The Accidental CIO

A collection of thoughts about business, digital, people, technology and all that stuff…

Something I wish I’d written

Every now and again you read something you really wish you’d written – admittedly not always in Harvard Business Review which is a publication I’ve often derided  however the post below is one of those rare examples

So good, I felt the need to repost here

Its particularly relevant to those of us who are a certain age and have ventured into the wacky start-up / scale-out world.

Having spent the last 2.5yrs working with people sometimes young enough to be my kids, I recognise the one-line trade agreement: “I’ll offer you some emotional intelligence (& experience) for your digital intelligence.

Also…. “Wisdom is about pattern recognition. And the older you are, the more patterns you’ve seen.”

From Chip Conley @HBR – I Joined Airbnb at 52, and Here’s What I Learned About Age, Wisdom, and the Tech Industry is a great read



Google By Numbers 

Google by numbers

(taken from Developer I/O Keynote –  May 2017

  • Over a billion monthly active users across seven key services like Gmail and YouTube

  • Over one billion hours of video consumed each day on YouTube

  • Over one billion kilometres navigated on Google Maps every day

  • Over 800 million monthly active users on Google Drive

  • More than 500 million active users on Google Photos

  • 1.2 billion photos uploaded to Google every day

  • Two billion active users of Android globally, as of this week


You Can’t Always Get What You Want



You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes well you just might find

You get what you need


Time to plunder the Rollings Stones catalog and these lyrics came to mind in a quite bizarre recent client meeting.

Many of you know that one of my ‘go to’ questions for certain clients who tell me what they are planning to do is to ask them “why”. What do you think “doing this stuff” will actually achieve. Essentially, what do you want to be at the end of all that effort.

But this time it was different. This time the question was “How do we become a digital business?” As my eyebrows rose they added “You know, like one of those startups you advise”.

Pause for thought. This was a successful and profitable business and sure, tapping into the current digital narrative makes perfect sense, but that wasn’t the question. The question was “How do we become a digital business?”

Pause again and, after what seemed like an age, I replied “you can’t” – and here’s why.

Firstly, I have no idea what they actually meant by a “digital business” – this was an organization that created physical product, had complex distribution and owned outlets. It was about as physical as you could get and they certainly weren’t gonna become a software of services company overnight

Equally, this was a business with a strong orderbook and good revenues. Surely they didn’t want to suddenly ditch everything, operate with little or no profit, scrambling around to find the next big client and continually iterating their product to try and find that secret sauce. Surely they didn’t want to swap a healthy balance sheet for VC/PE investment (aka debt) that comes with additional board members solely focussed on the fastest route to a target multiple.

So what were they looking for? Turns out there were a few things. Passion for one but also there was a sense that they were perhaps going through the motions. That they didn’t feel as connected to their customers as they once were. They knew what people bought from them but they had no idea why – sounds familiar?

In fact, they didn’t need to be a digital business at all – they just needed to be a better business. And often that’s fine. Just use all this new tech to digitize what you already do to make it more than it already is.

Sure, many digital businesses and startups have a certain cadence and sense of purpose and those are great things to add to any business but they are digital businesses because they are – at their core – digital. So yes, by all means observe, experience and learn from them but also recognise what you are.

There’s nothing wrong with “digitizing” an existing business if it gets you closer to your customers, makes you more responsive and adaptable and enables you to be decisive based on new levels of insight. But that’s not being digital – that’s just good business.

So sometime you can’t always get what you want – it’s better to just get what you need.

The Main Attraction?

Quiet Riot ‎– QR III

The main attraction – Satisfaction

Guaranteed to rock the chains that bind you

The main attraction – Your reaction

Guaranteed to leave your tracks behind you

Those words are the chorus to “Main Attraction” from the ‘one-hit-wonder’ 80’s metal band Quiet Riot and they resonate with the topic of attracting talent which caused some heated discussions recently.

I often hear people talking about talent gaps or how hard it is to find the right talent and I wonder if I’m somehow walking about in a parallel universe

Two years ago I left corporate life to immerse myself in the start-up and scale-out community and during that time I have been fortunate enough to work with some incredibly gifted and talented individuals and companies. I have spent time with some amazing commercially savvy technologists – analysts, designers, developers, architects etc. And not just in companies. In some cases it’s been loosely formed groups of individuals who have chosen to work together to solve a particular problem or because they share a common purpose or vision.  

And they’re really not that hard to find. Go to any tech meetup, hackathon or similar and they’ll be there, speaking with eloquence and passion about their latest project.

But they have another thing in common – they don’t want to work for you !!

And It’s not arrogance. It’s just you don’t offer what they want.

You see, for years our companies have subcontracted “talent” to HR departments and their mantra has been one of “recruit and retain”. Find people, develop them into good corporate citizens and then keep the best ones as long as possible. But “recruit and retain” is an agenda that’s all about the company. It was never really about the individuals.

In a hyper connected world where people can share their ideas, passions, purpose; where they can assemble and dissemble as groups or cohorts – is it any wonder that they are turning their back on the structure, rigour and restrictions of the corporate world?.

The problem is not theirs – it’s ours and we need to rethink the solution. My colleague at analyst house the Leading Edge Forum, Dave Aron, talks about traditional HR as “the failed experiment” and he’s right – we are the ones who need to change.

How?? Well perhaps it’s time to stop thinking “recruit and retain” and start thinking “attract, adapt and learn”. Actively seek out  talent rather than waiting for it to find you. Adapt to it’s unique construct – don’t shoehorn it into yours – and then actively learn from it. Then, when the time comes to move on, celebrate departure or deconstruction because you’ve developed as a team, department or company and, hopefully, if you approach all this in the right way, you’ll be referenced in glowing terms making you even more attractive to the next wave.

As the late George Michael put it…

All we have to do now

Is take these lies and make them true – somehow.

All we have to see

Is that I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me

It’s all about you

Is your “customer centric” strategy genuinely about the customer or is it more about yourself?

It’s all about you –220px-dream_theater_-_falling_into_infinity_album_cover not me

It’s all about the things that you’re expecting me to be

There’s not enough time – to live

And all that you’re expecting me to give

Slightly more obscure lyrical reference today but “You Not Me” from the band Dream Theater has been ringing in my head at a number of customer meetings recently.

And the subject that’s to blame?? “Single view of the customer”.

Ah that old chestnut I hear you sigh. The problem is that it keeps coming up in discussions about being “customer centric”, which is indeed a laudable thing to be – if it’s done for the right reasons. “We put the customer at the heart of everything we do” is a phrase that’s used up more ink in your average strategy document than almost any other in recent years but increasingly I find myself asking why?

Why do you want a “single view of the customer”? Why do you want to be “customer centric”?

No, I’m not having an emperor’s new clothes moment but it’s an important question. Who are you doing this for – you or them?

Ah, there’s the rub. Because It’s rarely, if ever, about the customer. This so called customer centric strategy is actually all about you and whether you can cross-sell or upsell more effectively. It’s about increasing metrics like average revenue per user (ARPU) or share of wallet. In fact, I’d contend, the reason why so many of these initiatives fail is that they rarely consider the most important party – the customer.

They are invariably “inside out” ie something WE do because WE want more. They’re about solutions that WE create and then point outwards, in the hope of engaging the customer. And when they fail, much like the Englishman on holiday who cant be understood locally, we just shout louder – ie we build bigger programs with loftier ambitions which are even less likely to connect with our customers.

But what if we changed – not just the narrative but the whole approach? What if we stopped thinking about us and started from a different premise? What does the customer really want? What do they need? How do we empower our customers? How do we give them the ability to engage with us and most importantly how do we then listen and respond? How do we become genuinely “Outside In”?

In many ways that’s what this digital stuff is all about – being responsive, adaptive, insightful and decisive. Placing the real power in the hands of your customers. Sure, you have to be able to make good on the “outside in” promise and also have the enterprise systems to transact and fulfill in a similarly responsive fashion. But success in this digital world requires the effective marriage of a company’s outside in AND inside out capabilities. And not just from a technology perspective but across every element of the company – design, product management, operations et al.

In many ways it’s about becoming a responsive and agile company that’s geared around customer need.

So next time you’re having that “customer centric” moment, ask yourself the most important question – it this all about you ?

We’ve got two tribes

 Frankie Goes to Hollywood: Two Tribes (Music Video 1984) - IMDb

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

Shadow Of A Doubt (A Complex Kid) (Live) by Tom Petty on Amazon Music -

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!<   >

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