There’s a new renaissance emerging for energy innovation

A renaissance of creativity around developing innovations for energy has emerged in the wake of Silicon Valley’s cleantech bust in the U.S. It’s taken several years to materialize. Bolstered by a series of energy success stories, this newfound creativity has been propped up by increasingly low costs of clean energy technologies and energy storage, and has floated on a change in the political winds.

The excitement is evident in the development of new energy incubator projects, new startups, new funding opportunities, new state and federal incentives and new ideas coming out of universities. Silicon Valley still might be hesitant to fund the next generation of energy manufacturing technologies, but a growing number of eager entrepreneurs and investors are coming together to test out new ideas and projects around the world.

The energy industry is still a very difficult market to innovate in, and many of these new ideas won’t make a dent in the market. But there’s been a return to optimism, and a willingness to innovate that hasn’t been seen in several years.


The state of energy innovation

At the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E Summit last week in Washington, D.C., thousands of researchers, students and business people came together to check out the progress made by the early-stage energy projects the ARPA-E program has funded. They showed off projects like a new type of battery using air, an ultra-energy-efficient compact engine, a next-gen device that can tap into the energy produced by the movement in the ocean, and an ultra-cheap solar tracker made out of plastic and actuators.

The 2015 conference was the sixth one I’ve attended. A first for the summit was an ultra-light vehicle that was almost entirely 3D-printed. Arizona startup Local Motors was behind that technology, and the company partnered with the ARPA-E program to launch the LITECAR Challenge, a competition that offers a prize of up to $60,000 to create a lightweight, safe vehicle using 3D printing and new types of manufacturing.

Local Motors' 3D printed car on display at the ARPA-E Summit 2015.

Local Motors’ 3D printed car on display at the ARPA-E Summit 2015.

During a pitch session on the opening night of the ARPA-E event, startups pitched everything from a “refrigeration battery” and a turbine-free offshore wind technology to a battery made from zinc and a lower-cost fuel cell. The investor judges seemed a little less ruthless than they have been in previous years.

To date, the ARPA-E program — which puts small grants into “moonshot” energy technologies — has put over $1 billion into more than 400 projects, and this year announced that 34 of those projects have, collectively, attracted follow-on funding of $850 million. Thirty of the projects have formed new companies, and another 37 have partnered with the government to be developed further. Only “several” were commercialized products.

The odds of these projects becoming game-changing commercial companies is pretty small. But that’s just the reality of government funding for basic scientific research. The idea of the program is that, in the way that the U.S. government’s DARPA program sprinkled the seeds of internet and GPS technology, ARPA-E could start the kernels of game-changing energy technologies.

These pine wood samples have been metabolically engineered to have more turpentine content. It's an ARPA-E backed project from the University of Florida.

These pine wood samples have been metabolically engineered to contain more turpentine, and thus have more energy density when made into biofuels. It’s an ARPA-E backed project from the University of Florida.

The program has its enthusiasts and critics. Since it’s not issuing loans or making large investments, it’s not subject to the kind of scrutiny and political backlash that the Department of Energy’s loan program, which backed now bankrupt solar startup Solyndra, has been. The ARPA-E program is unusual in that it tends to get support from both sides of the political aisle.

But the program’s annual budget, in the hundreds of millions, is small, so the argument is that it’s not big enough to be effective. And to date, few transformational projects have emerged commercially — though given that the program has only been funded since 2009, and energy technologies can take a long time to mature, the early startups have only had six years of support.

Another criticism of the program I heard at this year’s event is that ARPA-E is getting increasingly conservative, trying to back more “tried and true” projects to produce “wins” for the program, instead of maintaining the original spirit of the program — which was to support the really crazy, “out-there” energy ideas. But that’s also a pretty natural progression for a program that’s now several years old and every year needs to justify its existence.

Sunfolding, out of Otherlab, makes a plastic low cost solar tracker.

Sunfolding, out of Otherlab, makes an inexpensive plastic solar tracker.

After fundamental research

One of the biggest issues with the ARPA-E program is actually what happens to these projects once they’ve been completed. Most of them have several-year deadlines, and once they’ve run through the grant, it’s unclear exactly where they go, if anywhere. About five years ago, you’d notice many venture capitalists trolling the aisles of ARPA-E looking to pluck out and support some of these projects, but much of that interest has now dried up.

But it turns out this space — between government research and commercialized tech — is, itself, seeing some interesting innovation, and two groups — Cyclotron Road and Otherlab — were pretty prominent at the ARPA-E event last week.

Some high cost and extreme energy innovations are made for space. This is a fuel cell shown off by NASA at ARPA-E 2015.

Some high-cost and extreme energy innovations are made for space. This is a fuel cell shown off by NASA at ARPA-E 2015.

Perched just inside the front entrance to the ARPA-E showroom, the energy incubator Cyclotron Road showed off for the first time its cutting-edge energy projects. I wrote about Cyclotron Road when it first launched last summer. It was initially called M37 (referring to what happens in month 37, after the ARPA-E funding runs out). Created by former ARPA-E director Ilan Gur, the idea is to create a sort of incubator–lab hybrid that could support young energy scientist rockstars who also wanted to be entrepreneurs beyond the lab.

The first class of Cyclotron Road fellows includes projects based on an ultraporous material that could provide a breakthrough for fuel storage and chemical processing, a new type of wave energy converter, and new efficient materials manufacturing techniques. The fellows get $500,000 over two years, access to Berkeley Lab space, and a network to help them get to the next level. Cyclotron Road is planning to hold another open call for another round of fellows later this year.

Volute, an Otherlab company, makes a natural gas tank shaped like an intestine.

Volute, an Otherlab company, makes a natural gas tank shaped like an intestine.

Then there’s Otherlab, which I covered in detail earlier this month. That’s Saul Griffith’s incubator and it contains quite a few energy projects that received ARPA-E grants, like Sunfolding with its plastic, cheap solar trackers, and Volute, which makes a conformable natural gas tank shaped like an intestine.

Otherlab’s recently divulged business model is to spin out some of its projects into proper startups that investors can back. If the spinouts do well, that’s good for Otherlab, which keeps a bit of equity.

So these are two new models for getting energy entrepreneurs from early idea to an early company. But don’t count Silicon Valley completely out of this sector just yet.

Investor and crystal ball gazer Rob Day predicts that, while investing in “cleantech” will again be flat in 2015, one or more high-profile generalist VCs will jump back into the market with new branding beyond cleantech. Will it be rebranded as “sustainable” investing, “impact” investing, or some other thread on “science technologies that matter”? Who knows.

Investor Nancy Pfund getting into her Model S at the Tesla factory on the day of the launch of the Model S.

Investor Nancy Pfund getting into her Model S at the Tesla factory on the day of the launch of the Model S.

Nancy Pfund and Ira Ehrenpreis, the early Tesla investors, have teamed up at DBL Investors, one of the more successful firms in cleantech over the years, on a new fund. DBL has long used the more general term of “double bottom line” for its investing, and they helped back Tesla, SolarCity, Powerlight, eMeter, SpaceX, BrightSource and Pandora, among others. Evan Williams and his team launched Obvious Ventures late last year with the similar term “world-positive investing” and a goal to invest in “sustainable systems,” “healthy living” and “people power.”

Science is trendy in the Valley beyond energy. Founders Fund has its “FF Science,” dedicated to science innovations. Lux Capital is still going strong with its materials and science investments. Y Combinator even had an nuclear fusion startup in its group last year.

It is no doubt hot to work on (or at least talk about working on) tough problems in Silicon Valley these days. I just read in Fortune Magazine about the variety of startups looking to fund and build the hyperloop idea, the crazy long-distance transportation dream first described by Elon Musk. Peter Diamandis, who’s a board member for one of the hyperloop startups, is quoted in the article: “It’s time to stop doing photo apps and start doing something for the planet.”

Energy innovation success stories

Why is the Valley now experimenting with, and creeping back to fund, innovations for tough energy, transportation and resource problems? One reason is that there have been some high-profile financial success stories in recent years, despite all the hand-wringing and substantial losses.

The obvious success story is that of billionaire Elon Musk, who grew Tesla into a public company, shipping tens of thousands of electric cars a year. He’s also the chairman of SolarCity, a now-public solar panel installer, and CEO of SpaceX, which is sending rockets into space regularly.

SolarCity going public on the Nasdaq.

SolarCity going public on the Nasdaq.

But there are lesser-known success stories out there, too. Energy software company Opower went public last year and made its founders wealthy, and weather data startup Climate Corp was bought by Monsanto two years ago. SolarCity CEO Lydon Rive, Opower co-founder Alex Laskey, and DBL Investor Managing Partner Nancy Pfund all spoke to the up-and-comers at the ARPA-E conference.

Another major reason for the renaissance emerging around energy innovation is that some of the clean power and energy storage technologies are now finally inexpensive enough to be economically viable, increasingly commodities, and can act as a platform for innovation.

Low-cost lithium ion batteries paved the way for Tesla and could do so for others like entrepreneur Horace Luke and Gogoro, energy storage services company Advanced Microgrid Solutions, and energy storage startup Stem. Cheap solar panels have created a platform for business model innovations like SolarCity’s solar installation and finance company and new project investment fund Generate Capital.

Energy and climate change are hard, important problems that are inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs. Young founders and employees want to build and work at mission-driven organizations that unite people, and are beginning to care as much about those things as they do about salaries.

The best entrepreneurs are those who are passionate about solving hard problems. Cleaner, more efficient, low-cost energy is one of the hardest problems of all. It’s still a lot harder and more time-consuming to make money through energy innovation than it is to make it through, say, a dating or photo-sharing app, but I expect we’ll see a lot more of these new ideas and creativity in the coming years. There’s a renaissance happening here, and it’s time to get into it.

It’s arrived: The evolution of clean power & data centers

The world’s largest internet companies are turning to clean power to run their data centers like never before. This month we saw huge clean power deals from Apple, including big solar projects planned in California and Arizona, and a big wind buy from Google to provide local power for its headquarters in Silicon Valley.

But it wasn’t always this way. It’s only been in the last several years that Apple, Google, Facebook and others have been embracing clean power as a viable option to provide a significant amount of power for their data centers, and it’s taken years for the power industry, and the internet companies themselves, to adjust to and learn about this emerging world.

Google/Connie Zhou

Google data center, image courtesy of Google/Connie Zhou

If we take a peek back at this history, we can see how it slowly emerged. Let’s take the state of North Carolina where Google, Facebook and Apple all have some of the largest data centers in the U.S. to power some of their east coast operations. Work in that region provided key learnings for how these companies developed their individual strategies for how to adopt and embrace clean power.

I took my first road trip around the area in the summer of 2012 and wrote about the companies’ complicated relationship with the region’s dirty and clean power options. In late 2013, I took another trip to investigate Apple’s already built monumental solar farms there.

Facebook's data center in North Carolina.

Facebook’s data center in North Carolina. Image courtesy of Gigaom/Katie Fehrenbacher

Back in 2006, when Google first started looking at the state for building its east coast data center (the facility was announced in early 2007), clean power wasn’t at the top of mind for even Google, who later pioneered using clean power and has invested over a billion dollars into it. In those years, North Carolina’s power grid only generated four percent of its electricity from renewable sources, with coal at 61 percent and nuclear power at 31 percent. Google just plugged into the grid there anyways without a working strategy to incorporate clean power.

Gary Demasi, who has helped lead Google’s efforts purchasing clean power for data centers, told me in an interview for that initial story that Google, at the time, was obviously cognizant of the somewhat dirty energy-generation mix of North Carolina, but that Google has “gotten more proactive and aggressive since then.”

All the internet companies have.

Apple's fuel cell farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina

Apple’s fuel cell farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina

Three years later in 2009 when Apple and Facebook were considering building data centers in North Carolina, clean power was still an early idea. It was attractive in some emerging ways, but the state and local utilities weren’t offering the type of clean power options that the internet companies wanted.

That’s why in late 2011 Apple started building its unusual and massive solar farms in the area. Built by SunPower, these solar farms now stretch across hundreds of acres and now generate more solar power than Apple needs for that facility. The company also has a fuel cell farm built beside the data center. Apple agreed to plug into the state’s grid, but it was also generating its own clean power that went back onto the grid and made up for its use of the dirty grid power.

Apple's solar farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher Gigaom

Apple’s solar farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher Gigaom

Apple’s solar farms ended up putting pressure on local utility Duke Energy and the state to recognize that if there was ample clean power provided to these customers from the power grid, then they wouldn’t need to build their own. In late 2013, Duke Energy officially asked the state’s regulators if it could sell clean power from new sources to large energy customers that were willing to buy it — yes, thanks to restrictive regulations and an electricity industry that moves at a glacial pace, this formerly wasn’t allowed.

Now Duke Energy has a clean energy supply program in the state. And just this week, Duke Energy issued a request for proposal asking for project builders to build 50 MW worth of solar projects in the state.

So utilities and state regulators are adjusting to internet companies’ desires, but the internet companies are learning, too. While Apple’s solar farms and fuel cell farm in North Carolina were the first of its kind and ahead of the curve, Apple’s deals with First Solar in California and local utility Salt River Project in Arizona seem somewhat more sophisticated. They’re far larger, and they were done far in advance of construction.

Apple's solar farm in North Carolina. Image courtesy of Apple.

Apple’s solar farm in North Carolina. Image courtesy of Apple.

Apple will buy solar power from First Solar’s planned solar farm in Monterey County via a fixed, low-cost 25 year power purchase agreement, and will also buy solar power from Salt River Project’s farms in a similar way, too. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has said that the way that the deal in California, in particular, is structured the company will actually save money in power costs over the long term.

So what was once a more expensive, niche source of power has now become a substantial clean power option — and one that now big name internet companies feel more comfortable embracing. In California, utility-scale solar farms — which is basically what Apple is buying from in Monterey County — can be built for as low as $1.68 a watt, according to GTM Research, thanks to a combination of private markets, a decade of lowering technology costs and federal and state incentives.

Google plans to buy 43 MW over 20 years from new wind turbines being built at Altamont Pass

Google plans to buy 43 MW over 20 years from new wind turbines being built at Altamont Pass

Solar panels are at the cheapest time in history. Wind power, too, is similarly cheap. Google’s deal to buy power from the revamped Altamont Pass shows how wind turbines have come down considerably in price and up in power.

Now, the official embrace of these internet companies and clean power is just one part of the story. There’s a whole host of smaller data center operators that can’t afford to deal at the scale of Google or Apple. But Google and Apple are still paving the way for the smaller companies by changing utilities minds that there’s a good business to be had in clean power.

At the end of the day, data centers are only consuming a couple percentage points of U.S. energy. So they’re not necessarily the leading energy problem these days, but since they are owned by influential and consumer-facing brands, they could do a lot to initiate the development of clean power outside of the tech industry.

Newsweek designer defends his controversial tech sexism cover

The relaunched version of Newsweek is no stranger to controversy. Almost a year ago, it brought the ire of the internet upon it with its launch story on Bitcoin creator Satashi Nakamoto, to the point where the company had to hire private security for the reporter who wrote it.

This week, the venerable old magazine is seeing another wave of conflict. This time, the backlash concerns cover art used to illustrate the story of sexism in the tech industry. Instead, some believed the image was an act of sexism itself: It features a cartoon graphic of an eyeless women molested by a giant computer cursor. Full disclosure, I’m one of them.

Others disagree, saying the image is “provocative” but that’s the whole point. It brings more attention to the issue. The debate raged yesterday and into today, on Twitter, Facebook, and even The Today Show.

Newsweek larger

As Alexia Tsotsis pointed out, the picture fails a checklist of objectification. The eyeless face makes the woman incomplete; she could be interchangeable for any woman. She is literally being clicked on, as thought she’s an object.

Newsweek editor-in-chief Jim Impoco tweeted that if people read the story they’d understand the picture was a perfect fit for it. Author Nina Burleigh penned a generic, albeit very thorough 5,000 word look at tech’s sexism problem.

All the discussion got me wondering about what really happened and what the artist who designed the woman thinks of the controversy.

So I reached out to Edel Rodriguez, the illustrator who drew the woman. He worked in conjunction with the art directors for the piece, an independent design firm called Priest+Grace which has designed many of the new Newsweek’s cover art. The firm declined to answer my questions, but they confirmed that Rodriguez pitched the idea and drew the woman.

Rodriguez answered my questions over email, and we covered everything from the process of choosing the cover to whether he’d do it again if he could go back in time (an emphatic yes). We only did one round of questions, so we didn’t get to have a back and forth. If you want to hear more of his thoughts, check out the discussion he’s taking part in on Facebook.

How did you come up with the idea/design for the Newsweek cover? Were women consulted in the decision? Was there debate over whether to run it?

I received the assignment from the art director for Newsweek covers, a very talented and smart woman. She sent me the article, which I read, and then proceeded to brainstorm and come up with sketches based on the article. I sent her my ideas and she picked this idea for the cover. I then went ahead and did the final artwork.  The staff at Newsweek received it and designed the cover. Women were involved all throughout the process. I am not sure about their discussions because I was not present at their meetings.

What was it supposed to convey or represent?

The subject of the article is how women are treated in Silicon Valley. It details the sexual harassment, jokes and treatment that women put up with in the industry. The image represents this harassment. A woman should have the right to dress however she pleases without this happening to them. These men have grown up around technology and video games their entire lives. They see women as objects that they can mistreat. The image conveys the exact moment when the harassment is symbolically taking place.

Did you suspect some people would react negatively to the cover or were you surprised?

I assumed some people would have negative reactions to the image, it’s the case whenever one does an image about sexism, racism, or other social topics. Some people will agree with your point of view, others will see it another way. Many women have had good reactions to the cover as well, they see it as showing the problem, which it is. The purpose of a magazine cover is to bring attention to the story and to start a conversation about the topic. I feel it has done that.

What would you say to people who think the cover objectifies women and marginalizes the sexism issue in Silicon Valley?

I would tell them that it’s not my intention and that if they read the story they will understand that the image is illustrating a very real and persistent problem in the tech industry, and that my intent is to bring attention to the behavior of these men.

If you could do the cover over again would you still take this approach?

Yes, absolutely.

What did people not understand about the cover?

That my job is not to be an advocate of what things should be, my job is to illustrate the story. The topic is “What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women”, and, unfortunately, according to the story, this is how many men treat women in that industry.

Over 1,000 people showed up to Product Hunt’s massive happy hour

Product Hunt’s happy hour starts in 20 minutes, and the line stretches far down the street. As I stroll through Geary, blocks from the bar, I’m convinced the crowds must be gathering for a Diplo concert or something. There’s no way this many people showed up for drinks with the young, Andreessen-Horowitz backed tech company.

But I am wrong. The public Facebook event invite reached 312,000 news feeds, 16,000 people viewed the event page and 3,700 RSVPed. The bar only fits 1,200 people. Half an hour before the start time, hundreds of people have showed up early to Product Hunt’s fifth official Happy Hour, trying to make sure they get in.

The line outside Product Hunt's happy hour, 20 minutes before the event begins, wraps around the corner and down the street

The line outside Product Hunt’s happy hour, 20 minutes before the event begins, wraps around the corner and down the street

For the unfamiliar, Product Hunt is a Reddit-like app for early tech product adopters. The community upvotes and downvotes cutting-edge new products, which range from GIF keyboards to musical pants to the new version of Foursquare, and the founders surface frequently to answer questions. Product Hunt raised $6.1 million from Andreessen Horowitz in September, and with fewer than twenty employees it’s still pretty small by tech standards.

That hasn’t stopped it from exploding in popularity. It’s the place where Yo and Ship Your Enemies Glitter were discovered, and it’s regularly surfed by early-stage investors and journalists looking for the next buzzy companies.

The overrun happy hour Thursday further solidified the company’s status as hot new tech community. But it also raised the question: Have we reached peak Product Hunt?

The people in line may be there to bask in Product Hunt’s limelight, but they’re not too pleased about the wait. One young man near the front mutters, “Sure, it’s popular, but I don’t know if it can monetize.” His friend says, “Maybe they’ll raise money on Kickstarter. They have a great community.”

Blocks away, a few friends stop short when they see the hordes of people waiting in line. They swear loudly and snort, “Never mind.”

The snaking queue of fans leads right to the door of the bar 620 Jones, rented out for the night. Ryan Hoover, Product Hunt founder and CEO, meets me inside. He hasn’t checked out the line snaking around the corner yet and is nervous to stroll past it, lest he get mobbed by tech groupies. He tells me he prefers smaller events but knew a lot of people would want to come to this.

Much like [company]Twitter[/company], [company]Facebook[/company] or Reddit, Product Hunt needs a loyal user base of people posting content to survive. Offline events help these users develop connections with each other, leading to a sense of community, which is not an easy thing to build. That in turn intensifies their loyalty to the application.

[pullquote person=”” attribution=”” id=”909141″]One young man near the front mutters, “Sure, it’s popular, but I don’t know if it can monetize.”[/pullquote]

The bouncer starts slowly letting in clusters of people and Hoover disappears into the masses. Not for the first time, I find myself wondering how his life has changed with his newfound fame. Although he’s a confident person, he’s a self-admitted introvert who gathers his energy in moments of solitude. At the last Product Hunt happy hour, a smaller event that happened pre-funding, he snuck away early while the party still raged.

Ryan Hoover, founder of Product Hunt, in the empty bar minutes before the happy hour crowds were unleashed

Ryan Hoover, founder of Product Hunt, in the empty bar minutes before the happy hour crowds were unleashed

The soft red lights of 620 Jones give everything a chic, sophisticated vibe. Top 40 music pulses in the background as founders, techies, PR people, salesmen and reporters mingle. Many of the people I speak with have never used Product Hunt, but they’ve heard of the company and wanted to familiarize themselves – or be associated with it.

“I didn’t know what it was, but I saw the Facebook event group and thought I should find out,” a social media professional in pointed heels and a tailored dress tells me. Her friend, a publicist for the firm that represents Yik Yak, nods beside her in agreement.

When I ask a co-founder of an online music merchandise service why he came, he says, “I don’t know. It’s a viral thing. People feel like they have to be a part of it but they’re not sure why.”

Two women chat during Product Hunt's happy hour

Two women chat during Product Hunt’s happy hour

Many attendees are huge fans and recognize Hoover on the spot. Two women from CODE2040, a nonprofit formed to encourage diversity in technology, ask him questions over the throbbing bass. A man interrupts them to frantically show off his social app, before being interrupted by another man wearing an ironic t-shirt.

An older, reserved fellow nursing a glass of wine at the bar tells me his company is one of the sponsors of the drinks. He jokes that the company didn’t pay enough money to get its name anywhere at the event. He marvels at the fact that the event was so overbooked, even as sponsors they were initially told they could only put one person on the guest list.

Tech employees from Mattermark and Sony chat during the Product Hunt happy hour

Tech employees from Mattermark and Samsung chat during the Product Hunt happy hour

The crowd reminds me of the shifting nature of tech culture. I show up expecting nerds and geeks and instead see cashmere sweaters and polo shirts, slicked-back hair and biceps amid the hoodies and startup T-shirts.

Tech has gone mainstream and Product Hunt is the water cooler where the cool kids hang out. It’s a characterization I suspect Hoover would feel uncomfortable with, and it’s perhaps not representative of the app itself. But the app has become a brand that people want to be associated with, regardless of whether they’re using it.

There’s an inherent contradiction in Product Hunt’s business premise. It wants to be the place where early product adopters can come together, and it also wants to go big. If this happy hour turnout is any indication, it’s starting to achieve that.

But it will be challenging for a community that’s all about the early adopters to scale without losing its magic along the way. After all, if everyone is an early adopter, is anyone really an early adopter?


One line from this story has been removed since publishing because it happened during an off the record part of the interview.

People order drinks during the open bar at the Product Hunt happy hour

The enterprise CIO needs a comprehensive strategic plan and quick

There are many who profess to know what goes on within the mind of the CIO and across the IT organization as a whole. The challenge is: If you have not been responsible for the role, it is increasingly difficult to truly understand the complicated world that encompasses enterprise IT organizations. Could they be simplified? In a word, yes. But that is easier said than done. One needs an appreciation for the demands coming from not just technology, but also from other organizations within the company and the IT organization itself. But even that statement does not provide the full depth of the complexity facing today’s CIO.

The CIO balancing act

Today’s CIO is facing a balancing act between legacy solutions, methodologies and the modern-day buzzword bingo. Whether from cloud computing, big data analytics, data center complications, new architectures, new programming languages or just simply (relatively) the changes in the business direction, the complication is far and wide. And even if a CIO agrees and wants to move to a new solution like cloud, there may be other limiting factors to consider.

IT as a strategic weapon

Strategy is not a new or foreign concept to the IT organization. The vast majority of CIOs and IT organizations have a well-defined strategy that outlines how the IT organization supports the company as a whole. At times however, strategy becomes a victim to the interrupt-driven nature of IT requests. Always being one to want to please, the latest request becomes the newest focus for the team.

One opportunity missed by many organizations is how to transition from being the “hero” to being the sought-after strategic weapon for a company. There is a big difference between the two and it resonates greatly on IT’s intrinsic value to the company. The modern-day CIO is shifting from problem solving to providing business leverage. That is not to say that the IT organization gives up the problem solving. It remains, but is table stakes in today’s IT requirements.

Spanning the industries

The shift in thinking is not relegated to a specific region or industry. Silicon Valley, including its wide geography from San Francisco to San Jose, is not alone in the opportunity. Neither are new upstarts in the web scale category. Every single industry and region has the same challenge. Recall that companies operate in a global economy and need to respond accordingly. Eat or be eaten. Even the incumbent is not immune to the changes sitting at the front door.

Cloud implementation v2.0

One way IT organizations are changing the conversation between IT and Line of Business (LoB) teams is in the introduction of cloud computing. Beyond the common use-cases (CRM, HRIS, Email, etc), the implementations vary greatly. One trend coming up is a move to ‘cloud implementation v2.0’. Organizations were quick to try cloud-based services with very mixed results. In many cases, the attempt was fairly haphazard. IT organizations are now stepping back and rethinking their approach to cloud in a more holistic fashion. Where does it apply, how, why and when? But it goes much broader than that.

Shifting gears to focus on data

In order to understand where to apply cloud, understanding the larger objective is critical. This is where data-centric conversations come into play. In the end, it is not just about the application and data, but also about the value to the company. Add in conversations like Big Data, Analytics, Internet of Things (IoT), Industrial Internet and one can see how the complexity just grew exponentially.

The clock is ticking…

The growing complexity for the CIO and IT organization does not translate to more available time. Quite the contrary. The demands that companies are placing on their IT organization are increasing exponentially. This is where a new strategic vision is needed. In order to respond in a timely manner, CIOs will need to rethink their organization, processes, focuses and technology in a holistic manner. It will take time to evolve to the new model. But timing is of the essence. The demand is here today and is only increasing.

Fake Steve Jobs: He’s back and we’ve got him

Dan Lyons caused quite the kerfuffle when he started the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs 7 years ago. Lyons, a reporter, novelist is now working on Season 2 of HBO’s Silicon Valley and he’s our guest this week.