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Chuck Hollis: Internal IT Must Compete with Vendors

By sanjay.gupta

Added 8th February 2012

There is a sea change in how internal IT is expected to behave and deliver results - and IT execs must adapt to it

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Chuck Hollis, VP & Global Marketing CTO, EMC Corp, is constantly looking for those IT leaders that can move the needle for business. Hollis spoke to Sanjay Gupta about big data, social media, analytics and the service-driven model of IT

How is the emergence of big data and social media changing the role of IT leaders?
First of all, IT leaders need to understand that this is not your father's data warehouse you are taking data from multiple sources, social feeds, etc, and you are mashing it up for insights. Today every industry be it retail, telecom, or whatever is powered by business analytics.

The change should be seen as a partnership between the IT guys who generate data and the business users who are actually going to consume data. There's also a movement to socially enable the enterprise: the theory here is that there's a new way of working, so IT can play a role in creating a platform for collaboration in a social model. I know 30-40 IT managers who make there cheques from socially enabling their enterprises.

Have you seen any examples of this social enablement in Indian companies?
Not so much in India. I think it's a cultural thing sharing information. And somehow I don't see it that much in Asia.

Let me give you our own example. At EMC if you look at the history of our social media usage, there was strategy, there was platform and the skill sets. And for every business process in the company be it how products are created, how people serve customers and how problems are solved social media comes into the picture. This is changing the way our company works, as it's about mobile-enabling the workforce, socialising proficiency, building collaboration...We are not just talking about putting Windows on the screen, we are talking about really mobilising our workforce.

Another important thing is customer engagement new platforms, new media, new ways of pulling in customers or talking to them and keeping them engaged. It could be a cool website or a downloadable app, but we are seeing more and more IT managers getting interested in providing these interfaces between businesses and customers. And none of this would have been possible without building an IT organisation that is responsive.

So my view is that it all depends on the competitiveness of the industry and the culture of the company.

How do you differentiate between IT leaders in small compared to large organisations?
Usually I find that the IT leaders in smaller organisations take quick decisions, while in large organisations decision-making is a long process. So it's a challenge for a company like ours as to how do we get them [large firm IT heads] to move faster. So one way we do this is by calling them agents of change and constantly asking them how they are building new things on top of their legacy, how they are bringing in new processes and new efficiencies, and how they are doing things the new way as processes start to mature.

Typically in a large IT organisation you find the classic perfect storm: new business strategy, change of leadership and new technology itself. So the question is, How do you get them to move very very fast so as to adapt to those changes?

But smart companies can move very fast. Some of the most innovative stuff comes out of mid-size companies.

Have you seen any back-migrations in outsourcing wherein companies that initially farmed out certain IT tasks want to bring them back in-house?
Oh, it happens all the time. And usually it happens in a bad way. Like the classic movie: big company, big project, IT guys can't move quick enough. So business decides to take the project outside for some time. And when that period is over, the IT organisation has to really scramble it to bring it back.

But I would say, these are not ideal situations, as they represent the lack of competitiveness of the IT organisation in the first place.

The difference between the new, smart IT guys and the old guys is that the new guys know they must keep IT users as happy customers.

With regard to the new IT guys, since they now must demonstrate their value to business and be proactive about it, do you think the business users feel irked or threatened by their growing interference?
I have seen both kinds of situations. Four years ago, we had the 'old IT'. Everything was a project, meetings, the works...and it used to take a whole lot of time. And then one day when business took some work outside, some of them complained: You can't do this! And the response they got was: Watch me! [Here, Hollis takes out his credit card and flashes it triumphantly for a while.] So over time, the IT organisation realised that the business mindset had changed and they were competing for IT projects. Business said, I can give it to you or I can give it to somebody else though I'd like to give it to you! Obviously, the internal IT guys have an advantage because they know the company's business and they are trusted. However, for every external offer, the internal IT had to make it competitive and more valuable.

How has the user experience of corporate employees changed in the new model of IT?
In the old model, an IT user in an organisation had to track down the IT guy for a particular service and it was up to them to get the needed service from that person. In the new model, the IT services are available to the users as some sort of catalogue from which they can pick and choose what they want. What's more, there could even be a pricing mechanism for those services.
Another thing that's happening is that the IT users are getting very literate, very sophisticated in how they consume IT. So the need for the IT department to be competitive today is more than ever.

What else is required of the IT organisation these days?
IT leaders need to think about getting their organisation up to speed, investing in skill sets, about operational models, marketing IT to business and interacting with the finance guys plus a lot of rich content around all of that.

A major discussion topic these days when it comes to information processing is big data. But how does big data impact an IT leader that works for a relatively smaller company, say, a 500-employee firm rather than a 50,000-strong enterprise?
There's a question before the answer: What can analytics do for your company? If you knew more about the customers, if you knew more about the economy, and if you knew how better knowledge about customers could change your business, would it benefit you? The answer, one hundred per cent, would be: Yes.

The key about big data is analytics. It allows you to take data from multiple sources, apply a wide range of tools to analyse that data and say, Whoa, we didn't think about this! Or, We could think of it that way. So the key decision IT leaders need to make is whether they are going to build all that capability or are they going to take that as a service. For instance, Procter & Gamble buys 80 per cent of its data analytics as a service.

There's a 3V information model that Gartner uses Volume, Velocity and Variety. For companies that still want to do much of their IT in-house, how do you think they can cope with the three Vs?
There's a change in mindset. IT is used to fixed projects. Suppose they build a toybox, I can't say what its RoI is going to be. I can't tell where it will be useful. I can't ask for a three-year forecast, right? So IT must keep going back and forth: you build something, you find what value it will give, you go back and change something, then you build further on it and so on and so forth. So the old paradigm of static projects and fixed way of doing things is no longer to be found in industries that are largely driven by analytics such as banks, retail, oil & gas, etc.

What are the top two or three things EMC is doing as a company to enable organisations from the old way of doing things to the new way of working?
For one, we are making our own learning and experience accessible to more and more people in the outside world. We publish information and spend a lot of time sharing our knowledge, including creating forums where people can talk. The second thing we are doing is investing in new critical skill sets for areas such as IT as a Service, Data Sciences, etc.

Another thing we have done is offer our technology through integrated products such as the Vblock, which appeals to a lot of CIOs especially the new school IT leaders.

We also offer a very rich set of downloadable data analytics, so if you have data scientists you can actually build a lot of stuff on top of it in-house.

In an era when technology is becoming more of a commodity, what are the challenges for a company such as EMC?
One of our challenge is in helping transform the business of our key clients. Quite often, we are helping to accelerate change. And for customers who no longer want to invest directly in technology products but are interested in hiring third-party service providers, we are enabling those providers with consulting, technology and skill sets.

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