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IT Leaders Must Look in the Mirror

By Jim DuBois, Corporate Vice President and CIO, Microsoft Corporation


Jim DuBois, Corporate Vice President and CIO, Microsoft Corporation

I haven’t met with a CIO yet who isn’t managing a team and organization through a rapidly changing landscape, and who see new opportunities and new competitive threats on a regular basis. The phenomenal acceleration in the pace of change in the world of IT, and how that change is impacting the role of IT in the enterprise, requires a significant learning for us all.

The good news is that the need for IT services has never been greater.However,it’s easier than ever for our business stakeholders to get the IT services they need without even involving their own IT department. People have cited speed, agility and cost as reasons to circumvent IT. Why do some think it’s easier to go around IT? I’ve concluded that some reasons are legitimate, and some are perceptive. Regardless, it is clear that IT as we’ve known it needs to change, including the scope of IT, and the skills needed to be successful in the future.

Why is it hard to work with IT? – Demand for IT always exceeds capacity. Usually capacity is constrained on purpose, but the constraint isn’t necessarily tied to clear business value priorities. Some IT leaders see business value as cost control and risk mitigation, whereas their internal stakeholders might value revenue generation, customer experience or product innovation. At the end of the day, we need both, and that requires a range of business, personal and technical skills on both sides to resolve.

Attitudes need to change. Historically, those of us in IT have viewed people outside of IT that are doing what we view as our job in a negative way, calling them shadow IT. We see the islands of unconnected data, the extra running costs and the broken business processes it creates, but we often miss the immediate business value driving it. Shadow IT appears cheaper since it’s narrowly focused and often lacks enterprise security standards, regulatory and long-term supportability requirements, and integration with other processes that don’t bring immediate and apparent value to the department funding the work. Of course, a CIO or other leader can force compliance, but that alone can work against better engagement.While regulatory compliance is essential, we know IT should be much more. We need to find ways to partner with internal stakeholders to mitigate risk, but also accelerate business value.

Change or get left behind – The technology mega trends create new opportunities for IT, but also make workarounds easier. All of us working in IT must stay current and leverage social, mobile, analytics and cloud, or risk massive sprawl that results in diminished value of these trends while creating more challenges in running efficient IT services.

Cloud computing gives IT the scale to do things we never thought possible and the ease of quickly starting something new that allows our businesses to experiment or create new value faster. Mobile solutions improve the user experience and enable productivity in new scenarios on a range of devices so users have anytime, anywhere access to data and services. Both of these create new security and regulatory challenges and can create islands of data, slowing the value of digitization and process integration if we aren’t thoughtful. IT needs to stay in front and lead through change.

Certainly, I’m still learning a lot as the CIO,but I’ve decided to push in two areas to make it easier for business partners to work with IT:

  1. Change the engagement and boundaries between IT and the business.


2) Update the IT culture, skills and capabilities for this new pace of change.

Tear down the boundaries– The goal is to enable as much value for as little investment as possible, while adhering to security and regulatory r e q u i r eme n t s . Rather than worry about shadow IT,we should encourage and facilitate it in places that drive more value. Deeper engagement from IT is necessary to understand what we need to deliver, rather than just asking business stakeholders for requirements. IT is in the best position to connect processes across the company to realize more value.

With all the great analytics tools available today for data-driven decision making, IT should focus on providing curated data with proper access controls so anyone in the company can analyze what they need with data at their fingertips. This includes internal and external data sources. The data sources also can provide a platform for anyone to compose simple mobile applications to fill in experiences and realize new business value. Enterprise app stores can provide IT visibility to all apps created to properly govern the integration so value isn’t lost in disconnected islands. This process also applies to software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. With visibility and partnership, IT can connect these applications and provide single sign-on experiences. With this new level of engagement, IT can help light up value faster without compromising security, privacy or regulatory controls.

Update your IT people– In this fast-paced world, we’ve had to rethink what IT skills are necessary. What are the right skills to develop in-house versus leverage industry expertise? What skills go away with the mega trends impacting IT, and what new skills are required?

We’ve already seen that cloud computing adoption allows us to automate away many roles whose traditional focus was designing, deploying and supporting compute, network and storage infrastructure.Those reductions have allowed me and other industry CIOs to add roles and capabilities in security and identity management to better support cloud, BYOD and new cyber security threats. I’ve also been able to add to Internet-edge capabilities to better support cloud applications, and wireless networking to more effectively support BYOD. To take better advantage of new technologies, application development teams need to have deeper business acumen to identify value, work in an agile manner to speed value, and integrate across all components. This includes telemetry to make it all possible with appropriate risk and real-time supportability. Historic development, test and support roles are combining to aid in the agility while also improving service reliability. For discussion purposes, we published a view of how IT professional skill sets are evolving. You can see it here.

We haven’t solved everything within Microsoft IT, but we’re making progress. The work so far has helped us with key business value measures, so we know where we are making progress. The workforce planning progress has also helped inform our employee development needs and our supplier strategy so we can better fill gaps. Continued focus on culture and risk management is allowing us to execute at a faster pace. Obsessing about the end customer rather than catering to individual business silos is helping us create better experiences. It all started with a good, hard look in the mirror at ourselves, what we were and what we wanted to become. I can’t wait for what comes next.

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