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9/15/2011
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Top CIO Worry: People Problems

IT leaders at the InformationWeek 500 conference talked talent, trust--and the new world where the CEO wants six new iPad 2 units on release day.

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At the start of the InformationWeek 500 conference this week, HP Chairman Ray Lane was asked, what is the single biggest issue CIOs face today? His answer was immediate. "Talent." Everyone wants the best people--many even brag that they have the best people, he said. "But everyone can’t have the best people, by definition," he added, getting an empathetic groan from all the CIOs in the audience. When I started covering CIOs closely in July, 2006, I went to a conference and asked CIOs what was keeping them up at night: Almost to a one, they told me it wasn't technology, it was people. Then, IT org charts were just starting to morph due to virtualization.

Today, you face a new wave of people problems, related to not only IT staffing, but also consumerization of IT.

First, there's still the problem of holding onto talented people in specialties such as storage, as Evelyn Briggs, director of security and compliance for Christus Health, told me over lunch at the IW 500 conference. One of her solutions? Her whole IT team is virtual. This lets her recruit talent outside of her local market in Beaumont, Texas, but means she has to ensure that everyone is on the same page and on schedule. She's done the security audit work so that her company can run production apps for a healthcare organization in a hybrid cloud environment--no small matter. But people problems rank at the top of her mind.

Then you must wrestle with the new people problems related to consumer IT. Abha Kumar, a principal in the IT division for Vanguard, faces all the regulatory and compliance issues that come along with the financial industry. She has allowed tablets in, with many ground rules, including the understanding that the device can be wiped if lost. But even when you push through all the governance issues, she says, "You'll never have 100% control. You'll need trust." As an IT leader at Vanguard, she has to build a culture of trust with users.

Her company also had to solve the problem of what Vanguard calls "weisure time." Vanguard's culture expects employees to check email from vacation, so the question became, she said, shouldn't the same employees be allowed to conduct certain personal business from work? In her highly-regulated industry, that's hard for IT to facilitate. One solution: Employees have access to the public Internet via terminals in Vanguard's dining commons area, where they can get to personal business that they need to conduct. Those computers are run by Sodexho, Vanguard's dining hall partner, and live on a completely separate network from Vanguard's.

[Want more lessons learned from InformationWeek 500 winners? See 20 Innovative IT Ideas To Steal.]

Finally, consider this consumer IT story--that left me shaking my head at Apple--from another IT leader who I met over lunch at InformationWeek 500. The CEO of his large enterprise told IT that he wanted six new iPad 2 devices on the day of release, said this veteran IT leader. The devices weren't for a specific project; they were status items. When was the last time we wanted anything on the day of release, he thought to himself, he told me.

Nonetheless, he visited his local Apple store, to make a deal with the manager, to get six units on the day of release. He was told to send three people with three different credit cards.

When release day came, the store manager began calling him, telling him Apple had changed the rules. After a few calls, it became clear he'd only get two units this day.

Five years ago, can you imagine prepping yourself to inform the CEO that you couldn’t get him six Apple devices on a certain day?

The other CIOs at the table groaned at the story. Apple keeps telling me it wants to be enterprise-friendly, another chimed in, but it won’t show me a roadmap. That's not enterprise-friendly, he said. Apple has its own people problem with enterprise IT leaders--and I wonder when it will bite back.

Paul DePodesta, VP of player development and scouting for the New York Mets, hooked attendees with his description of the Oakland A's talent comeback that he led--chronicled in the Michael Lewis book, "Moneyball: the Art of Winning An Unfair Game", soon be released as a movie.

"We tried a lot of things and we tried them fast," DePodesta told the audience. "We made sure people weren't afraid to fail." Check out DePodesta's tips on creating metrics about talent.

Are you creating that kind of culture inside your IT organization? If not, consider this advice on six steps to keep your projects moving, from Jonathan Feldman, an IT leader by day and an InformationWeek columnist by night. One secret: Tapping into each staffer's intrinsic motivation.

Laurianne McLaughlin is editor-in-chief for InformationWeek.com. Follow her on Twitter at @lmclaughlin.

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