Posts Tagged ‘ cio ’

CIOs and Groundhogs

Today is Groundhog Day and across North America people are looking to these rodents to tell us how much longer we will have to endure (or enjoy) winter. Apparently most, if not all, of the celebrity Groundhogs saw their shadows and hence we will have another six weeks of winter.

But did your CIO see his/her shadow today? And as a result are there IT budget freezes over the next six months?  

There are mixed messages about the economy. On a positive note, last week the New York Times reported that the UK is exiting recession ( and today the CEO of UPS declared the recession over ( On a negative note, the UK economy shrank by nearly 5% last year and UPS is looking to cut another 1800 positions this year. I’d label this an optimistic outlook but with still some very bad weather ahead. The climate of the IT budget will likely depend on the industry, but it seems unlikely that IT spending will recover in 2010.

In this difficult fiscal environment business is increasingly looking to IT to help cut costs. Not just IT costs within IT, but cutting costs across the enterprise. Yet capital for IT projects tends to be in short supply. And very few organizations are willing to wait months or years for a return on investment.

Fortunately “new” technologies and approaches such as virtualization, social media, and cloud-based services are available. These can be implemented relatively quickly at a relatively low cost. But understanding and installing the “technology” is the easy part.

I think the key challenge for CIOs in 2010 will be to guide their organization into the new environment. No longer can they afford the long lead-times for decisions, inflexible project management and large up-front investment that are the trademark of many IT projects. They need to develop strategy, governance, project management and service management approaches that provide the agility and flexibility inherent in the new cloud paradigm.

So while we are seeing shadows and realizing that we will need to endure frosty budgets for a while, it is time leave the comfort of the den and build (or rebuild) an IT organization that can work in this new IT environment. We have a lot of work to do.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Information Technology and the Economic Downturn

I am writing this blog while on an airplane to Texas. As I often do when I travel, I bought a copy of The Economist in the airport and plan on reading the magazine cover-to-cover during the flight. As one might expect given today’s economic environment, a central theme of the issue I hold in my hands is the global economic downturn and the pending impact on industry and society.

The words in the magazine lead me to reflect about the upcoming challenges for IT and, since I am generally an optimist, I also wonder about what opportunities we have for utilizing information technologies to some of ease the negative impacts of the global economic downturn.

In a broad sense IT can either be run (or perceived) as a cost centre or an innovation centre. If IT is a cost centre then the organizational focus will be on determining how to reduce the current IT spending. If IT is an innovation centre then we should be contemplating investments in projects that identify (and implement) ways to streamline business processes to reduce costs, improve services, or enter new markets.

Clearly IT will need to find ways to reduce current IT expenditures to assist with balancing the books. IT will need to restructure and reduce costs. But just making our share of cuts and waiting for this fiscal unpleasantness to pass would be, in my opinion, missing an opportunity. I think now, more than ever, we need to find ways to use IT to ensure we use our scarce resources to get maximum value.

The economic situation has brought with it a sense of crisis (or potential pending crisis) in many organizations. This can be a significant catalyst for change. We are likely entering a period of time where organizations will be willing to more critically examine past business practices and approaches to drive out costs and improve services.

However, in these economic times it may be difficult for organizations to invest in large IT projects. Capital will be scarce. Any large project risks will be difficult to justify. So instead of envisioning large monolithic projects that have positive but perhaps a rather long-term return to the organization, I think we need to rely on a more incremental approach.

Big vision, small steps. And each step must provide distinct value to the organization.

Incrementalism can be a sound philosophical approach even in good times and certainly a good practical approach when times are tougher. However, sometimes I feel some people would really rather talk about the big wins.

In these tough economic times our challenge in IT will be to convince people that a lot of aligned smaller wins are more likely and more valuable than that one big project. No matter how exciting that big project may be!

IT and the Environment

Global warming has become a very “hot topic” (pun intended) in the Information Technology industry.

Rising energy costs are gaining the attention of IT Directors, CIOs and CFOs. That, coupled with an increased environmental awareness, are driving significant change in how IT is managed and how IT is used.

Simply stated, IT plays two roles with respect to sustainability: part of the problem, and part of the solution.

On the problem side of the ledger, the scope and scale of IT infrastructure results in some alarming statistics. It is estimated that data centres consume 1.5 percent of all of the electricity produced worldwide. Unfortunately, half of the electricity that is used for computation is required for cooling the computers in the data centres. Add in the fact that there are probably a greater number of CPUs outside the data centre and we quickly get close to the (vague) estimate that the IT industry power consumption has a greater CO2 impact than the global airline industry.

Not only do we need to be concerned about the environmental impacts of power consumption, but the sheer number of computers that exist require us to consider the environmental impacts of the manufacturing processes and, of course, the safe handling of the e-waste generated as we replace systems on a typical three or four year cycle. And the problem doesn’t stop there. It is estimated that each knowledge worker uses computers and printers to generate about 1,000 pages per month. For the University of Calgary that means on a yearly basis we print a stack of paper about 30,000 feet high. If there were 40000 universities the size of the U of C then the stack of paper generated by universities each year would reach the moon!

Each time I do these calculations I ask someone else to confirm the numbers. I am continually startled by the math. How can a Universities generate so much paper that it would impact airplane flight paths? I oscillate from a frightening picture of stacks of paper reaching toward the moon and throwing it out of orbit, to ideas of how to I could attain the next X-Prize by stacking one sheet of paper on another 😉

Back to the “carbon footprint” issue. There seems to be a great many ways to calculate the carbon impact of any particular consumption model. I was surprised by how many carbon footprint calculators there are on the web and more so, how widely the results vary. But regardless of the tool, it seems apparent that an information-intensive organization such as the university is consuming a lot of resources in the creation and dissemination of information. Roughly, in an extremely non-scientific analysis, I conclude that the university approximately carries an IT carbon footprint equivalent to that of sum of the faculty/staff across the rest of their lives. If people are really as concerned as they suggest in some forums, this could lead to some interesting dialogue during the next round of union or faculty association negotiations.

Fortunately, there are ways we can begin to address some of these issues. New server and cooling technologies can significantly reduce the power consumption in the data centre. Simple changes in the way we manage PCs — such as blanking the screen instead of fancy graphical screen savers — can significantly reduce the power consumption. We can insist that our vendors use manufacturing approaches that take into consideration environmental issues. We can deploy more efficient printing technologies or implement processes that remove the need for the paper-based document altogether. There are many viable options, if only we take the time and effort to factor environmental issues into how we purchase, use and dispose of technology.

But where I think IT gets really interesting is on the solution side. Not only can we reconfigure IT to reduce the impact of IT on the environment, but we can also use IT to reduce the impact of our other activities. For example, we can use IT to better monitor our environmental footprint; we can use IT to ensure we are only providing the services — such as light and heat — where we need it, when we need it; we can use IT to collaborate across distance and time and reduce the need for travel. There are many opportunities to use IT to help create a sustainable world.

Now, we need a model to help us determine how to evaluate these environmental opportunities against our simple return on investment calculations!

[edited after original post to correct the math — HAE, May 27 2008]

Are you a CIO or an IT Director?

As of the time of publishing this blog I have been a CIO for 3.578 years.

As an old CIO joke goes, not so many years ago the typical duration of someone in the CIO role was thought to be about 2-3 years, so by at least one measure I am now an above average CIO. I strive to also be successful by other (more useful) measures but the joke leads me to wonder what are the appropriate responsibilities and measures of success for a CIO in Higher Education.

The letters “CIO” are an abbreviation for Chief Information Officer but another common title for the “chief” in this area is “IT Director”. How does an IT Director differ from a CIO? Exploring this difference leads me to at least two significant measures of success for a CIO.

First, let’s explore what an IT Director might do. In most organizations an IT Director has the responsibility for the centralized IT function. In an academic setting that generally includes the key business systems, networks, the common applications used by most staff and students (e.g., campus email, calendar, learning management system, desktop applications, etc.), and often the campus phone services. It typically does not include any responsibility for the distributed IT services within the Faculties, Department or other units. In fact the distributed IT units may often offer competing services such as local email. In a large research intensive University the combined distributed IT shops can easily be as large as the central IT organization. If you’ve got a Medical School distributed IT might even be larger than central IT.

In some organizations a CIO is seen as a relabeled IT Director. Same responsibility, shorter title. But, in my opinion, a real CIO has several key differences in responsibilities from an IT Director.

The first key difference is scope. An IT Director is often responsible for just the central IT, a CIO is responsible for the IT across the institution. Wait a moment, some of you are saying to yourselves! In most higher education institutions with a CIO there is still a large segment of distributed IT that report through different lines — typically up through a Dean. So? The CIO still is responsible for the overall IT directions of the campus. Regardless of budget or HR authority, they still are responsible to move the complete IT organization in the appropriate direction. Through a variety of means — developing a shared vision, creating incentives, developing relationships, funding, and, if desperate, use of corporate politics (in only the nicest of ways!) — the CIO is responsible for developing alignment and direction that enables the institution to best use IT to achieve the institutional goals. In addition to delivering on a central set of IT services, the real CIO is also responsible for delivering on a set of localized IT services.

The second major difference can be seen in the title. The title “CIO” doesn’t contain the word “technology”. IT Director is often seen as the chief tech person. And, especially in some of the smaller IT shops, is often a person with a very strong technical orientation. While the CIO generally has the central IT Department as one of their units that is not the sole or perhaps ultimately even the most important function. I see the CIO’s responsibility as one in which they need to meet the organization’s “information” needs. Technology just happens to be one of the key mechanisms by which the “Information Officer” can meet those needs. That said, if the basic technology is not functioning, a CIO might as well pack their bags and go. Unless basic services function, there is nothing on which to lay the more valuable “information” services. The provision and management of information is a hard thing to measure. But basically the provision of quality “information” should result in better decision making across the organization.

So what does the above mean with respect to measures for the success of the CIO? Obviously there should be a suite of measures of success of the CIO, and the specific items will tend to differ for different organizations. However, two key measures arise from the above:

1) Alignment of services. A successful CIO should be moving the institution toward common sets of services (where they make sense) regardless of the distributed nature of the IT environment. Some indicators could be the reduction in number of email systems, file services, directories, web services or help desks.

2) Success of the organization. Simply measure the CIO on the overall organizational ability to achieve stated goals. That is, the same general measures as one might expect to use for the President, CEO, VP(Finance) or other senior corporate officers.

By the way, another old CIO joke (that stems from the same time period when a CIO’s careers with a firm lasted about 2 years) is that the letters CIO actually stands for “Career Is Over”. However, this “above average” CIO expects to continue in his career for at least another decade before retiring to some place where he can fly fish every day of the year.