WeTransfer Moves Toward File Transfer as a Microservice

It shouldn’t be news that enterprise file storage, sync, and sharing software and services (EFSS) have largely become a commodity. Prices continue to fall, in part because providers’ storage costs are still decreasing. More importantly, their cost to actually transfer a file has always been negligible, even with the application of strong encryption.
With costs low and decreasing, it’s fair to ask which of the aspects of file storage, sync, and sharing creates enough value for customers that providers can charge for the service. When you stop and think about it, the sharing or transfer of the file has always been the action that the rest of the bundled offer hangs on, especially for cloud-based services. A file can’t be stored on a provider’s servers until a copy has been transferred there. Similarly, changes to files must be transferred to keep copies in sync. The vast majority of the value proposition clearly lies in the transfer (sharing) of the file.
So it makes sense for the file transfer element to be the focal point for providers’ monetization strategies. If you accept that premise, then the next logical conclusion to be made is that file transfer can be monetized as a stand-alone service. In today’s world, that service would be built and licensed as a microservice, which can be used in any application that can call a RESTful API.
WeTransfer, a company based in Amsterdam (despite claiming San Francisco as its headquarters), has announced today the first step toward the creation of such a commercially-available file transfer microservice. A new partnership makes WeTransfer’s file transfer service an option (alongside Dropbox) for delivering photos and videos purchased from Getty Image’s iStock library. WeTransfer works in the background while the customer remains in iStock.
WeTransfer has exposed its file transfer API to Getty Images only at this point, but will be able strike up similar partnerships with other providers of graphics services. Of course, WeTransfer could also license API access to any developer looking to incorporate file transfer into an application. While it isn’t clear from their statement today if and when that will happen, the possibility is very real and quite compelling.
It’s important to note that both Box and Dropbox have made their file sharing APIs commercially available to developers for several months now, so WeTransfer is playing catch up in this regard. However, WeTransfer has emphasized file sharing almost exclusively since its founding in 2009 as a web-based service that only stores a file being shared for seven days before deleting it from their servers. Dropbox, on the other hand, originally was popular because of its simple-but-effective sync feature, and Box was initially perceived as a cloud-based storage service.
The potential market for file transfer microservices is so young and large that no provider has a clear advantage at this point. The recent nullification of the Safe Harbor agreement (PDF) between the European Union and the United States also presents a significant challenge to file services vendors that provide file storage for a global and multinational customer base. If WeTransfer emphasizes its legacy as an easy-to-use, dependable file transfer-only service with its newly-created microservice, it could gain a larger share of the market and expand well beyond its current niche of creative professional customers.

This Digital Transformation is Not the One You’re Looking For

I was sorting through some browser tabs that had been open for a couple of weeks on my laptop and rediscovered a press release that had caught my attention earlier. After rereading it, I realized that I had left the release up in my browser because it could be the poster child for the inane manner in which technology vendors and IT consulting firms are talking about and selling what they very much want to be the next big thing – Digital Transformation.
CA Technologies’ press release was a horrific example right from the start. It’s title, “CA Technologies Study Reveals Widespread Adoption of Digital Transformation”, nearly made me spit coffee all over my laptop. Really? Is Digital Transformation (DT) something that can be adopted? Hardly. After all, DT is not a discrete technology. Rather, it’s a never-ending journey that organizations undertake to better the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations.
DT involves making changes to business objectives, strategies, models, cultures, processes and so many other elements. Many of those changes can be supported by the deployment and adoption of enabling technologies, but DT isn’t about the technology itself. It’s a mindset, a way of thinking and acting as an organization that spans across all of its planning and execution.
In that regard, DT is very much like the discipline known as Knowledge Management (KM) that was similarly a darling of technology vendors and their consulting partners nearly 20 years ago. Most large enterprises at least considered implementing KM practices and technologies. In fact, many did, although the majority of those ‘efforts’ failed to survive an initial pilot program. In the end, only a few big companies, the ones that treated KM as something more than a technology set to be adopted, whole-heartedly embraced the discipline and successfully wove it into nearly every aspect of their businesses.
We’ve seen the same phenomenon play out with Social Business. McKinsey & Company has been tracking the deployment and impact of social constructs, behaviors and tools in a cohort of roughly 1,500 enterprises for nearly 10 years now. Earlier this month, in a teaser to its complete report of annual survey results, McKinsey published these related and telling findings:

“…35 percent of the companies had adopted social technologies in response to their adoption by competitors. Copycat behavior was also responsible for their diffusion within organizations, though at a slightly lower rate: 25 percent of all employee usage. Roughly a fifth of the companies we studied will account for an estimated 50 percent of all social-technology usage in 2015.”

Most organizations and individuals tried to ‘adopt’ social technologies because they felt competitive pressure to do so (thanks, in part, to vendors and consultants), not because they had investigated and understood how ‘being social’ at work could change how well their organization actually performed relative to both its current state and its competitors. On the other hand, a minority of organizations (20% in McKinsey’s survey) have made the dedicated, all-in commitment needed to succeed with Social Business.
Today, we are beginning this cycle all over again, this time under the moniker of Digital Transformation. Consider these findings from CA’s study:

“Digital Transformation is being driven as a coordinated strategy across a majority of organizations (55 percent)…  As a result, 45 percent of respondents have already seen measurable increases in customer retention and acquisition from their digital transformation initiatives and 44 percent have seen an overall increase in revenue.”

In other words, if you aren’t “adopting” DT already, you’re toast. At least that’s what CA and other technology vendors and consultants want you to believe in a fresh state of panic. Hence these findings from CA’s study:

Digital Disrupters have two times higher revenue growth than mainstream organizations. They report two and a half times higher profit growth than the mainstream organizations.”

That may be accurate, but surely those “Digital Disrupters” did not achieve the reported results merely by adopting technology, whether it be from CA or another vendor. They’re the ones who have taken a comprehensive view of DT and, as CA itself puts it, have “…many projects underway in multiple areas of the company, including customer services, sales and marketing, and product/service development.” It’s not a coincidence that CA was only able to include 14% of the organizations surveyed in the group it labeled “Digital Disrupters”. That matches up pretty well with McKinsey’s finding of just 20% of organizations surveyed making more than a token effort at becoming a social business.
All of this is to say beware of vendors and consultants selling technology as the cornerstone of DT initiatives. Yes, technology is an invaluable piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the only or most important one. DT can’t simply be adopted; every aspect of it must be considered and actively embraced by the entire organization.

The 3 modes of enterprise cloud applications

One of the key attributes to a successful cloud deployment is thinking about the strategy holistically. In my post ‘CIOs are getting out of the data center business’, I introduced the idea of a Data Center/ Cloud Spectrum. The spectrum provides one dimension to consider your cloud journey.

The second dimension considers that of the IT portfolio. What are the different classes of applications and their potential disposition? Over the course of working with companies on their cloud journey, the applications generally break out into this classification structure.

IT Portfolio Categories

The three categories are Enterprise Applications, Application Rewrites and Greenfield Development. There are even sub-categories within each of these, but to provide a baseline, we will stick to the top-line categorization.

Enterprise Applications

Enterprise applications are by far the largest contingent of applications within the enterprise portfolio. These encompass everything from the traditional ERP application to custom applications and platforms built before the advent of cloud. Enterprise organizations may have the opportunity to virtualize these applications, but little else. These applications were never designed with cloud in mind. While these applications are technically legacy applications, they will range from an age of 20 years to recent. Regardless of age, the effort to retrofit or change them is not trivial.

Application Rewrites

Application rewrites is a category of applications (Enterprise Applications) that could be re-written to support cloud computing. Even thought just about every enterprise application could technically be rewritten to support cloud, there are a number of hurdles to get there.

Economic and priority challenges are two of the top inhibitors for application rewrites. Even if the will to change is there, there are a myriad of additional reasons that could prevent a full-blown application rewrite. Some examples include risk profile, skillset requirements, application requirements and cultural challenges.

Eventually, many of the applications in the ‘enterprise applications’ category will move to either Software as a Service (SaaS) or into an application rewrite phase. There is a much smaller contingent that will actually retire.

Greenfield development

Greenfield development is probably the most discussed area of opportunity for cloud computing. However, it also represents one of the smallest areas (relatively speaking) of the overall IT portfolio. Over time, this area will grow, but at the expense of the existing enterprise application base.

For established enterprise organizations, this area represents a very different model from web-scale or new organizations. In the case of new organizations or web-scale companies, they have the ability to start from scratch with little or no legacy to contend with. Unfortunately, the traditional enterprise does not have this luxury.

The forked approach

In order to address the varied demands coming to the CIO and enterprise IT organization, a forked approach is needed. First, it is important not to ignore existing enterprise applications. The irony is that many providers, solutions and organizations do this. The reality is that greenfield development is new, sexy and frankly more interesting in many ways. At the same time the traditional enterprise applications cannot be ignored. A holistic, forked approach is needed.

The holistic effort needs to take into account all three categories of demand. That may mean different models and solutions service them for some time. That’s ok. Part of the strategy needs to take into account how to integrate the models short-term and long-term. For some workloads, over time, they may shift to a different delivery method (private cloud -> SaaS).

Planning and execution

Ignoring the shift and full set of requirements is not an option. Disrupt or be disrupted. The key is to develop a clear strategy that is holistic and includes a well thought out execution plan. The change will not happen overnight. Even for organizations that are strongly aligned for change, it still takes time. For those earlier in the process, it will take more time. The sooner you start, the better.

The enterprise CIO is moving to a consumption-first paradigm

Take yourself back a couple of decades and the IT industry looked very different than it does today. Back then the number of solution choices was relatively limited and only available to those with the finances to afford it. Many of the core services had to be built from the ground up. Why? There simply wasn’t the volume or maturity of the IT marketplace for core services. Today, that picture is very different!

For example, consider email. Back in 1995, Microsoft Exchange was just a fledgling product that was less than two years old. The dominant email solutions were cc:Mail (acquired by Lotus in 1991), Lotus Notes (acquired by IBM in 1995) along with a myriad of mainframe, mini and UNIX-based mail servers.

Every enterprise had to setup and manage their individual email environment. Solutions like Google Apps and Microsoft 365 simply did not exist. There was no real alternative…except for outsourcing.

Outsourcing 1.0

In the mid-late 90’s outsourcing became in vogue as a means to divest the enterprise. The theory was centered on economies of scale and expertise that most enterprises simply did not possess. Back then, IT was squarely seen as a cost center.

Unfortunately, outsourcing did not deliver on the promise. It was an expensive, opaque option that created significant challenges for many enterprise organizations. Even today, these wounds run deep with IT leaders when they think of leveraging cloud-based solutions.

The intersection of IT maturity and focus

Fast forward to present day. Today, organizations are re-doubling efforts to catapult their position through leverage. This effort brings laser focus upon the IT organization to pinpoint those efforts that derive differentiated value.

At the same time, the IT marketplace is far more mature. There are multiple options offered through a number of avenues. A startup company is able to spin up all of their technology services without purchasing a single server or building a single data center. Cloud computing is a key to this leverage point.

The intersection of these two dynamics is causing CIOs and IT organizations to rethink their priorities to better align with the overall business objectives. IT organizations are looking for leverage where they no longer have to do everything themselves. This demonstrably changes the dynamic of speed, agility and focus.

Moving to a consumption-first paradigm

Enter the consumption-first paradigm. Whereas past IT organizations needed to take a build-first methodology out of necessity, today there is a better option. Today, organizations can move to a consume-first paradigm.

Consumption First

Within the paradigm, applications and services are evaluated through a consume-first methodology. If the application/ service is not a good fit, then it moves to a configure-first methodology. If all else fails, it falls to build-first. But the goal here is to consume as much as possible without having to build or configure.

The evaluation process is as important as changing the paradigm. It is critical to clearly understand what is strategic and differentiating for the company. That then becomes a hallmark for guiding which components present the greatest opportunity for focus and leverage.

Paradigm change is hard

Changing the paradigm does not happen overnight. Many will fight the change and develop reasons why consumption is not a good idea. It is important to understand the motivations. From experience, the fundamental concern often comes back to job loss and confusion. For the CIO, it is important to tackle these components head-on.

Equally important is to maintain a balance in evaluating the holistic situation. Understanding the impact on people and processes is often harder than the technology shift. I wrote about this two weeks ago with Time’s Up! Changing core IT Principles.

Coming full circle

Moving to a consumption-first paradigm is not limited to email. It is starting with data centers and core applications (like email) and moving up the stack. The question is: How prepared are you for the coming change. Newer generations of staff, employees and customers are already demanding a different class of services.

The evolution has just started. Moving to a consumption-first paradigm is the core component in making the transformation. Ironically, a vast many organizations are still working with paradigms from the 90’s by trying to do it all themselves. In their case, they believe (mistakenly) that they ‘have’ to. The reality is often very different when taken from an objective perspective.

Do not get caught flat-footed. Change is already happening and picking up momentum. Unlike past evolutions, this is not one you want to be on the trailing edge of.

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.

Are you ready to take on tomorrow’s IT? Think again.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front. The business of IT is very complex and getting increasingly more complex every day. It does not matter whether you are the buyer or the seller; the industry is evolving into a very different and complex beast.

Evolution of the CIO

How we, as CIOs, have lead IT organizations is very different today from how it was done just 5-10 years ago. In many ways, it is easier to forget what we learned about leading IT and starting over. Of course, the leadership aspects are perennial and will always endure and grow. I wrote a bit about the evolutionary changes for the CIO in more detail with the 5 Tectonic shifts facing today’s CIO. In essence, tomorrow’s CIO is a business leader that also has responsibility for IT.

Consider for a moment that the CIO and IT organization sits on a spectrum.

CIO IT Org Traits

Where the CIO and IT sit along the spectrum impacts perspective, delivery of solutions, target, and responsibilities along with a host of other attributes for both the organization and providers alike.

The changing vendor landscape

Add it all together and today is probably the most confusing time for providers of IT products and services. Traditionally, providers have asked customers what they need and then delivered it. Today, many customers are not really sure what they need or the direction they should take. And the providers are not well equipped to lead the industry in their particular sector let alone tell a good story of how their solution fits into the bigger picture.

As an example, one provider would tell customers their cloud solution ‘transforms’ their business (the company IT is part of). This is completely wrong and over-extends beyond anything their solution is capable of. As such, it positions the company to over commit and under deliver. For the wise CIO, it leads to a serious credibility problem for the provider. It would be pretty unique for any vendor to truly ‘transform’ a company with a single technology let alone one that is far removed from the core business functions. A better, more accurate statement would be: We help enable transformation.

Be careful of Buzzword Bingo. Bingo!

In another recent IT conversation, the perception was that all Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) solutions were ubiquitous and interchangeable. While we hope to get there some day, the reality is far from standardized. Solutions from providers like Amazon (AWS), Google (GCE), Microsoft (Azure) are different in their own rights. But also very different from solutions provided by IBM (SoftLayer), CenturyLink (SAVVIS), HP (Helion). Do they all provide IaaS services? Yes. Are they similar, interchangeable and address the same need? No. For the record: Cloud is not Cloud, is not Cloud.

The terms IaaS and Cloud bring market cache and attention. And they should! Cloud presents the single largest opportunity for IT organizations today. However, it is important to understand the actual opportunity considering your organization, strategy, capability, need and market options available. The options alone are quite a job to stay on top of.

Keeping track of the playing field

The list of providers above is a very small list of the myriad spread across the landscape. To expect an IT organization to keep track of the differences between providers and map their needs to the appropriate solutions takes a bit of work. Add that the landscape is more like the shifting sands of a desert and you get the picture.

The mapping of services, providers and a customer’s needs along with the fact that their very needs are in a state of flux create a very complex situation for CIO, IT organization and providers.

Is it time to give up? No!

Today’s CIO is looking to up-level the conversation. They are less interested in a technology discussion and one about business. Specifically, by ‘business’ conversation, today’s CIO is interested in talking about things of interest to the board of directors, CEO and rest of the executive team. Trying to discuss the latest technology bell or whistle with a CEO will go nowhere. They are interested in ways to tap new revenue streams, greater customer engagement and increasing market share.

For the CIO, focus on the strategic conversations. Focus on the business opportunities and look for opportunities that technology can help catapult the company forward. Remember that the IT organization no longer has to do everything themselves. Divest those functions that are not differentiating. As an example, consider my recent post: CIOs are getting out of the data center business. If you are not willing to (or capable of) competing at the level that Google runs their data center, it is time to take that last post very seriously. Getting rid of the data center is not the end state. It is only the start.

No, you really do need a CIO…and now!

For those that follow my writing, this post may have a familiar ring to it. Unfortunately, there is a reason I’m writing about this yet again as the point still eludes many.

The curious case of Acme Inc

Take a recent example for Acme Inc (company name changed). Acme is a mid-sized organization without a CIO. I spoke with the CEO and another member of the executive team that were trying to solve tactical technology and information problems on their own. In this case, Acme is experiencing solid growth of 50% CAGR. They believed they were being strategic in their technology decisions. The truth was far from it. It was painfully apparent they were way out of their wheelhouse, but didn’t realize it. In a way, they were naive that the decisions they were making were locking them into a path where, near-term, the company would not remain competitive. But they didn’t know that. They were looking to solve a technology problem to support their immediate growth trajectory without thoughtfulness of the opportunity. They were also relying too heavily on their technology providers whom they believed had the company in their best interests. Unfortunately, this is not a fictitious story of what could happen to a fictitious company. It is a real situation that occurred with a real company. And sadly it is one of many.

Trust is incredibly important in business today. There is no question. But as one mentor once taught me many years ago: Trust, but verify. In the immortal words of Deming “In God we trust, all others bring data.”

What is a CIO?

What is a CIO and do I need one? This is a question that many chief executives ask as their business evolves. I addressed a similar question about the CDO in ‘Rise of the CDO…do you need one?’ last year.

For small to mid-size enterprises, the conversation is not taking place soon enough. Many are still contemplating how to task the IT manager or director with more responsibility. Or worse yet, the responsibilities are being shared across the executive team. In one example outlined below, the results can be catastrophic.

So, when do you get your first CIO? And if you have a CIO, do you still need one? Isn’t the CIO’s role simply about managing the computers? In a word, no.

Do I need a CIO?

The short answer to this is yes. From small to large enterprises, the need for a CIO is greater today than ever before. Many will see a CIO and their organization as a cost center that eats into the bottom line. If so, that is a very short-sided view. Today’s CIO is very strategic in nature.

More than ever, business relies heavily on technology. But more than the technology itself, it is how it is applied and leveraged that makes the difference. The how relies heavily on context around business value and applicability. It requires someone, the CIO, to make the connection between business value across multiple disciplines and the technology itself.

Can other executives provide this capability? No. They can provide a different caliber of tactical implementation, but not the cross-functional strategic perspective that a CIO brings to the table. And it is this cross-functional strategic perspective that brings significant value to differentiate companies.

Information is the currency of business. It is what drives business decisions that will affect the success and failures across a myriad of dimensions. The CIO is the best position to understand, drive and expose value from information. The value of the information

What does CIO stand for?

This seems like a perennial subject. What does the ‘I’ in CIO stand for? Information? Innovation? Inspiration? Integration? The bottom line is that the I stands for the same thing is has always stood for; Information. Today’s business is driven by information. Technology is simply an enabler to leverage information. Integration, innovation, etc are all functional means to drive the value of information to a company.

If information is gold, what is technology? Technology is similar to the mining and refining equipment to extract and process the gold. Without it, the gold may be discovered, but in small quantities using ineffective means. A major factor in today’s business is speed. Access to information quickly is paramount.

The evolving role of the CIO

The CIO’s role (past and present) is far more complicated that many appreciate. A CIO is really a business leader that happens to have responsibility for IT. In addition, a CIO is really a CEO with a technology focus. A CIO is strategically focused and able to traverse the entire organization at the C-level. That last attribute requires a level of experience very different from the traditional CIO.

In the case of Acme, a CIO would be a great asset moving forward.

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!

5 Tectonic Shifts facing today’s CIO

The past several years have presented an interesting time for CIOs, their staff and the companies they work within. In many ways, the changes are significant shifts how companies have operated.

IT has a history of tectonic shifts

Tectonic shifts are not new. In just the past 25 years, we have seen many major shifts in the way we operate. Many of the changes were about technology. But others directly impacted how we think of and consume technology. Here are just a few:

  1. Distributed Computing: Moving from centralized mainframe computers that took up entire rooms to small computers that could fit on a desk. The smaller size presented greater processing capabilities at a fraction of the cost. This trend has continued right down to the very smartphone we carry today.
  2. Internet: There was a time when companies actually believed the Internet was a non-essential connection. A gimmick of sorts. Today, a company would have a hard time surviving without connecting to the Internet.
  3. Virtualization: Virtualization presented the opportunity to do two core things: 1) create abstraction between the application and hardware and 2) more fully utilize resources. This provided greater flexibility and utilization.
  4. Cloud Computing: The advent of cloud presented the opportunity to take virtualization to a whole new level through the abstraction of resources and ownership. Now, a company can operate while abstracting from the physical resources. In essence, cloud presents a significant leverage point for organizations.

Each of these shifts passed through a period of disbelief, challenge and eventually acceptance. Arguably, one could suggest that cloud still sits on the precipice of acceptance. However, each has also become a core foundation to today’s computing environment.

Today, there are a number of new tectonic shifts in flight. Each shift follows a similar path of disbelief, challenge and will eventually gain acceptance.

The five tectonic shifts facing today’s CIO

  1. The IT customer is the company’s customer: Technically, this has always been the case. It may have come through a secondary source: The internal user. Many IT organizations still believe their customer is the internal user. Today’s IT organization needs to think about how IT supports the company’s customer. That’s not to say that the internal user is not important. But supporting the internal user is in concert with supporting the external customer. It also positions IT to align with other departments within the company.
  2. Consumers drive business behaviors: This could be seen as a ‘who-drives-who’ statement. The reality is that consumer behaviors are driving business behaviors. One can look to several examples to support this:
    1. Cloud: Gmail, Yahoo, Netflix, Dropbox.
    2. Mobile: Smartphones, tablets and wearables.
    3. Speed: Real-time satisfaction of results, information and access.

To understand where we are going, just look toward the next generation of millennials, digital natives and ultimately, children. Understand how the next generation is adopting technology and adapt accordingly.

  1. Real-time replaces batch process: Many core IT processes follow a batch processing methodology. However, today’s business is moving toward real-time access to information and analytics. Speed is the keyword here and plays into the consumer/ customer drive for real-time satisfaction.
  2. Transformational CIOs replace Traditional CIOs: This is probably one of the most sensitive shifts to discuss. Transformation CIOs are business leaders first that happen to have responsibility for technology. They understand how the company makes and spends money at an intimate level. Traditional CIOs are more technology-focused.
  3. IT becomes a business organization that happens to have responsibility for technology: IT (and the CIO as its leader) needs to become a business organization from top-to-bottom. Each function must consider the business value of their actions and the best course to take.

Reaching for the stars

There is no question that these shifts (like those in the past) will rock IT to the core. We can expect each to follow the same sequence of disbelief, challenge and acceptance. In fact, a small number of CIOs are already well down this path. The reality is that technology, or how it is used, is changing right around us.

Now is absolutely the best time to be in IT. It is also the scariest for IT folks and the stakes are only increasing. The hope is that IT (as a profession) and the CIO see the future and aim for the stars. The future is brighter than ever.

5 things that prepare the CIO for innovation

Last week, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) held their annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas. Gigaom’s Barb Darrow summarized her Top-5 lessons learned from the conference here. Specifically for CIO’s, there were a number of things coming from the conference that every CIO should take note of. One of those is to prepare for innovation. It is not a matter of if; it is a matter of when.

Innovation is not a destination, but rather a journey. The path is not always rosy and presents a number of challenges along the way. The upside is an outcome that positions the CIO, the IT organization and ultimately the company in a unique position among their competitors.

There are a number of core items that prepare the CIO for advancing down the innovation path:

  1. Keep it simple: The world of Information Technology (IT) is getting complex, far more complex, and not simpler. Yet, the importance to become agile and responsive to changing business demands is ever-present. The IT organization must find ways to streamline their processes across-the-board. We all know the KISS principle.
  2. Create innovative culture: Innovation is not innate for most. Current culture may actually inhibit innovation within the organization. Understand that culture must change. A good friend and CIO, Jag Randhawa wrote the book “The Bright Idea Box: A Proven System to Drive Employee Engagement and Innovation.” Jag outlines a process that he found to be successful and applicable to many different types of organizations.
  3. Avoid constraints: It is easy to find ways to avoid problems. Preparing for innovation can cause disruption. However, questioning the status quo may be exactly what the organization needs. Look for ways to address constraints whether from technology or from conventional thinking.
  4. Find leverage: IT is not able to do everything. In the past, it was necessary for IT to do everything (relatively) since there really was no other alternative. Fast-forward to today and there are many more options available. Identify what is strategic and should be a focus for IT. Find leverage for the other points to avoid distraction and paralysis.
  5. Seek difference: Being different is often a scary proposition. Many see differentiation as a sign of risk. The thinking that there is safety in numbers. But the thinking must change. Differentiation is something not just to be cherished, but sought out! Look for opportunities to change and provide differentiation.

The combination of these mantras set the stage for a different perspective and line of thinking. Are these the end-all, be-all list of steps? No. But they present a good short-list to start with. Start small and do not expect the changes to happen overnight. It will take time and reinforcement.

Many of the discussions taking place last week at AWS re:Invent spoke of innovation and new ways of thinking. They spoke of a future state for IT. Consequently, traditional thinking had a hard time gaining a platform for discussion.

Connecting the dots

Yet, much of the challenge traditional enterprises have is around connecting the dots between current state and future state. For the CIO, setting the stage, cadence and direction is much of the challenge. It is a lot of work, but still needs to be done.

The first step is in setting a vision that aligns with the business strategy. Understand the core business of how the company makes and spends money. Seek out ways to provide innovative solutions. Start out small, learn from the experience and grow. Look for ways to streamline how IT operates and continually improve IT’s position to become more innovative.

Innovation is about the journey, not the destination. Innovation is an opportunity for differentiation that must be accepted and celebrated. Innovation presents a significant opportunity for companies from all industries. And IT plays a key role in driving today’s innovative processes.