News
5/26/2015
04:36 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
Slideshows
Connect Directly
Google+
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail

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."



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.]



Put Feet On The Street In Silicon Valley

Many non-tech companies have set up shop in Silicon Valley -- from BNY Mellon to Ford to Wal-mart. 
Drugmaker AstraZeneca joined that list after Dave Smoley joined as CIO, and he based the decision largely on personal experience. When Smoley worked as a CIO outside the valley at places such as GE and Honeywell, he made the annual pilgrimage to meet with  big vendors, including Oracle, Cisco, and a few startups. Then he become Flextronics CIO, and lived in the Bay Area full time. 

'It was a Eureka,' Smoley said. 'It was absolutely mind-blowing how big a difference it made when you were living there. You were sitting at Starbucks, or a dinner out, or on the soccer field, and you're bumping into people who are living technology, and there's just a conversation that's informal that actually drives a higher level of engagement and creativity.'

Plus, living in the Bay Area puts you closer to the early growth-stage companies, who have the most game-changing ideas even if they're not getting much of your IT budget. 'You're not spending a lot of money on those technologies today, and it will probably be a long time before you're spending a meaningful amount,' Smoley said. 'But that's where the real innovation is, that's where the real leading-edge thinking [is] about how you, say, manage security.'

Smoley hired a CTO in Silicon Valley, and he has only a few people on his team today. He plans to have 30 to 50 employees, hiring opportunistically as he finds people who fit well. 'You don't have to have an army of people,' he said.

(Image: InformationWeek)

Put Feet On The Street In Silicon Valley

Many non-tech companies have set up shop in Silicon Valley -- from BNY Mellon to Ford to Wal-mart.

Drugmaker AstraZeneca joined that list after Dave Smoley joined as CIO, and he based the decision largely on personal experience. When Smoley worked as a CIO outside the valley at places such as GE and Honeywell, he made the annual pilgrimage to meet with big vendors, including Oracle, Cisco, and a few startups. Then he become Flextronics CIO, and lived in the Bay Area full time.

"It was a Eureka," Smoley said. "It was absolutely mind-blowing how big a difference it made when you were living there. You were sitting at Starbucks, or a dinner out, or on the soccer field, and you're bumping into people who are living technology, and there's just a conversation that's informal that actually drives a higher level of engagement and creativity."

Plus, living in the Bay Area puts you closer to the early growth-stage companies, who have the most game-changing ideas even if they're not getting much of your IT budget. "You're not spending a lot of money on those technologies today, and it will probably be a long time before you're spending a meaningful amount," Smoley said. "But that's where the real innovation is, that's where the real leading-edge thinking [is] about how you, say, manage security."

Smoley hired a CTO in Silicon Valley, and he has only a few people on his team today. He plans to have 30 to 50 employees, hiring opportunistically as he finds people who fit well. "You don't have to have an army of people," he said.

(Image: InformationWeek)



'Industrialize' Analytics. One-Off Isn't Enough

ConocoPhillips had some success using data analytics to improve the performance of oil and gas wells in its Eagle Ford oilfields in south Texas. But it felt like a one-off achievement that wasn't going to move the needle enough for the $52 billion a year company. 

'We realized those particular successes were through hard work and some creative thinking by particular members of our company, but we wanted to industrialize that,' ConocoPhillips CIO Mike Pfister said. 'We believed a different analytics platform would allow that to be the norm, instead of the exception.'

So the company created a corporate function to drive this kind of analytics platform. Richard Barclay, who moved into a new role leading a centralized advanced analytics group, described two broad, critical capabilities: Getting data from multiple sources into one place, and creating visualizations that let people explore and tell clear stories with that data. 

'Simply the visualization of the data in a combined manner leads to a lot of breakthroughs,' Barclay said.
 
Pfister and Barclay shared lessons learned in the ongoing development of a centralized analytics effort: 
Focus early analytics efforts on the high-value areas. 'Don't focus on your platform first,' Barclay said. 'Focus on your problems, and the other things will follow.'
Figure out where the data may be. Some will be internal, but they hadn't realize how much public data is available that's valuable to use in combination with company data.
Take time with data. Spend the time and effort capturing data and making it available for broad use. Pfister calls it 'removing friction' between users and data.  
Pfister was candid about the challenges -- it was 'a bit scary' for some of the operating units at ConocoPhillips to hand data over to a corporate function, without control over how it might be used. The central team engaged with technical leaders to convince them that aggregation of data from many sources would be valuable. 
One final lesson came around modeling. ConocoPhillips, like many highly technical companies, has a lot of modeling, analytical, and statistical talent, and it has done leading-edge modeling for years. So the central team had to prove this was something new. The power, Barclay said, lies in the combination of new data sources and new visualization tools.
'The real killer app we found isn't just a great predictive model, it's not just the visualizations,' Barclay said. 'It's combining the outputs of models and the visualization of the raw data that really gets people thinking differently and seeing things differently, and leads to a lot of opportunities.'
(Image: InformationWeek)

"Industrialize" Analytics. One-Off Isn't Enough

ConocoPhillips had some success using data analytics to improve the performance of oil and gas wells in its Eagle Ford oilfields in south Texas. But it felt like a one-off achievement that wasn't going to move the needle enough for the $52 billion a year company.

"We realized those particular successes were through hard work and some creative thinking by particular members of our company, but we wanted to industrialize that," ConocoPhillips CIO Mike Pfister said. "We believed a different analytics platform would allow that to be the norm, instead of the exception."

So the company created a corporate function to drive this kind of analytics platform. Richard Barclay, who moved into a new role leading a centralized advanced analytics group, described two broad, critical capabilities: Getting data from multiple sources into one place, and creating visualizations that let people explore and tell clear stories with that data.

"Simply the visualization of the data in a combined manner leads to a lot of breakthroughs," Barclay said.

Pfister and Barclay shared lessons learned in the ongoing development of a centralized analytics effort:

Focus early analytics efforts on the high-value areas. "Don't focus on your platform first," Barclay said. "Focus on your problems, and the other things will follow."

Figure out where the data may be. Some will be internal, but they hadn't realize how much public data is available that's valuable to use in combination with company data.

Take time with data. Spend the time and effort capturing data and making it available for broad use. Pfister calls it "removing friction" between users and data.

Pfister was candid about the challenges -- it was "a bit scary" for some of the operating units at ConocoPhillips to hand data over to a corporate function, without control over how it might be used. The central team engaged with technical leaders to convince them that aggregation of data from many sources would be valuable.

One final lesson came around modeling. ConocoPhillips, like many highly technical companies, has a lot of modeling, analytical, and statistical talent, and it has done leading-edge modeling for years. So the central team had to prove this was something new. The power, Barclay said, lies in the combination of new data sources and new visualization tools.

"The real killer app we found isn't just a great predictive model, it's not just the visualizations," Barclay said. "It's combining the outputs of models and the visualization of the raw data that really gets people thinking differently and seeing things differently, and leads to a lot of opportunities."

(Image: InformationWeek)



Great Conventional IT Isn't Enough

Biogen's technology organization gives proper respect and concern to enterprise IT -- 'it has to be water through the pipes' -- but that competency isn't enough, said Biogen senior VP of technology Adriana Karaboutis.
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. 
Her teams are structured in order to advance tech in areas that truly change how the company does research, and even pushes it into new product areas. 
'We're trying to drive now how do we help pick a better cohort of patients for that phase 3 [clinical] trial?' Karaboutis offered as an example. 'How do we help try to streamline the process through technology, and get answers through adaptive artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc., so that we don't have to wait the full 10 to 12 years that it takes from start, to research, through all the development to put a drug on the market?' 
At the InformationWeek Conference, Karaboutis noted that one of Biogen's hematologists was in attendance, along with one of the PhDs in her organization. 
It's exciting to work in these diverse areas, but a leader in this kind of technology environment must come in humble, and willing to learn. As Karaboutis joined the company, one of the R&D tech team cautioned her: 'Please don't come in and try to run data analytics, and the support we give computational biologists, the way we run IT, because it's very, very different,' Karaboutis recalled. Bring new ideas, but respect the culture.
(Image: InformationWeek)

Great Conventional IT Isn't Enough

Biogen's technology organization gives proper respect and concern to enterprise IT -- "it has to be water through the pipes" -- but that competency isn't enough, said Biogen senior VP of technology Adriana Karaboutis.

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.

Her teams are structured in order to advance tech in areas that truly change how the company does research, and even pushes it into new product areas.

"We're trying to drive now how do we help pick a better cohort of patients for that phase 3 [clinical] trial?" Karaboutis offered as an example. "How do we help try to streamline the process through technology, and get answers through adaptive artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc., so that we don't have to wait the full 10 to 12 years that it takes from start, to research, through all the development to put a drug on the market?"

At the InformationWeek Conference, Karaboutis noted that one of Biogen's hematologists was in attendance, along with one of the PhDs in her organization.

It's exciting to work in these diverse areas, but a leader in this kind of technology environment must come in humble, and willing to learn. As Karaboutis joined the company, one of the R&D tech team cautioned her: "Please don't come in and try to run data analytics, and the support we give computational biologists, the way we run IT, because it's very, very different," Karaboutis recalled. Bring new ideas, but respect the culture.

(Image: InformationWeek)



Legacy Apps: Don't Let Them Pull You Down

Andy Zitney wants Allstate technologists to think bi-modal: The mother ship and the speedboats. 
The mother ship holds the legacy transactional technology systems that run today's highly regulated insurance business. They must be respected and run well, since they're 'where all the money is being made,' said Zitney, Allstate senior VP of infrastructure.
The future lies in unleashing thousands of speedboats -- new apps relying on highly iterative agile development, DevOps techniques for quick and frequent deployment to customers, and private cloud infrastructure to quickly deploy resources for developers to use. Those apps will provide the foundation of new products, and new ways for customers to interact with Allstate, like its Drivewise mobile app.
Between the mother ship and the speedboats there must be a third layer -- an API layer -- if Allstate's going to succeed in transforming its culture into a more nimble tech environment. Those speedboat apps need data from the mother ship, but the nimble culture will get crushed if apps are stuck in the six-month test-and-release cycle of conventional enterprise IT.
'The mother ship, that legacy, is going to pull everyone back toward it eventually,' Zitney warned. 'You have to be aware of it, and you have to stop it. If you release those thousands of speedboats, or nanobots, you have to make sure they don't get pulled back to the core. They have to talk to it and communicate with it, but don't let it integrate back to it. You want to keep it separate -- and keep the speed.'
(Image: InformationWeek)

Legacy Apps: Don't Let Them Pull You Down

Andy Zitney wants Allstate technologists to think bi-modal: The mother ship and the speedboats.

The mother ship holds the legacy transactional technology systems that run today's highly regulated insurance business. They must be respected and run well, since they're "where all the money is being made," said Zitney, Allstate senior VP of infrastructure.

The future lies in unleashing thousands of speedboats -- new apps relying on highly iterative agile development, DevOps techniques for quick and frequent deployment to customers, and private cloud infrastructure to quickly deploy resources for developers to use. Those apps will provide the foundation of new products, and new ways for customers to interact with Allstate, like its Drivewise mobile app.

Between the mother ship and the speedboats there must be a third layer -- an API layer -- if Allstate's going to succeed in transforming its culture into a more nimble tech environment. Those speedboat apps need data from the mother ship, but the nimble culture will get crushed if apps are stuck in the six-month test-and-release cycle of conventional enterprise IT.

"The mother ship, that legacy, is going to pull everyone back toward it eventually," Zitney warned. "You have to be aware of it, and you have to stop it. If you release those thousands of speedboats, or nanobots, you have to make sure they don't get pulled back to the core. They have to talk to it and communicate with it, but don't let it integrate back to it. You want to keep it separate -- and keep the speed."

(Image: InformationWeek)



Build A Company Culture For Speed

Pinterest ships a new version of its mobile app every three weeks. A lot about the typical development process must change to make that pace possible, such as doing testing as people write code, or having all employees get the new build of the Pinterest app multiple times a day, so they can provide constant end-user testing.
But the whole company, not just technology, must be on board with this pace. Legal, marketing, and customer support are among the groups that need to work at a near-constant pace of releases.   
Mike Beltzner, Pinterest mobile product manager, (pictured above, right, with CA Technologies' Andi Mann) said his company manages this by having 'Go' as one of the company's four cultural values, on which every person is evaluated. 
'It's how do you make sure you're always moving forward, and that you're not adding 'Stop' energy,' Beltzner said. It doesn't mean you work around any one who's not giving you what you want ('which some people do interpret it as,' he warned). And it doesn't mean the teams always must ship as soon as possible.
'It's that every step that you're taking has to be a step toward shipping, or toward a decision that this product is never going to ship and we should just cancel it,' Beltzner said.
(Image: InformationWeek)

Build A Company Culture For Speed

Pinterest ships a new version of its mobile app every three weeks. A lot about the typical development process must change to make that pace possible, such as doing testing as people write code, or having all employees get the new build of the Pinterest app multiple times a day, so they can provide constant end-user testing.

But the whole company, not just technology, must be on board with this pace. Legal, marketing, and customer support are among the groups that need to work at a near-constant pace of releases.

Mike Beltzner, Pinterest mobile product manager, (pictured above, right, with CA Technologies' Andi Mann) said his company manages this by having "Go" as one of the company's four cultural values, on which every person is evaluated.

"It's how do you make sure you're always moving forward, and that you're not adding 'Stop' energy," Beltzner said. It doesn't mean you work around any one who's not giving you what you want ("which some people do interpret it as," he warned). And it doesn't mean the teams always must ship as soon as possible.

"It's that every step that you're taking has to be a step toward shipping, or toward a decision that this product is never going to ship and we should just cancel it," Beltzner said.

(Image: InformationWeek)



That IT Transformation? You're Never Done

We'll finish with the leader who started this stream of leadership advice -- Wal-mart CIO Karenann Terrell. Terrell is guiding her team on an IT modernization -- the kind of effort that typically comes with a timeline of 18 months to three years. Terrell balked at putting a time frame on when this effort will be done.
'Technology has to be viewed as a continuum, and the minute that I put a time on the completion, I can be positive that that's the wrong date,' Terrell said.
IT should stop thinking in terms of 'build' and 'operate' as distinct phases in a cycle. Terrell thinks of it as a 'rolling modernization' of the retailer's legacy systems (systems which she refers to as 'classic,' out of respect for the people who run them.) 
'In our classic environment, the minute that we roll through the modernization of that, we'll see new trends in technology and new capabilities emerge,' Terrell said. 'So modernization is a way of working.'
(Image: InformationWeek)

That IT Transformation? You're Never Done

We'll finish with the leader who started this stream of leadership advice -- Wal-mart CIO Karenann Terrell. Terrell is guiding her team on an IT modernization -- the kind of effort that typically comes with a timeline of 18 months to three years. Terrell balked at putting a time frame on when this effort will be done.

"Technology has to be viewed as a continuum, and the minute that I put a time on the completion, I can be positive that that's the wrong date," Terrell said.

IT should stop thinking in terms of "build" and "operate" as distinct phases in a cycle. Terrell thinks of it as a "rolling modernization" of the retailer's legacy systems (systems which she refers to as "classic," out of respect for the people who run them.)

"In our classic environment, the minute that we roll through the modernization of that, we'll see new trends in technology and new capabilities emerge," Terrell said. "So modernization is a way of working."

(Image: InformationWeek)

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

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Email This  | 
Print  | 
RSS
More Insights
Copyright © 2020 UBM Electronics, A UBM company, All rights reserved. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service