CIO Straight Talk - Issue 4 - 8
The CIOs we talked to highlighted specific actions
they have taken to bring some of the characteristics of
web-native companies to their organizations - in some
cases with a twist or two of their own.
The list we present here is tentative and
probably incomplete. We invite you to refine and
expand it by joining the conversation on the
CIO Straight Talk Interactive group on LinkedIn. (Visit
http://partner.linkedin.com/CIOStraightTalk to request
membership in the group.)
1. Never "work with the business"
business and contribute to generating revenues." Ann
Alrich agrees: "It's absolutely imperative that the CIO is a
member of the senior business team so he or she is
involved in developing the future plans and the strategy
for the business."
Stephen Thurlbeck has done just that at Complete
Innovations. "Oddly enough from someone focused on
technology, I'm pushing the balanced scorecard
approach throughout the business," he says. "This is a big
change: I'm pushing from within IT, but ultimately it's
going to benefit the entire company."
2. Learn fast, but contain failure
Web-native companies have built their businesses on IT
innovation. Engineers and product managers in these
In a 1982 paper, the late computer scientist Jim Gray
companies are technologists, many of
wrote about "fail-fast" in the context of
whom are involved in developing and
applying hardware fault-tolerant
maintaining a vast IT infrastructure.
principles to software engineering -
Outside of the websphere, leading
each hardware or software module
companies are moving toward a seam"either does the right thing or stops."
less integration, even a fusion, of
By insulating each software module
business and IT. "The paradigm of
from the others, Gray and other
there being a business and there being
experts in fault-tolerant systems
an IT department trying to drive an
achieved what they called "fault
alignment is antiquated," says Scott
containment," ensuring a quick detecBlanchette. "You've got to do more
tion of errors without impacting the
than just 'work with the business' -
really, I'm offended by that term,
Since then, the Agile Software
Senior Vice President and CIO,
because we're as much the business as
Development movement adopted and
Vanguard Health Systems
anything else around here."
promoted the concept, which is
Ed Jurica found a creative way to
probably how the fail-fast idea permedrive home that point, one that his
"'Work with the
ated the culture of Silicon Valley and
team members recalled years later. He
became a business philosophy. Now
business' - really,
told them, "When you find yourself
it's one that IT organizations are using
I'm offended by that
saying 'the business,' hold your tongue
to become an indispensable part of
with your fingers and say 'IT is the
term, because we're
their companies' product development
business.' It drives home the point that
as much the
we are as important as the business
Many IT teams today are using
business as anything
and completely integrated with it."
Agile practices, including constructing
At Vanguard Health Systems,
else around here."
experiments to see whether something
Blanchette took the idea to its practical
fails or succeeds. Isaac Sacolick points
conclusion, embedding IT in the
out that his team has been doing that
business units. "IT is no different than
through "spikes," projects of short
the finance function or the service
duration used to research a concept or
delivery function or the clinical function," he notes. "I
create a simple prototype. "If I have to integrate with a
come from Northern California, and that is just the way
new API and we are not sure how complex it is, we are
companies in Silicon Valley are run."
going to try to experiment with that," he says. And if the
True to his roots, Blanchette believes IT should allow
experiment is a failure? That's OK.
for "some level of chaos" but also provide mechanisms
Speed, the "fast" element of "fail fast," also offers
for supervising it. (See "Innovation by Amateurs," page
crucial benefits. As Stephen Thurlbeck points out,
34.) It's a cross-enterprise role that has multiple dimen"Everybody is on the same page at the same time. We are
sions, but its essence is the technology expertise and
making changes when we can and as we should, rather
experience that resides in IT and is embodied by the CIO.
than going into the development black box for months
These are skills and know-how that are more important
and months and coming out with something that either
than ever to the management of any enterprise.
didn't have the right specs or was not produced
Being part of the business means taking initiative.
And if IT is seamlessly integrated with the business,
Scott Blanchette cautions that fail-fast is fine as long
there is no reason why a CIO should not help lead
as it doesn't become "fail fast and often." Sometimes the
enterprise-wide change, innovation, and transformation,
approach can "morph into a justification for not doing
just like other senior business executives. As Alexandre
sufficient due diligence or sufficient planning," he notes.
Kozlov argues, "CIOs shouldn't wait to be invited to the
The key to fast learning is failure containment. If you
table; they should make themselves relevant to the
design your experiments carefully, you ensure that
12 CIO Straight Talk