Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
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12/18/2008
12:30 PM
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Global CIO: Two Flavors Of CIO, Each Leaving An Aftertaste

Meet Gomez and Fernandez--or maybe you've met these two execs already.

Meet Gomez, CIO and tap dancer. Gomez came up through the ranks--learned application development on mainframes and distributed systems on minis.

Gomez is as crafty as a fox. He always waits until some division honcho has a "strategic project,"and then he hits him with a bill to upgrade his application portfolio, which is long, long, long in the tooth, and without which that project allegedly can't be done. Gomez knows he can't push this upgrade through during conventional budgeting, so he waits in the bushes. "Whenever a division general manager tells me a project is 'strategic,' I know it means 'lose money'--and I know he is in one hell of a hurry. So this is how I go stealth." The only problem is that the division execs are getting wise to this tactic, and Gomez needs an Act Two.

Gomez jumped on controlling costs about 18 months ago because that's what he thought Mahogany Row wanted to hear. They did, but now they want to know where the numbers are. The joke is that he controls only about 65% of the company's IT budget; the divisional IT folks control the rest. And, of course, all of them swear that they could do The Big Job better than Gomez. So everyone points the finger back and forth, and sometimes they actually give the finger.

Gomez's Vietnam was a $50 million project that was just too big, too hairy, and tried to do everything for everybody. It did nothing for no one. So Gomez is one vulnerable cookie. His divisional guys kiss his ring in public and sharpen their knives in private. Gomez was pushing for his divisions to be platform-interdependent but application-independent--and wasn't able to get buy-in. Each division swore that this platform interdependency would take too long, cost too much, and be a rerun of the Project From Hell, which hangs around Gomez's neck like a dead albatross.

But Gomez gives great PowerPoint. He can talk about "the strategic value of information" for hours and cite examples that impress his board of directors. His job is safe--until there's a need for a scapegoat.

Fernandez is the opposite. A midlevel manager who five years ago was running a small profit center, he got tagged for the CIO job precisely because he wasn't a geek. The only problem: He still hasn't learned IT. He's good at negotiating volume pricing agreements with major vendors, and his financial staff can bond with the CFO. Fernandez scans the trades every weekend so he can look like he almost knows what he's talking about, but his mastery is superficial. His direct reports know it, which means soon everyone else will.

Fernandez has this childlike belief that every new technology will solve his problems, and they never do. He has done more product endorsements than Michael Jordan, and he keeps all this stuff unused in a warehouse in New Jersey. At least he's smart enough not to put it into a production environment. Still, he talks about "how good it's going to be"... someday.

Fernandez has tried to get his divisions to stop saving every bit of information, but to no avail. Storage is sucking his budget dry--it's the tapeworm in the corporate tent. Fernandez springs into action every time his CEO buys a company. He rationalizes the phone systems, he puts the new people on the network, and then he ducks for cover. Usually the new people are playing with some very sophisticated models and have their own hierarchy. They communicate with Fernandez mainly by rumor.

Both Gomez and Fernandez have been to India three times this year. It used to be because they had outsourced development to a third party, but now they're setting up their own shops, and each is failing in his own unique way. Loyalty is nonexistent. Code comes down as garbage and wages are going up, wiping out alleged savings.

Gomez and Fernandez are on the Endangered Species List. More to come in our next installment.

Howard Anderson, founder of Yankee Group and co-founder of Battery Ventures, is currently the William Porter Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT. He can be reached at handerson@mit.edu.

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