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.

The new LinkedIn homepage is all about the warm fuzzies

LinkedIn introduced small but significant changes to its homepage design Thursday, simplifying its newsfeed and highlighting some interaction features that will come to all users next year. The shifts in the design bring the connection element of the service front and center, encouraging users to build their relationships with each other over time.

The first most obvious change is the number of user views at the top of the page. It gives someone a snapshot of how many people saw the content they post. LinkedIn offered these features before, but they were buried in the righthand sidebar, out of eyesight. “We realized this was something we needed to bring front and center to the desktop,” LinkedIn VP Joff Redfern told me.

New LinkedIn homepage design

New LinkedIn homepage design

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 2.00.10 PM

Old LinkedIn homepage design


LinkedIn is also doubling down on its content strategy, no doubt following behind competitors like Facebook. When there are compelling articles and posts to peruse on a social network feed, its users stick around longer. And the best way to motivate users to post is to highlight the feedback they receive when they do.

Keeping with that theme, the company has cleaned up its newsfeed. There’s less button clutter at the top, drawing users attention straight to the content.

The second change to LinkedIn’s homepage is the Keep in Touch system in the top right corner. You can quickly click through profile cards to see who has had big business changes recently, from adding new photos to switching jobs. It makes it easy for you to congratulate them or touch base in these moments, keeping the relationship strong. It’s based on LinkedIn’s Connected app, which was designed to help people stay in touch with professional contacts.

A wide range of users liked it, so LinkedIn decided to introduce it to a wider audience via the desktop app. “These two brand new modules are so important for keeping track of how you’re doing professionally that without them that stuff was harder,” Redfern said. “Now we’re giving the member that ability.”

The Power of Your Little Black Book

In “The Power of Who: You Already Know Everyone You Need to Know,” author Bob Beaudine attests that we already know everyone we need to know to succeed. I’m coming to believe that more and more the longer I’m in business.

Does Medium Affect Behavior?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people behave in different environments. It first crossed my mind a month or so ago, while out shopping with one of my sisters. She was driving, someone cut her off, and she commented on the person’s rude behavior. I said that I wondered if the person would act the same in person.

I act quite differently in my car than I do when I meet strangers in a store. I’m much more likely to be aggressive while driving, whereas in a store, I’m generally very courteous and tend to go out of my way to hold doors open for people, and that sort of thing.

It’s strange, really. I’m “in a rush” when I’m on the road and don’t have time for niceties, but after parking my car and walking into a store five minutes later, I can take the time to be polite. It made me wonder if medium influences behavior. Read More about Does Medium Affect Behavior?

Networking Tip: Help People Help You

rowingI’ve been talking with a lot of entrepreneurs lately, and one thing I can say for certain is that, as a group, they’re very eager to help each other. They get just as excited talking about the pursuits of others as they do talking about their own, and they’re more than willing to go the extra mile for those around them.
But how do you tap into this invaluable resource? It can be intimidating to go to others for help and can be perceived as pushy and self-serving if approached the wrong way. Here are a few tips to help others help you. Read More about Networking Tip: Help People Help You

Gist Goes Mobile With iPhone App

Gist - iPhoneGist, the relationship management service that went to open beta last month, today announces the release of an iPhone (s aapl) application, available through the App Store, that makes getting access to your data easier while on the go.

By its very nature, Gist compiles a sometimes overwhelming amount of information about your contacts so I was a bit skeptical about it being possible to reduce it down for the mobile interface. Gist combats this by really focusing on your most important people: those who you are meeting with next. Read More about Gist Goes Mobile With iPhone App

The Importance of Cultivating Interdisciplinary Relationships

In college, and grad school, I mostly hung with a crowd that shared the same interests, hobbies and field of study. I know that a lot of college faculties are beginning to move towards a more interdisciplinary approach, because it more accurately reflects what students can expect their post-school life to be like. College professors tend to be somewhat protective of their disciplines, however, so progress is moving faster in some areas and at some schools than others. The result is that a lot of people in the workforce have a pretty narrow view of what the word “colleague” means. It’s important to broaden that definition and cultivate relationships with people in other fields. Here’s why.

Web Worker Epiphany: I Treat My Career Like a Sim Would

This past Tuesday marked the release of The Sims 3. It’s a recipe for disaster. Or at least, a dip in productivity.

Luckily, I had professional cause to engage with The Sims 3. And it was with strictly professional interests in mind that I devoted upwards of 14 hours in the past two days to EA’s (s erts) wildly popular life simulation franchise. Well, maybe that’s not strictly true, but there was work involved.

In-game, I was working, too. Specifically, I was pursuing sim careers in both the music industry and professional sports. In doing so, I realized that I think of my job in exactly the same way a sim would. Here are the specific parallels I’ve drawn between my real-life and simulated experiences.

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