Why CIO success comes down to just three things

Why CIO success comes down to just three things

Summary: Long gone are the days when CIOs had to talk up the size of their datacentres and redundant resources to be taken seriously. Now, their future hangs on three key drivers.


Of the many CIOs I have either met or for whom I have had the pleasure of working, all share the common concern of job longevity. When average time in post for a CIO is between only four and five years — and with trends showing that figure is likely to fall — it's no surprise that the role of a CIO requires instant success in minimal time and typically with minimal budget. Nearly every CEO's mandate for a CIO is for IT to be better, faster and cheaper.

Given that challenge, the three steps to success for any CIO are obvious. They are:

  1. Eliminate risk
  2. Improve cycle times
  3. Reduce cost

Of course, these three steps may involve subsidiary aspects, such as demonstrating how IT best serves the business, building technological confidence to the business and making IT more effective. But all these additional points ultimately fall under one of the three main headings mentioned above.

Step 1. Eliminate risk

First, by eliminating risk from your IT environment, you immediately address the business concerns of:

  • The revenue impact of downtime.
  • The revenue impact of performance slowdowns.
  • The impact on the brand value of the business.

Step 2: Improve cycle times

With a common business perception that legacy IT is too slow to deliver, improved cycle times are an imperative. This need requires a solution that can accelerate the following — and of course without risk:

  • Virtualisation and consolidation.
  • Refresh projects.
  • New application and service rollouts.
  • Private cloud initiatives.

Step 3: Reduce cost

The last and most obvious step also presents the biggest challenge, especially as customarily the last thing a new CIO can do is ask for a large investment to implement their new IT strategy. The business will quickly recognise a CIO's success if he or she can prove that during their tenure they reduced capex and opex as well as total cost of ownership.

So it's at this point imperative to remember that a CIO should not be concerned with buying technology from different silos and vendors but instead acquiring technology that solves specific business problems.

Long gone are the days when it was acceptable for CIOs to boast about the size of their datacentres and the large technology growth they had accumulated in an attempt to ensure everything was fully redundant. Instead, the key drivers are for simplification, standardisation and consolidation. This is where the concept of a converged infrastructure is key to a CIO's success.

Infrastructure more often than not fails to carry the same prestige or profile for the business as a key application such as SAP. However, infrastructure is in essence the heart and soul of a business — if the server or storage goes down, the application won't work, ultimately preventing the shipping and sale of your product, which is why the three steps to CIO success are all linked to a successful infrastructure.

How to eliminate risk

An integrated stack should entail a robust disaster-recovery and business-continuity system that can not only be tested and proven but also implemented and run with minimum complication.

It should also incorporate the de-risking of application migrations from physical to virtual platforms and, more specifically, key applications on which the business depends.

Moreover, this approach also creates a de-risked maintenance and operational procedure for the IT environment, which has been tested and validated, consequently eliminating any unplanned downtime.

In the past eliminating risk in this way has resulted in countless testing and validation procedures where every minute spent testing is a minute spent not growing the business. A true converged infrastructure can immediately resolve this issue.

How to improve cycle time

Delivering a predefined, integrated stack — or in essence a plug-and-play datacentre that's delivered and built fit for purpose in typically only 30 days — can quickly achieve an improved cycle time by reducing typical infrastructure delivery times by three months.

Having proven infrastructure in minimal time allows the application owners to roll out new services at a fraction of the time and consequently cost.

How to reduce cost

The key to this point is to link any proposed investment to a tangible return on investment that spans at least three years. Where most vendors have made the mistake of determining ROI based on virtualising a total physical infrastructure, this approach rarely works because most organisations have already virtualised to some extent.

Instead an incremental value needs to be formulated that is linked to the virtualisation of key business-critical applications.

Also, with an integrated solution across the stack, there's no need to manage multiple components of an infrastructure and consequently multiple failure points that preoccupy multiple silos. This approach encompasses a changing of the mindset of technology being a break-fix, reactive organisation where heroes are rewarded for extinguishing fires. Instead, the business adopts a proactive and preventive methodology, which is a feature of an always-on culture.

By streamlining the workforce to do more with less in correlation with application teams, opex cost savings can quickly be achieved by redeploying money from the back-end infrastructure to the front office, improving revenue, business value and productivity.

To conclude, technology's protocol is to enable the business. Ensuring success in these three steps enables a CIO to enable the business quickly — and it may also enable them to stay in their job that little bit longer.

Topics: Cloud, CXO, IT Priorities, Storage, Virtualization

Archie Hendryx

About Archie Hendryx

SAN, NAS, Back Up / Recovery, Virtualisation & Cloud Specialist.
Please note that the thoughts, comments, views and opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own and not those of the company I work for. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by my employer and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the company I work for. Currently working as a Principal vArchitect for the company VCE.

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  • Eliminate Risk?!?!?!

    I think you should have said "reduce risk" not "eliminate" risk. I've seen too many people in positions of authority that were so intent on "eliminating" risk that they ended up not doing anything...which of course is itself a risk.

    The truth is you can never eliminate risk and the real emphasis should be on managing risk and determining the acceptable level of risk. Attempts to achieve 0 risk = paralysis = highest risk of all.
    • Or my favorite

      "Eliminating" risk by consolidating on a single platform which in fact is a gigantic risk.
  • Disagree.

    Here are 3 better steps:
    1) Be at the service of other groups to help improve their efficiency and profits
    - Watch what is DONE on your computers. Don't' take over, but see if there is a way to remove red tape that crops up everywhere and costs far more money than another level of red tape that IT usually brings to solve problems.
    2) Help your company take risks that lead to profitability
    - Bring in new ideas, but don't be the one to implement them. IT never knows what is needed, and when the flail they flail with extreme expense.
    3) When a group needs help, drop everything and concentrate on performance
    Form ready strike teams. If everyone has to go through a queue system for help, then you are indeed a bureaucracy that is harming your company.
    Tony Burzio
  • And what about item 4?

    4. Enable business/operations. Seeing as how that's what IT exists for in the first place, it should probably be item #1. Your 3 items are actually in support of this.
  • I disagree

    A chief computing officer (regardless of the TLA you want to use for him), just like any other executive, must know how to get the best from his people and how to get them what they need to do their jobs.

    If he can't do those things, the rest is out of reach.
    John L. Ries
  • Current environment

    What you say is true for the current IT environment, the steps though is different.

    1. "Eliminating" or rather reducing risk comes with more red tape to ensure that top level executives don't make decisions, so there is always someone else to blame.

    2. Improve cycle times lead to short term quick fixes that overstay there welcome and fragment your IT environment, which actually leads to more downtime and higher cost.

    3. Cost reduction leads to letting people go and having less people to do the same work, which leads to sub-par work and end up costing the company more money. Or the auditors wet-dream, outsourcing, which also leads the company to give away their IP and then getting charged for it.

    These scenarios are typical of an IT unit that is ran as a profit centre, and although it looks good on paper and is nice to theorize about, in practice it does not work. IT is forced to take short-cuts because there is no long term vision, which leads to a lower quality and more expensive IT environment.

    I hope with the new shift to focus on technology enablement (mobile, social, cloud & big data), IT will be able to change this and have a longer term focus that will actually add some real value to business
  • Old school

    The CIO function has evolved greatly along with the stealthy way technology has infiltrated the inner workings of corporations and businesses alike.

    The function is a balancing act of three key factors:
    1. Managing people's expectations (Board & End-users alike)
    2. Managing the technological evolution (avoid dead-ends & vendor lock-in).
    3. Managing the money balance.

    Personally I feel that managing people's expectations is by far the most crucial one. Badly managed (or not all) expectations always result in frustrations. It is all about the communication of what can and can not be expected from IT and aligning expectations with expenses. Everything comes with a price.

    Technology is ever evolving and thus the CIO needs to take that into account. Protecting the status-quo is simply no longer acceptable. Otherwise doing so will sooner or later backfire leading to frustrations (item 1) and increased costs (item 3). The modern CIO has to be in a constant state of evolution or change management.

    Financially it is imperative that we start to think in a different way about IT. IT can no longer be considered as a cost only department. It is definitely also (and increasingly) a revenue generator. This aspect is still under estimated but very important. Apart from controlling costs, the revenue generating aspects/possibilities should be taken into consideration.

    Risk mitigation and business continuity for IT are as elementary as oxygen is to humans.

    Peter Depuydt
  • Don't you even try to eliminate risk!

    My 3 steps (3 R's):
    1. Reducing risk to acceptable level (first you need to define what is "acceptable level of risk" and define your assets and threats)
    2. Reduce cycle time by eliminating unnecessary steps and reducing complexity
    3. Reduce cost by defining ALL IT assets, managing assets lifecycle, knowing total cost of their ownership. One of the best ways is consolidation and standarization of your enviroment - it leads to better agreements with less providers, smaller number of service contracts, easier management.
    Łukasz Korbasiewicz
  • Automation

    This is a great conversation on risk management from a corporate data center perspective. To get a bit more granular, I would suggest a focus on automation where possible. As one example, since company’s data and IT infrastructure are essential for the well-being of any organization, automated disaster recovery can help CIOs eliminate risk and reduce cost for CIOs and their organizations. This can help the CIO longevity because of the significant impact of downtime has on an organization’s revenue. A colleague wrote a blog post, “Automating Data Protection for a Resilient Business – Part 1.” http://www.falconstor.com/community/blogs/item/363-automating-data-protection-for-a-resilient-business-%E2%80%93-part-1" and I am sure that there are many other good examples of data center automation.
  • Brave post and on to the point

    I have to commend the author. This is one of the most honest articles I've read in a long time. 99% of analysts and conultants will disagree with you. 99% of successful CIOs will know exactly what you're referring to. Great write up.