What Does Leadership Mean, Today?

If you’re a boss, have the courage to present yourself as a more complex being: as a sinner, not a saint; a fragile identity, not a robust platform; a lively question-mark, not a dead-certain exclamation point.

– Tim Leberecht


Assuming a new leadership role at Gigaom Research has led me to reconsider the premises that underlie the practice of leadership in business, today. Over the coming months I intend to pursue ‘new leadership’ as one major thread in my research agenda.
[Note that I plan to publish my entire research agenda for the next year sometime this month, and I am asking all our analysts here at the new Gigaom Research to do the same.]
One key idea — one that might resonate in the high velocity tech sector where a research firm like Gigaom Research lives and breathes — is that leaders must be more human today than in the past.
This idea is well explored by Tim Leberecht in Leaders Win Trust When They Show a Bit of Humanity, where he wrote

We might think we want our leaders to be machines or heroes. But it’s impossible to trust a person who is always rational, serious, and in control. If you’re a boss, have the courage to present yourself as a more complex being: as a sinner, not a saint; a fragile identity, not a robust platform; a lively question-mark, not a dead-certain exclamation point.

The most effective leaders will show their emotions, employ humor to show their inner workings, and to be open-minded. With regard to the open-mindedness, Paul Saffo’s dictum is ‘strong opinions weakly held‘, which is a near-Taoist approach to triangulating a rapidly changing world:

Allow your intuition to guide you to a conclusion, no matter how imperfect — this is the “strong opinion” part. Then –and this is the “weakly held” part– prove yourself wrong. Engage in creative doubt. Look for information that doesn’t fit, or indicators that pointing in an entirely different direction. Eventually your intuition will kick in and a new hypothesis will emerge out of the rubble, ready to be ruthlessly torn apart once again. You will be surprised by how quickly the sequence of faulty forecasts will deliver you to a useful result.

We should all ‘engage in creative doubt’, whether we are leaders or aspire to be.

Uncertainty is the only certainty in technology today

Last week was spent at the IBM InterConnect and Green Data Center conferences in Las Vegas and San Diego respectively. At each of the conferences, there were a ton of great conversations around the CIO, cloud computing, social media, big data analytics and data centers. While more details will come out in future posts, a common theme became crystal clear. We are squarely in a period of extreme disruption and no amount of Dramamine will settle the tides. The needs of the many far outweigh the needs of one, two, or three.

The power of social media

Social media plays a central role to gather our collective thoughts and banter. The conversations that ensue will further the development of innovation through the development of new ideas and critiques. However, today, we are only scratching the surface with social. Many of the ‘conversations’ happening across social media are one-way conversations usually sharing information, but with little interaction. The vast majority of tweets coming from the conferences are either a promotion or sound bite overheard during a session or conversation. In addition, there is quite a bit of ‘noise’ that contributes to the confusion. If one were to try and follow the threads, it would appear an eclectic mix of varied thoughts taken from some complex juxtaposition. A better approach is needed to improve the level of two-way engagement.

Cloud, the great equalizer

Cloud is very similar to social in terms of missed opportunities. Cloud presents the single-largest opportunity for organizations today regardless of size. At the InterConnect conference, cloud was in the forefront of many discussions. The challenge many had was how to effectively embrace and leverage cloud. Those tie back to a gap between the freeway and the on-ramps. We do not need more freeways, we need more on-ramps. Yet we continue to build new freeways.

Is it possible that cloud has gotten too far ahead of itself? One of the many discussions was that of the speed of innovation versus adoption. Is it possible we have reached a point where we are actually innovating too quickly without fully considering the ramifications? There is more to be written on this issue alone.

Understanding the customer

Ironically, much of this may go back to understanding the customer. For the vendor or provider, it is understanding who is buying (or should buy) the solution and why. It is about shifting from a transactional sale to a consultative one. That is easier said than done, as context is required to do so.

Enterprises are not immune from the confusion. According to a recent IBM survey of CEOs, 31% doubt c-suite executives understand the changes from customer and the marketplace. That is a huge number when looking across the entire c-suite. If the same question were asked of the CIO specifically, the number would most likely increase. That is not a good position considering the emphasis tech plays in the customer relationship today.

Changes in paradigms

The chasm may simply tie back to a difference in understanding evolution. The customer base is moving very quickly. For the past decade, the number of digital natives in the workplace has only increased. And they are having a strong influence on other generations. They are more familiar with technology and comfortable with rapid adoption. Yet the solutions we deliver leave them wanting.

Understanding the root of discomfort

And so the problem comes full-circle. As with any problem, it is important to understand the root of the issue. When I discuss this in detail with IT leaders and staff members the root issue comes back to uncertainty. There is a level of uncertainty with the solution, nerves, job loss and a general path forward.

Forging a path ahead

Change is hard. Change is confusing. Change is stress and burnout. And at the edge it kills. Think that is being a bit dramatic? Just read my friend John Willis’ moving post about Karojisatsu.

But change is not something we should fear. At this point, we must stick together and drive hard toward the future. Our very future depends on the success of our ability to adapt and change.

For the foreseeable future, the tech industry will continue to present confusion and uncertainty. Our ability to adapt and accept uncertainty is directly related to our ultimate success.

Time’s up! Changing core IT principles

There is a theme gaining ground within IT organizations. In truth, there are a number of examples that support a common theme coming up for IT organizations. And this very theme will change the way solutions are built, configured, sold and used. Even the ecosystems and ancillary services will change. It also changes how we think, organize, lead and manage IT organizations. The theme is:

Just because you (IT) can do something does not mean you should.

Ironically, there are plenty of examples in the history of IT where the converse of this principle served IT well. Well, times have changed and so must the principles that govern the IT organization.

Take it to the customization of applications and you get this:

Just because IT can customize applications to the nth degree does not mean they necessarily should.

A great example of this is in the configuration and customization of applications. Just because IT could customize the heck out of it, should they have? Now, the argument often made here is that it provides some value, somewhere, either real or (more often) perceived. However, the reality is that it comes at a cost, sometimes, a very significant and real cost.

Making it real

Here is a real example that has played out time and time again. Take application XYZ. It is customized to the nth degree for ACME Company. Preferences are set, not necessarily because they should be, but rather because they could. Fast-forward a year or two. Now it is time to upgrade XYZ. The costs are significantly higher due to the customizations done. It requires more planning, more testing, more work all around. Were those costs justified by the benefit of the customizations? Typically not.

Now it is time to evaluate alternatives for XYZ. ACME builds a requirements document based on XYZ (including the myriad of customizations). Once the alternatives are matched against the requirements, the only solution that really fits the need is the incumbent. This approach actually gives significant weight to the incumbent solution therefore limiting alternatives.

These examples are not fictitious scenarios. They are very real and have played out in just about every organization I have come across. The lesson here is not that customizations should be avoided. The lesson is to limit customizations to only those necessary and provide significant value.

And the lesson goes beyond just configurations to understanding what IT’s true value is based on what they should and should not do.

Leveraging alternative approaches

Much is written about the value of new methodologies and technologies. Understanding IT’s true core value opportunity is paramount. The value proposition starts with understanding how the business operates. How does it make money? How does it spend money? Where are the opportunities for IT to contribute to these activities?

Every good strategy starts with a firm understanding of the ecosystem of the business. That is, how the company operates and it’s interactions. A good target that many are finding success with sits furthest away from the core company operations and therefore hardest to explain true business value…in business terms. For many, it starts with the data center and moves up the infrastructure stack. For a bit more detail: CIOs are getting out of the data center business.

Preparing for the future today

Is your IT organization ready for today? How prepared is your organization, processes and systems to handle real-time analytics? As companies consider how to engage customers from a mobile platform in real-time, the shift from batch-mode to real-time data analytics quickly takes shape. Yet many of the core systems and infrastructure are nowhere ready to take on the changing requirements.

Beyond data, are the systems ready to respond to the changing business climate? What is IT’s holistic cloud strategy? Is a DevOps methodology engaged? What about container-based architectures?

These are only a few of the core changes in play today…not in the future. If organizations are to keep up, they need to start making the evolutionary turn now.

Changing the CIO conversation from technology to business

For many years, traditional IT thinking has served the IT function well. Companies have prospered from both the technological advances and consequent business improvements. Historically, the conversation typically centered on some form of technology. It could have been about infrastructure (data centers, servers, storage, network) or applications (language, platform, architectures) or both.

Today, we are seeing a marked shift in the conversations happening with the CIO. Instead of talking about the latest bell-and-whistle, it is increasingly more apt to involve topics about business enablement and growth. The changes did not happen overnight. For any IT leader, it takes time to evolve the conversation. Not only does the IT leader need to evolve, but so does their team and fellow business leaders. Almost two years ago, I wrote about the evolution of these relationships in Transforming IT Requires a Three-Legged Race.

Starting the journey

For the vast majority of IT leaders, the process is not an end-state, but rather a journey about evolution that has yet to start in earnest. For many I have spoken with, there is an interest, but not a clear path in which to take.

This is where an outside perspective is helpful. It may come from mentors, advisors or peers. It needs to come from someone that is trusted and objective. This is key, as the change itself will touch the ethos of the IT leader.

The assessment

Taking a holistic assessment of the situation is critical here. It requires a solid review of the IT leadership, organizational ability, process state and technological situational analysis. The context for the assessment is back to the core business strategy and objectives.

Specific areas of change are items that clearly are not strategic or differentiating to support the company’s strategy and objectives. A significant challenge for IT organizations will be: Just because you can manage it, does not mean you should manage it.

Quite often, IT organizations get too far into the weeds and loose sight of the bigger picture. To fellow business leaders, this is often perceived as a disconnect between IT & Line of Business (LoB) leaders. It essentially alienates IT leaders and creates challenges to fostering stronger bonds between the same leaders.

Never lose sight of the business

It is no longer adequate for the CIO to be the only IT leader familiar with the company’s strategy and objectives. Any IT leader today needs to fully understand the ecosystem of how the company makes and spends money. Without this clarity, the leader lacks the context in which to make healthy, business-centric decisions.

The converse is an IT leader that is well familiar with the business perspective as outlined above. This IT leader will gain greater respect amongst their business colleagues. They will also have the context in which to understand which decisions are most important.

Kicking technology to the curb

So, is IT really getting out of the technology business? No! Rather, think of it as an opportunity to focus. Focus on what is important and what is not. What is strategic for the company and what is not? Is moving to a cloud-centric model the most important thing right now? What about shifting to a container-based application architecture model? Maybe. Maybe not. There are many areas of ripe, low hanging fruit to be picked. And just as with fruit, the degree of ripeness will change over time. You do not want to pick spoiled fruit. Nor do you want to pick it too soon.

One area of great interest these days is in the data center. I wrote about this in detail with CIOs are getting out of the Data Center business. It is not the only area, but it is one of many areas to start evaluating.

The connection between technology divestiture and business

By assessing which areas are not strategic and divesting those area, it provides IT with greater focus and the ability to apply resources to more strategic functions. Imagine if those resources were redeployed to provide greater value to the company strategy and business objectives. By divesting non-strategic areas, it frees up the ability to move into other areas and conversations.

By changing the model and using business as the context, it changes the tone, tenor and impact in which IT can have for a company. The changes will not happen overnight. The evolution of moving from technology to business discussions takes vision, perseverance, and a strong internal drive toward change.

The upside is a change in culture that is both invigorating and liberating. It is also a model that supports the dynamic changes required for today’s leading organizations.

5 things a CIO wishes for this holiday season

It is that time of year when we start thinking about our predictions for the next year. Before we get to 2015 predictions next week, let us take an introspective look at 2014 and what we could hope for from the IT perspective in 2015.

There are a number of key gaps between where we, as IT organizations and the CIOs that lead them, are today versus where we need to be. One dynamic that is currently evolving, however slowly, is the shift from traditional CIOs to transformational CIOs. This applies equally to the IT organizations they lead. IT is in a transitive state at the moment and leaves quite a bit in flux. In many ways, there is much more changing within IT organizations today than ever before.

As we progress through the 2014 holiday season heading quickly toward 2015, there are a number of things that, as CIO, I would wish for in 2015.

  1. Reduce the risk from security breaches: With recent events, it is probably not surprising that security is front-and-center. Security breaches are not new to IT organizations. Neither are high-profile breaches. The change over the past year is that the frequency in high-profile breaches has increased significantly. In addition, if you consider the breaches just in the past year, the vast majority of people in the US have been affected by at least one of the breaches. As a CIO, I do not want to be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal let alone a household name that violated the trust of my customer’s data.
  2. The end of vaporware: Vaporware, like security breaches, is not new. But the hype around emerging technologies has really gotten out of control. It is time to dial it back to a more reasonable level. This is especially true of services that are ‘stickier’ for customers. Be reasonable with setting expectations. It is OK to be ambitious, but also builds credibility when you express what is and isn’t in your wheelhouse.
  3. A business-centric IT organization: Consider an IT organization that brings a business-centric focus to delivering solutions in a proactive manner. No longer are there ‘translators’ between business and IT. But rather, an IT organization that understands how the company makes and spends money…intimately. This means they understand the ecosystem of the company, their customers and the marketplace.
  4. Symbiotic business relationships: This one is intertwined with #3 where the IT organization and other lines of business work fluidly and collaboratively toward common objectives. Lines of business outside of IT view IT as a strategic asset, not a tool. And, there is no more talk of IT and ‘the business’ as if they’re separate groups. IT is part of ‘the business’.
  5. A clear future, not cloudy: It would be great if the future state were clear as a bell to the entire IT ecosystem. Right now, it’s pretty cloudy (pun intended). That’s not to say that clouds don’t have a place. Cloud computing represents the single biggest opportunity for IT organizations today.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This is absolutely the best time to work in IT. I know there are IT professionals that have a hard time with that statement. However, much of that consternation comes from the ambiguity currently within the IT industry. Let’s face it; there is a ton of change happening in IT right now. Things we took as gospel for decades is being questioned. Best practices are no longer so.

But with change and disruption comes confusion and opportunity. Once we get beyond this temporary state, things will quell and the future state will become clearer. Here’s to an exhilarating 2015!

Happy Holidays and here’s to an amazing 2015!

Batman & Robin: How DevOps pairings can succeed

Part 1 of 4 in an analysis series sponsored by CenturyLink.

Making Development & Operations Partners

DevOps, while a big topic for most enterprises today, is often misunderstood and not approached well. This usually leads to a lack of success in implementing and using DevOps or not fully gaining the benefits DevOps brings. Many of the common approaches that fail involve putting a developer into an on-call rotation; this doesn’t work because the developer doesn’t have a stake in Operations.

One of the best ways to learn about DevOps is to look at an organization that has already successfully implemented it. CenturyLink’s Cloud team is an example of such an organization.

Why did CTL Cloud choose DevOps?
Jim Newkirk, VP of Engineering, joined Tier 3 in 2012 – prior to its acquisition by CenturyLink in 2013. Jim has been a Board Member of the Agile Alliance since 2009. Jim saw DevOps as a way to avoid fluctuations and chaotic behavior within the Engineering team whenever important bugs came in.

As a result, as new bugs are being reported, they are assigned to an individual developer — building empathy for customers and a better partnership with Operations. Developers stopped seeing themselves as performing Operations functions and Operations started seeing themselves as Developers too, since both sides are working on things that relate to the CenturyLink Cloud Platform.

Whilst good leadership can help organizations make any type of cultural shift deliver value, it is only a beginning. In this case, it required both the Development and Operations teams to work together. This initiative was started as a way to create developer accountability.

The Dynamic Duo – Batman & Robin

DevOps is the system of cooperation and participation by both the Development (Batman) and Operations (Robin) teams of an IT organization with the shared goal of delivering high quality, easily maintainable software to users. Batman and Robin (the characters from DC Comics fame) are an inspiration behind an analogy that CenturyLink uses to describe how they use DevOps internally.

Who is Batman?
Batman is a Developer on-call.
Batman is a detective and a problem solver.
Batman is also responsible for stability – to the point of asking for better logging and better data points in order to troubleshoot customer issues.
Batman now understands user issues and customer side use-cases.
Batman is driving innovation and the customer on-boarding process onto the CenturyLink Cloud platform.
Batman is not a specialist. He is a generalist. Batman has to work with many different technologies and learn many techniques in order to do his job.
Batman is constantly taking on new challenges that are thrown at him.

New Developers are put onto the front line call rotation after three weeks on the job. By giving Developers direct interaction with end users, Developers gain an appreciation for how their software is being used and where the operational pain is. This is what creates an empathetic cultural shift for Developers in understanding Operations by allowing the Developers to “get into the minds” of Operations. Developers also need to be accountable for their solutions in production, when the user is using them.

Developers need to be generalists as well, being able to debug code, run and understand SQL queries, and scripting, as examples, because without broad breadth, you cannot be Batman. This generalist approach allows many people to effectively solve problems across the entire stack, instead of creating a dependence on a single individual to solve a specific class of problems. The generalist can solve most problems because of their full understanding of how the system as a whole works, giving them the insight needed to get to the root cause of the problem and fix it.

Where does Robin fit in?
Robin is a customer service-centric thinker
Robin is a consumer of Development – a Systems Developer
Robin uses APIs – a functional programmer.

Operations figures out how to streamline the deployment and automation of applications written by the Development team. To do this, they write their own code against APIs supplied by the Development team, making them users of the code and platform as well. Because Operations is actually using the code and not just Operating the systems running code for end users, they are exposed to any weaknesses much earlier and understand how the applications and systems actually work. This is why Operations is Robin. Batman (Developers) can only do so much, often times Batman needs Robin to help him solve many of the problems that an individual can’t solve alone. Robin has the authority to make fixes live to solve customer issues.

What about the Utility Belt?

Batman relies on his skills, but he also takes full advantage of his Utility Belt. Batman’s Utility Belt is purpose built to solve a large number of general limitations that he faces as he tries to solve problems. In DevOps there are a large number of tools that can be used to automate and solve problems in both Development and Operations activities.

Here are some examples of items in CenturyLink’s Utility Belt:

Source: Gigaom Research

Source: Gigaom Research

Benefits

The CenturyLink Cloud team already had good structure in place before adding DevOps practices into their organization. For the purposes of this report, we are considering a very small subset of the prior structure:

  • Knowledge Base for support
  • Deployment time of 5 hours over 3 data centers

Since adding the DevOps-Batman & Robin ethos:

  • Knowledge Base has grown by 4x in 12 months
  • 40% of tickets are solved immediately through the Knowledge Base
  • Deployment time of 1 hour over 12 data centers
  • Still 1 Batman/Dev on-call with 3x VM inventory in 12 months and 4x Cloud capacity

The Knowledge Base is fed Batman (Dev) & Robin (Ops) teams. Better operational efficiencies have been realized through this new process even with the CenturyLink Cloud’s VM inventory tripling in last 12 months and capacity has quadrupled.

This same team now also owns infrastructure engineering – further removing dependencies on a separate a team for the CenturyLink Cloud platform.

Both Batman and Robin are key to keeping the CenturyLink Cloud growing and running and its customers happy – regardless of whether they are internal groups such as Savvis, or external groups such as partners or a customer of the platform.

Everyone is an Engineer.

Join me and the CenturyLink Cloud team this week on a webinar where we will discuss this post and other findings.

Who wants to lead, and who doesn’t?

A new CareerBuilder survey — conducted by Harris Poll — suggests that most American workers do not see themselves as future managers: only 34% are aiming leadership positions, and only 7% aspire to senior level management.

One large spread is between women and men, with men 11% more like to want a leadership role. This picture grows more complicated when sexual orientation is brought into the picture: 44% of LGBT seek those roles.

whowantspromotion_b

 

The underlying divide is really about work/life balance, and perhaps the stress associated with managerial  work:

A majority (52 percent) say they are simply satisfied in their current roles, and a third (34 percent) don’t want to sacrifice work life balance. Seventeen percent say they do not have the necessary education.

usworkersnotaspiring

The ‘Other’ category in this survey is a large gap. I hope they explore that more deeply in a subsequent follow-up.

Presumably, those with the highest aspirations for management are less satisfied with their current role and less concerned about work/life balance. Note that child rearing hits heterosexual women hardest (yes, I know that people in the LGBT demographic do have children to rear, but that is at a considerably lower rate than heterosexuals).

But there is also the glass ceiling: one in five workers believe that women and minorities are held back from management roles because of race or gender. But the numbers skew when you zoom in on those that aspire to leadership roles. The percentage that believe a glass ceiling is holding people back rises to 24%, and the various demographic groups who are likely to face such discrimination see even higher numbers: females (33%), Hispanics (34%), African Americans (50%) and workers with disabilities (59%). The one oddball number is LGBT workers, 21% of which believe in the glass ceiling.

The aspirations of the young and the acceptance of the old are clearly shown in this graph. It comes as no surprise that as time passes, those that are not in managerial roles increasingly are less likely to want to be, or expect to be.

leaderaspirationbyage

 

 

My hunch is that the stark distinction between management and staff will decrease rapidly in the near future, as workers in general acquire more autonomy in the fast-paced, agile, and lean workplace of the near future. The rise of leanership, or emergent leadership, where (like everything else)  leadership is decentralized, discontinuous, and distributed, will change the binary nature of being a manager to more of a spectrum of modalities. A worker in a leanership culture might be the project lead on the Jones project, and an individual contributor in three others. And after a few months, as the Jones project winds down, she might simply contribute for a few months before assuming a lead role again.

The idea of leadership will become more fluid and flexible, to match the way the world wags. That could sidestep some of the issues of work/life balance, since taking on added responsibilities doesn’t mean a long-term disruption, but instead a shorter tour of duty.

The industrial distinction between leaders and followers, or management and labor, need to be transformed by a new egalitarian work ethos into something else entirely, something that brings out the best in all, and allows each of us to manage both a career and a life, without feeling excluded or exploited. A tall task and a deep revolution to undertake.

Three harmonious factors that change the CIO octave

Wikipedia: The term harmony derives from the Greek ‘harmonia’, meaning “joint, agreement, concord”, from the verb ‘harmozo’, “to fit together, to join.

The future of the CIO role comes down to this very issue. Many speak of the demise of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). Yet, a growing contingent of folks sees the path to success for the ‘new’ CIO role. Make no mistake; the (old) traditional CIO looks little to nothing like the (new) transformational CIO role. Unfortunately, many in traditional CIO roles will never make it into transformational CIO roles. The leap between the two roles will prove too great for many.

While these changes may seem obvious, actual widespread adoption continues to lag. Companies and their business leaders are craving these CIO success factors, yet they remain illusive.

Shifting focus

For those looking to shift gears to a higher orbit, there are a number of core success factors that come to light. Each of these provides the alignment necessary to refocus the CIO role toward a business-centric role.

  1. Follow the Money: Focus on key areas that govern the flow of money both in and out of the company.
  2. Partner: Go beyond just the basics of partnering with fellow business leaders. Truly understand their objectives and propose ways to enhance or expand their opportunities. In order to partner, collaboration is a must.
  3. Communicate: Providing regular status reports will not cut it. Use communication vehicles to communicate the IT priorities and how they benefit both the company and the specific leader’s objectives.

All about business

At a CIO Summit last week, the executive recruiter panel addressed how CEOs and other business leaders in search of a CIO are changing their perspective and ostensibly, their wish list. Instead of asking the executive recruiter to ‘get me one of these’ with specific technical or leadership skills, they are looking for CIOs with greater business knowledge about their industry…and the ability to apply that knowledge.

Similar to other IT roles where someone has a certification (ie: CCIE, MCSE, ITIL, CISSP), the certification itself brings little to no value without the ability to apply it. A CIO in title may only bring limited value without the applicability. For the CIO, this means quickly understanding the industry, company, customers and how the flow of money takes place.

Follow the Money

Key to starting is in understanding how the company makes money. How does the ecosystem of money flow both in, and out, of the company? Which departments or divisions are key to driving both top-line revenue and bottom-line expenses for the company. What attributes are critical in maintaining this ‘engine’ of commerce within the company? A successful CIO will clearly understand the process, the players and the levers of opportunity.

Partner

Partnering today means building a symbiotic two-way relationship that mutually benefits both parties. This means that the CIO must build critical relationships with fellow c-suite executives across the organization. In order to accomplish this, the CIO must be open-minded and collaborative in nature. Walking in with a closed-minded, technology-centric agenda need not apply. One must possess the ability to reach escape velocity from the daily grind. In addition, the language used in these conversations needs to shift from technology to business. For many, this means talking about money and how it applies to the executive(s) at the table. Applicability of the conversation is key to the success of the collaborative process. The CIO needs to lead this conversation, which may push them well outside their typical comfort zone.

Communicate

We have all heard the phrase: Communicate, communicate, communicate. But is it the right communication? More is not always better if it isn’t the right content. Part and parcel with the collaborative nature of the relationship, the CIO needs to clearly communicate their priorities and how they benefit the company and/or the specific executive’s priorities. In some case, the CIO’s objectives may not benefit the executive in question, but that doesn’t mean it should be omitted. There is a level of appreciation in understanding (and respecting) the CIO’s methods of prioritization among fellow executives. This leads the CIO to greater credibility and buy-in.

CIO = Career Is Over?

In a word: Hardly. The role of the traditional CIO is at a state of plateau. However, the role of the traditional CIO is just getting ramped up. The business-centric transformational CIO will thrive and succeed beyond the current expectations. One trend that exemplifies this is the appointment of CIOs to corporate boards of publicly traded companies. We can only expect far more opportunities from the CIO as the momentum of this evolution takes firm hold.

Ballmer departure changes the Microsoft game for enterprise CIOs

In a letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, chairman Steve Ballmer announced his departure from Microsoft’s board of directors. While Ballmer still retains 4% of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), he relinquishes his last official leadership title. But the departure of employee number 30 and former CEO signals a deeper change at Microsoft that enterprise CIOs will want to watch.

Ballmer, and founder Bill Gates before him, brought significant value to enterprises. The relationships they built touch just about every corporate entity on the planet. Even today, Microsoft maintains one of the strongest relationships with enterprises today. Many of those relationships are based on client operating system and productivity tools; namely Windows and Office.

However, as cloud became more prevalent in the enterprise world, Microsoft seemed steeped in their traditional form and only made modest course corrections. Arguably, changing a $300B+ publicly traded corporation is not for the faint of heart. But the appointment of Satya Nadella to the CEO role was no mistake in a carefully orchestrated set of maneuvers intended to change Microsoft’s path. Nadella was formerly Microsoft’s Executive Vice President of Cloud and Enterprise. Ballmer’s role on the Board of Directors left him in a very influential position. His departure signals an opportunity for Nadella to shine.

And that shine is just what Microsoft needs to turn the corner. Now is the opportunity for Microsoft to take actions that fully embrace cloud in a holistic manner. For the enterprise CIO, this means looking at Microsoft beyond just Office 365 and Azure. Microsoft, historically, created a broad ecosystem that was Microsoft-centric. In order for Microsoft, or any cloud provider, to succeed, the ecosystem must be open and extend beyond the boundaries of their existing portfolio of products and services. For Microsoft, this shift becomes more personal away from on-premises enterprise products and shifting toward open cloud-based services like Office 365 and Azure.

Under Ballmer’s reign, this shift would have been challenging at best. Ballmer was a great leader who drove Microsoft hard in a direction that founder Bill Gates started. Now it is Nadella’s turn at the helm to take Microsoft in a completely different. And that very direction, toward cloud-based services, is just what the enterprise needs. Microsoft, with their existing deep enterprise relationships, has the opportunity to capitalize on this shift. For the enterprise CIO, sticking with a Microsoft ecosystem brings a level of comfort and attractiveness. Before the leadership change, one might question if Microsoft was capable to making the turn. With Ballmer’s departure, it should give the enterprise CIO renewed interest in seeing what transpires next. The question is: Can Microsoft really make the shift happen quickly enough. The next few months will be interesting to watch.