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IW500: 5 Lessons From IT First Movers

What can you learn from CIOs who reaped rewards by taking early risks on virtualization and consumerization of IT? Consider these lessons shared at the InformationWeek 500 conference.
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With great risk comes great reward? IT leaders are more likely to relate to Spiderman's credo--with great power comes great responsibility. Attendees at this week's InformationWeek 500 conference in Dana Point, Calif., heard HP's chairman of the board, Ray Lane, take responsibility for bad communication around the company's recent strategy change. "I haven't met a customer yet who wasn't confused," he said. But just how much did Lane clarify? See our analysis by InformationWeek.com's Art Wittmann and a slightly different take from Doug Henschen.

Attendees also heard lessons on creativity from Sir Ken Robinson and took a peek into the data center design strategy of FedEx CIO Rob Carter. Carter told attendees that with his data centers looking more and more like Amazon's, he sees a day when the public cloud could help his company in a time of disaster. He is balancing risk and reward now with a hybrid cloud approach.

If you never get out of your traditional IT comfort zone to take risks, you won't be the one who helps the business move faster. Attendees at the InformationWeek 500 conference also heard some advice from fellow CIOs who have become first movers by taking risks with virtualization and consumer IT.

While CIOs' appetites for virtualization have improved much during the past two years, consumer IT remains a topic that many CIOs find unappetizing. Consider how these risk-takers' lessons could apply to your current problem set.

1. Virtualization And Mobile Security Complement Each Other

JetBlue EVP and CIO Joseph Eng rolled out a virtualized desktop environment, the "JetBlue desktop," in the company's New York JFK terminal, the first major terminal opened after the 9/11 attacks. All his call center staff--working at home--use the same virtualized desktop, built on the same stack. The bonus? All his employees using tablets run that same desktop. When you sign out of the virtual desktop, it's gone from the tablet. Two sets of security worries addressed with one approach. Why would Eng allow bring-your-own tablets in the first place? "We fully embraced consumer IT," says Eng. "It was going to get us anyway."

2. Data Center Automation Can Connect To Business Process

SuccessFactors CIO Robert Grazioli virtualized his data center and automated technology processes, yet wanted more. He wanted the data center tools to see what was happening in core business processes--in applications such as Salesforce and Netsuite. "We needed the data center better connected to those processes," he says.

His solution: Use Microsoft SharePoint as a core content management system. Pull data elements out of those subsystems like Salesforce and connect the information to data center tools. Now a bill of materials can be pulled out of Salesforce to see what has to happen in the data center to meet a customer order. Open source and in-house automation tools assist with scheduling. "Our goal is the sales guys press a button," he says, so that the client's technology is deployed and operational in the shortest amount of time.

3. Cloud Helps Manage Unexpected Expenses

Amilyn Pharmaceuticals CIO Steve Phillpott started to build his cloud strategy in 2008 following this philosophy: "Resources are global. You as an organization can't own all the resources to meet all the needs internally. You're going to have to partner. That allowed us to get around the hype around cloud."

Midsize companies can't have the capital expenses that larger enterprises do, so using virtualization and cloud and spreading out the costs as operational expenses makes sense. But it also eliminates what he calls the spiky spin--the unpredicted IT expense. "What started as cost benefit project is actually turning into a business value project," he says.

Or as JetBlue's Eng puts it, for companies like his with huge seasonal swings, "field of dreams infrastructure" is expensive and rarely used. Virtualization and cloud let him scale the costs up when appropriate.

4. Consumerization Of IT Lets You Learn From Users

While JetBlue's Eng has a list of approved mobile devices, Phillpott takes an any-device-you-want approach. Why? "How do you decide who to place bets on? Mobilization is in its infancy," he says. "The only way to get the feedback is to let them use different devices." His team gets a feel for how people actually use the devices--and gets to let the industry mature a little. Right now, most people lean toward the iPhone or iPad, Phillpott says. When enough lessons have been learned, he can point everyone to the best choices, he adds.

His team uses MobileIron to secure and lock down devices, push out specific apps, and offer users an app store with the correct versions of Salesforce, Workday and other apps. MobileIron also lets his team push wireless certificates that let users go from building to building.

5. Consumerization Of IT Involves More Than Devices

It's about policy and culture, says JetBlue's Eng. You must work with colleagues such as legal and HR pros to craft policies that protect not only the company but also the employees--especially those working in non-traditional offices like a flight attendant does. "You have to protect the crew members' privacy," Eng says. "We've worked those through to make sure there is understanding between employee and company."

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

Attend Enterprise 2.0 Santa Clara, Nov. 14-17, 2011, and learn how to drive business value with collaboration, with an emphasis on how real customers are using social software to enable more productive workforces and to be more responsive and engaged with customers and business partners. Register today and save 30% off conference passes, or get a free expo pass with priority code CPHCES02. Find out more and register.

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