Ravi Naik, SVP and CIO for SanDisk, a global leader in flash storage solutions, believes that in order to achieve true excellence in IT management, CIOs need to think about IT in terms of what it can do for the business vs. just implementing the ‘latest and greatest’ buzz-word technologies. Sure—everyone’s talking about big data, virtualization, cloud—but the question CIOs should be asking themselves is how can these technologies (or others) deliver business value for their companies? This is why Naik always advises his team to start with understanding the business pain points and work back from there to the proper technology solution. Ravi explains his approach to running IT in his own words below:
IT organizations are remarkably different than they were a decade ago. Traditionally, IT teams concentrated on programming, infrastructure management, and building applications from the ground up. Today, successful IT teams are ones with a deep knowledge of how to take that expertise to drive the business forward. Every IT organization has the ability to make this transformation. Below are some of the critical issues and questions you need to address on your journey.
Always Ask “Do We Need It?”
Even if your IT group is highly disciplined and organized, other parts of the business will regularly assume they’re going to get caught up in the desire to play with ‘cool toys’ and ‘fun projects’.
Every new technology has to be measured in terms of how it impacts business productivity and process improvements. One of the big reasons cloud technologies have gained such widespread acceptance is because cloud advocates like ZenDesk and ServiceNow have simplified their value proposition for a broader range of employees and executives. These companies talk about results, not technology. The absence of such rigor can result in the ‘disruptive’ new technology being disruptive to the business.
Think of Yourself as an Analyst, not a Technologist
Simply put, most IT organizations (and CIOs) shouldn’t be creating or even managing technologies. They should be evaluating them. Creating your own applications—or even maintaining your own datacenters—can take up inordinate amounts of time and energy. Virtually all of the waking hours of your IT team can be sucked into maintenance tasks.
“When IT takes a step back from the daily grind and the nuts and bolts of support, there is an opportunity to move the IT organization higher up in the value chain by partnering closely with the business”
Leveraging cloud services and third party solutions allows IT groups to leverage their time and budgets better. To succeed, CIOs need to shift their mental frame of reference: their job is more to be an in-house analyst than the ‘go-to guy’ when things go wrong.
This isn’t to say you should never make your own technologies. However, the decision to build and maintain applications ‘in-house’ should be made sparingly.
Know the Details
When CIOs are willing to get their hands dirty and ‘do the grunt work’, they gain the respect of their teams and their business. It also ensures the architecture and solution designs stay simple, easy to build and support. Additionally, the roadblocks and excuses on the path of faster execution start disappearing when the head of the organization starts leading by example.
Foster Teamwork and Collaboration
People follow their leaders. A strong and cohesive leadership team results in a strong and cohesive organization. Individual contributors in most IT organizations are highly capable and work very effectively as teams. Nonetheless, conflict can and does arise. Non-collaborative employees who deliver quick results are many times appreciated and promoted, but this almost always results in longer term organizational dysfunction. CIOs should very quickly address these situations and make timely changes. It is very important for CIOs to meet with individual employees on a regular basis to understand the challenges and get a pulse of the organization.
Fix Intractable Problems
Two years ago, our IT group was asked to help the legal department accelerate the eDiscovery platform employed by the company. EDiscovery is a necessity: SanDisk generates approximately half a million emails a day and it takes approximately 30 seconds (at a cost of $250 or more per hour) to scan emails by hand.
One of the first things we discovered was that the underlying storage platform was, ironically, based on hard drives. Indexing 25 years’ worth of emails with the drive system took just under 6 months and the data would frequently need to be re-indexed. By migrating to an all-flash system, we reduced the time required from under 6 months to 4 weeks. Granted, SanDisk specializes in flash so our internal teams didn’t need to be convinced about the benefits of flash, but the program stood on its own merits: the system substantially reduced the cost of consulting lawyers and IT systems specialists.
Look at the Big Picture
Gartner’s emphasis on total cost of ownership (TCO) has changed the way companies evaluate technology investments. Still, it’s not easy to determine all the factors that can be included in TCO analyses. In 2013, SanDisk conducted our own TCO experiment by swapping hard drives inside of 4,600 of our corporate laptops with SSDs. The program yielded many of the expected result. Employee productivity rose substantially through quicker bootup, shut down and application loading and we were able to extend the battery life of each laptop by 20 percent. We also found that laptop lifecycle improved by 33 percent, which translated into approximately $1.84 million gained in deferred expenses. The global IT desk also experienced a 59 percent decline in hardware-related service tickets. Annual IT labor costs linked to improperly working disks and to recover lost data fell by 86 percent.
In conclusion, when IT takes a step back from the daily grind and the nuts and bolts of support, there is an opportunity to move the IT organization higher up in the value chain by partnering closely with the business. This happens as a result of CIOs engaging with their employees and providing a collaborative and cohesive work environment.