7 Bold Tech Ideas That Will Make You Uncomfortable - InformationWeek

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5/26/2015
04:36 PM
Chris Murphy
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7 Bold Tech Ideas That Will Make You Uncomfortable

Elite tech leaders pushed the boundaries at the InformationWeek Conference. At least one of these ideas should make you squirm and think, "We need to do that."
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Wal-mart's Karenann Terrell (right), with InformationWeek's Stephanie Stahl.
(Image: InformationWeek)

Wal-mart's Karenann Terrell (right), with InformationWeek's Stephanie Stahl.

(Image: InformationWeek)

Is your IT shop really, really good at recovering from your mistakes? Is recovering from mistakes even something you talk about, let alone measure?

Wal-mart Stores CIO Karenann Terrell considers recovery to be a critical skill, and her team counts "mean time to recovery" among its performance metrics. Unless the Wal-mart team is confident in their ability to recover, they'll never perform well on another vital factor: Speed.

"What happens when you're not focused on speed is that you're measuring twice or three times or even four times before you cut," Terrell said during a panel session at the InformationWeek Conference last month. "I believe that the right thing for Wal-mart, and the way we look at it, is being absolutely expert at recovery and speed. That allows you to take a lot more risk."

Rapid recovery, risk taking, speeding up IT and business processes, and using technology to improve all corners of the enterprise were among the ideas put forth by tech leaders during the conference.

For Wal-mart, the focus on rapid recovery applies even to customer-facing production systems. Wal-mart has hundreds of thousands of point-of-sale (POS) terminals, for example. If IT had to get every change perfect before rolling it out, Wal-mart could do one or maybe two POS updates a year. Instead, the store environment needs a constant push of innovation. "Thinking through the process of change, and speed, and speed to recover, I think are unbelievably important concepts for technology leadership," Terrell said.

Terrell acknowledged that she was "looking at a lot of skeptical faces" in the audience as she described the importance of recovery. But challenging ideas were the norm from the elite technology leaders who spoke at the InformationWeek Conference. These leaders dared their peers to think differently.

On the following pages, you'll see six more examples of the many ideas from IT leaders at the InformationWeek Conference that will challenge your perceptions of what IT can do.

[Did you miss any of the InformationWeek Conference in Las Vegas last month? Don't worry: We have you covered. Check out what our speakers had to say and see tweets from the show. Let's keep the conversation going.]

Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and co-chair of the InformationWeek Conference. He has been covering technology leadership and CIO strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in ... View Full Bio

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Angelfuego
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Angelfuego,
User Rank: Ninja
5/26/2015 | 9:25:55 PM
Bold Tech Ideas
Re:"Karaboutis leads three tech organizations: Enterprise IT; a global data office that manages scientific and medical analytics; and digital health tech, which works with outside partners on potential new product areas, such as new sensors." The concept of a global data office that manages medical analytics and also involves digital health technology sounds intriguing to me. If successful, I think this could be very advantageous to patients and the rest of the medical/health industry. I think such a concept has room to develop into something really great.
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
5/27/2015 | 10:54:38 AM
A common thread...
Interesting that most of these thought leaders are all very focused on the aspect of speed. Speed is great, but it often comes at a cost, whether that cost is accuracy or assurance of the proper amount of testing. It'll be interesting to see how all these ideas about speed (seemingly above all else) play out over time. Usually, it just takes one big fiasco to make people stop for a second and say "whoa, maybe we should think this out a little more instead of just running with it."
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
5/27/2015 | 11:20:10 AM
Risk
In my understanding it is always better to take risk provided there is a plan B. This will help in reducing the impact of the risk.
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
5/27/2015 | 11:24:34 AM
Re: A common thread...
I agree with you. "Speed" is another factor which has adverse effects on quality. If the quality is not met, "Speed" becomes a question mark.
Somedude8
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Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
5/27/2015 | 12:42:38 PM
Re: A common thread...
Walmart rollingout patches to their POS without fully testing will stop the first time those terminals get breached, and if they are rolling out patches willy nilly, they absolutely will get breached. Hmm, that may be the first time I have used 'willy nilly' in a sentence!

The idea that legacy applications are holding a company back is spot on. Possibly the most under rated skill in programming today is the ability to refactor crusty old code in to shiny new code.

I often find it hard to get to the core concept that these folks are trying to relate though, as it is often so 'spun' toward their point of view. Its like the higher up the corporate chain, the more everything they say is part of their personal marketing message.
JeffreyC531
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JeffreyC531,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/27/2015 | 1:53:28 PM
As the Old saying goes..
Speed, Quality, Cost.....Pick two
Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
5/27/2015 | 2:40:41 PM
Re: A common thread...
I absolutely agree.  Many times when you go higher up in an organization, innovation and speed trump back end requirements, primarily security.  When it comes to tech, there are so many ways we can do things faster, more effectively, with more insight, but we forget the backend upheaval required to make these things happen.

Yes, application modernization will go a long way, but figuring out if those legacy systems have a place in the new technology plans or if they need newer solutions to replace them are required speed bumps we need to make sure are used before we get too ahead of ourselves.

Pulling data for the sake of analytics is also great, provided the right security and privacy controls are in place and the legwork is done in advance to make sure the information is actually going to be worthwhile, both from a "what can we connect and talk to" perspective, but more importantly "Now that we have all this data, what does it mean and what do we do with it?". 
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
5/27/2015 | 3:22:57 PM
Mean time to recovery -- a brave, new metric
I remember thinking with Karenann Terrell said this that "mean time to  recovery" is a great metric for IT shops to adopt. Instead of presenting the IT mask of infallibility, it suggests bad code will occur even with the most careful forethought and preparation. Getting hobbled by the possibility of failure is not the right idea. Getting practiced and fast at recovery will embolden a team to try more things and respond to business needs more frequently.
mdortch570
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mdortch570,
User Rank: Strategist
5/28/2015 | 10:45:57 AM
Re: A common thread...
Mom always said I was naively optimistic, but I believe that the speed focused on by several of the tech leaders featured here can be a win, if it's done right. I'm reiminded of the day I didn't sleep through a high-school physics class, and learned the difference between vector and scalar quantities. Speed of IT transformation is essential, IF it has a specific direction, or goal. And that goal should always be improvement of agility, resilience, and/or trustworthiness ("ART") of an enterprise. 

Little if anything transpires faster than the speed of human thought. So if the direction of IT transformation is well thought out and focused on improving business operations, speed will thrill, not kill. But speed without clear direction is nothing more than a major catastrophe waiting to happen.
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
5/30/2015 | 2:48:20 PM
Pfft!
I think Walmart should focus on keeping its self-checkout POS stations in operable condition before it worries about anything else.  As is, those things are constantly out of order.  And management doesn't like to bring in more than 1 employee to run register for every 50 customers standing on the checkout line.
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