – so to offer up Bimodal IT as the solution is almost laughable.

If digital is anything it’s the challenge to create new capabilities that are responsive, flexible, agile and hyper connected – from back to front and front to back and all points in between across the entire enterprise. It’s new solutions that work seamlessly with customers, partners, supplier and even competitors to sustain and grow existing business while creating new products and services at a variety of speeds that reflect the needs of diverse markets.

Too much ain’t enough

You got me on the line, Now tryin’ to call your bluff

But you just won’t be satisfied, Too much ain’t enough

Yes this time I’m back with lyrics and title from the 1978 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers hit – Too Much AIn’t Enough… but when it comes to collecting data, and more specifically our personal data, when is too much enough?

This came up in conversation recently at the board meeting of a “connected homes” start-up I’m involved with. You see, through smart sensors and apps, we’ll have the ability to capture all sorts of data but the key question was “what should we collect”.

It got me thinking about a study conducted by the German motorists organization ADAC late last year which found that in addition to distance data, driving modes, engine revolutions etc, a BMW 320d was being used to collect a whole lot more. The car was transmitting all keyed  SatNav destinations along with other personal information such as contacts synchronized from mobile phones. Now why would BMW need my contacts?

Do you know what data your car is capturing and transmitting?  Perhaps you should. It’s not like you have any control over its network security. So what would happen if your data was compromised – after all you approved the sharing of your personal data via your car – didn’t you?

And from April 2018 all new cars will have to be fitted with eCell, a system that sends the exact location of a vehicle to emergency services in the event of an accident. Of course, to do that it needs an “always on” mobile data connection. Now, I wonder what your friendly neighbourhood marketing director might want to do with that?

As the current “IOT (Internet of Things) Wave” continues to gather pace, more and more of our lives will become connected to faceless corporations who will suck up our data at the first sight of a mistakenly unchecked opt out box. So whose responsibility it it to guard our privacy or make sure companies “do the right thing” with our information. Surely It can’t be us? We’d sign our lives away for the simplicity of a one click sign on to the latest messaging app – we can’t be trusted

Here’s a thought. For years we lived by the maxim caveat emptor‘ – buyer beware – until consumer rights came along to protect us from unscrupulous behaviour. I wonder what the equivilent will be in the data world because it seems that nowadays, not only do we we have to be protected from ourselves,  but we also have to be protected from the things around us. Maybe it’s time for the CIO to step into the whole data collection debate and ask the question no one else seems willing to tackle; in a world where we can collect everything, what information “should” we collect to retain the trust of our customers. I mean, the “I” in CIO is information isn’t it?

Innovation comes from “the horizontal”

Great piece on the Israeli Fintech Industry < here >

One of many key messages is that innovation is not coming from the finserv sector… “In Israel, the country’s fintech know-how is largely a by-product of innovations in other fields”

What a shame then that so many so called experts still look vertically for innovation instead of recognising that most innovation tends to be found in the horizontal

Everybody’s talkin’ at me

Digital transformation, disruption and the increasing pace of change – are you using current business and technology lingo correctly?

Everybody’s talkin’ at me
But I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’
Only the echoes of my mind

These lyrics, made famous by Harry Nilsson in his 1969 version, are currently doing the rounds in an advert by a technology vendor about “moving to the cloud” (don’t even get me started!) – but they did make me think about the use or misuse of certain words and phrases.

You see, I got caught up in a number of seemingly semantic debates recently thanks to my apparent poor choice of words. What I found interesting though, was that I was actually using words and phrases that have become increasingly common in the modern business and technology narrative. I’m going to share them with you and see what you think.

The first, and the one that caused the most immediate response, concerned the “increasing pace of technology change” and the question was straightforward – is technology really moving any faster than before? David Moschella from the Leading Edge Forum said recently that “the time it takes for a new technology to be adopted by 50% of US households has long been a metric for cross-technology comparisons. By that measure both radios (8 years) and black-and-white TV (9 years) reached the 50% threshold much faster than PCs (17 years) or mobile phones (15 years)”. So is it really about speed or simply the fact that there is just so much technology out there that everything just feels faster? There are so many new things (apps, devices, solutions) coming at us from so many different directions that the volume can be overwhelming.

The second discussion focused on term “Digital Transformation”. Yes I know, it’s used everywhere but I’m convinced that very few people actually mean it when they say it. You see, to transform actually means an “irrevocable change in form, appearance, or structure; essentially a metamorphosis” – and the key point here is the irrevocable change. Far too many organizations talk about ‘transformation’ when what they really just mean is ‘change’. They don’t actually want to be anything new – they just want to do a few things differently to satisfy investors, markets or their perception of customer needs. Very often it’s just lipstick on a pig. Not to say there’s anything wrong with that. Indeed many organisations would benefit from digitising many of their operations and processes to improve efficiency, reduce cost and actually engage with some customers, but that’s not transformation.

Finally there’s the old chestnut: “disruption”. Well this column is called “The Disruptive CIO”, but whenever I hear the word, I immediately wonder what you are trying to disrupt and more importantly – why? Earlier this year the American-born entrepreneur and investor Julie Meyer commented that this is “the era of design; not disruption” and in that simple phrase she highlighted the positive rather than negative aspects of disruption. Too often we laud the displacement or destruction of an activity as it becomes disrupted rather than the development or improvement of something – which I consider to be positive disruption.

So there you have it. As the Bee Gees said – “It’s only words…” – but next time I’ll be choosing them a bit more wisely.

Silence is golden

Here’s a really good and well written piece < here> on a topic that has, in the past, had way too much consulting BS associated with it.

The IT dept is dead!                                                  Long live the technology and innovation team!<   https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/dept-dead-long-live-technology-innovation-team-justin-vaughan-brown?trk=hp-feed-article-title-share   >

A wise ex boss of mine once asked….. “help me make ‘the IT’ silent so we can use technology to really transform this business”.

That was well before “DevOps” and “Digital” became the new boardroom buzzwords but I’ve never forgotten those words and have done my best to both remember and apply them wherever I’ve been

Please don’t let me be misunderstood

In this fast moving digital world there are even faster moving digital dangers that everyone needs to understand

When things go wrong, I seem to be bad.

But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good:

Oh Lord! Please don’t let me be misunderstood.

The blues classic, written for Nina Simone and made famous by the Animals, got me thinking about what one needs to understand and to what level.

In a recent article Ian Cox quite properly asserted that CIOs needed to know many things to be successful, but how to code wasn’t necessarily one of them. A reasonable perspective given the broad range of topics your typical CIO needs to understand. But in what, if anything, should a CIO be an expert?

Sure, it’s useful to know about coding and possibly recognise the good from the bad – but how much detail do you need to know? As Edmund Blackadder once said during his time as a butler, when asked by the Prince Regent about a machine called The Ravelling Nancy…

PR: What does it do?
EB: It ravels cotton, sir.
PR: What for?
EB: That I cannot say, sir. I am one of these people who are quite happy to wear cotton, but have no idea how it works.

Most CIOs have the breadth of knowledge and experience and have members of their teams who understand various levels of detail – few are expert at all levels of their operations.

Which might be fine until we have a week like this one when in the wake of the Talk Talk cyber attack, CEO Dido Harding visibly struggled under some very precise BBC questioning over the exact nature of the attack and the levels of data protection offered by her company. Should she have known her ‘SQL Injection’ from her ‘IRC-Worm’? More importantly, perhaps – would you? And does the fact that she didn’t make her any less effective as a CEO. A straw poll of CIOs suggested that most would have been equally flummoxed by the detail of the questions and would have reached for their trusty Security Architect or CISO.

What becomes very apparent is that in this fast moving digital world there are even faster moving digital dangers that everyone needs to understand. In a previous post I suggested that the days of C-Suite executives wearing their lack of IT knowledge as a badge of honour were over and the last week’s incidents only serve to amplify that fact.

I’m not saying you need to know every detail but there should be a minimum level of competence. If the BBC reporter was asking about the company’s financial performance, it would be inconceivable that a CEO wouldn’t understand their balance sheet sufficiently to handle the questions – so why not technology or indeed data security? Customers will rightly expect organisations to protect their information and it therefore behoves executives to have a certain level of security savvy and vocabulary.

Equally, I’m not saying they should know how to build or maintain a Ravelling Nancy but at least they should know that they own one, that it ravels the cotton and it’s responsible for the shirt on their back.

Come Talk To Me

Come Talk To Me - Ian Cohen

Ah please talk to me. Won’t you please talk to me

We can unlock this misery. Come on, come talk to me

I did not come to steal. This all is so unreal 

Can’t you show me how you feel. Come on, come talk to me

 

Yes, another Peter Gabriel lyric – but this one came to mind in a discussion around the value of customer complaints

I recently read and posted on a Forbes article suggesting that firms should actively encourage their customers to complain. Essentially the point was that, in a world where we are all trying to delight our customers, understanding why they complain – indeed, actively encouraging these complaints was a great way for a company to gauge how they were performing when it comes to delivering a competitive customer experience

My problem is that this is only part of the story and taken on its own is a potentially harmful perspective. You see, studying complaints will tell you a lot about why some of your customers complain but will tell you nothing about why others are absolutely delighted with your product or service. For many years now I have been concerned by a growing kind of one dimensional causality used by certain analysts.

This crops up in more places than you would expect  – people study divorce to understand about marriage;  we study unhappy customers to understand the happy ones;  employers study disgruntled employees and even hold exit interviews in the vain hope that this will in some way help improve the workplace and help us better understand our staff.  People say we learn from our mistakes – No; we learn about our mistakes from our mistakes – they tell us nothing about our successes.

And that’s my point there’s nothing wrong about encouraging your customers to complain and analysing those complaints IF the aim is to learn why your customers are unhappy. Just don’t think it will tell you anything about why others are delighted.

This all came into sharper focus whilst having a discussion at a recent startup boot-camp style event where a guy proudly told me how his MVP (minimum viable product) had this amazing return loop for capturing feedback on the features that didn’t work well or that customers didn’t like / want. So I casually asked – “What about the stuff they love? How do you encourage them to tell you that?” The silence was palpable and was accompanied with the kind of look “wrinklies” like me are getting used to.

Don’t get me wrong, of course you should analyse why customers discard your product or ignore certain features but don’t think that will tell you anything about why others keep it and focus on certain features. Success, like failure has its own configuration and needs to be studied.

If you are opening a dialogue with your customers you need to focus on the good and the bad; what they love as well as what they hate. Like any great conversation it needs to have the light and the dark if you ever hope to understand the whole picture…

……. so come on; come talk to me

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