Credit: AI Trends
What is the optimal role for a CIO today and how can they add value to organizations? Isaac Sacolick tells CXOTalk about his years of experience as a Chief Information Officer, offering advice and insight for future CIOs and where they should innovate today.
Sacolick is a successful CIO who has led digital transformation, product development, innovation, agile management, and data science programs in multiple organizations, including Greenwich Associates, McGraw Hill Construction and BusinessWeek. He was named one of Forbes’ top 20 social CIOs and recognized as a Top 100 CIO in STEM, and writes a blog, Social Agile and Transformation.
Michael Krigsman: The CIO role, it is complex, it is changing, and it is tough. Being a CIO, a Chief Information Officer, it is a tough job. Today, on Episode #283 of CxOTalk, we are speaking with somebody who quite literally – quite literally has written the book. He wrote the book on this topic.
I’m Michael Krigsman. I’m an industry analyst and the host of CxOTalk. I want to say a genuinely heartfelt thank you to Livestream for supporting us. They provide our video streaming infrastructure, and they are really, really, really good. If you go to Livestream.com/CxOTalk, they will give you a discount on their plans.
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Without further ado, I’m so thrilled to introduce Isaac Sacolick, who is a multi-time CIO. He writes the StarCIO blog, and he has written a book called Driving Digital. Isaac, how are you? Thanks for being here today with us.
Isaac Sacolick: Thanks for having me. I’m really happy to be meeting your audience, talking about the role of the CIO, and talking about the role of digital transformation in our current agenda.
Michael Krigsman: Well, these are important topics. If you’re interested in technology and the enterprise, and especially if you’re a CIO, you better be thinking about these things. Isaac, let’s start with you very briefly telling us about your background.
Isaac Sacolick: Yeah, so I have an interesting background. I actually did undergraduate and graduate work in artificial intelligence, and then I did about ten years of startups including some work in media working with newspapers and doing a startup there. Then I pivoted my career. I became a CIO in an enterprise that was looking to build customer-facing applications. I started with Business Week, and I helped them really change how they were working with subscribers and advertisers. I went on to work in a B2B software data company called McGraw-Hill Construction, and then went off to work in a financial services company also doing data and analytics.
Michael Krigsman: You’ve been a CIO three times.
Isaac Sacolick: Three times in ten years.
Michael Krigsman: Okay, and then you wrote a book called Driving Digital, so why did you write this book?
Isaac Sacolick: I felt like I had to. I had been involved in transformation work for ten years. I had put together a set of practices that I thought were really important. I had spoken at conferences about why digital transformation was going to hit other industries and it certainly has over the last few years. I knew it was changing the role of the CIO in terms of going from back office to front office, and I thought I had come up with a set of guidelines around things that CIOs need to do better at: agile, becoming a data-driven organization, and building up product management practices. And so, I felt compelled to take things I was talking about and writing about on my blog and put it into a format that people could use as a playbook. That’s essentially what Driving Digital is.
Michael Krigsman: Okay, so you mentioned looking at things that CIOs need to do better. Of course, that begs the questions: What do CIOs need to do better and why? Tell us about that.
Isaac Sacolick: The world has changed. Our businesses can’t operate the way they have been the last five years. There are new companies coming into our space that are competing with us beyond just startups. There are technologies that are dramatically changing the customer experience. There are our competitors who are getting smarter with how they’re using analytics and data to really optimize what their messaging is, when they’re marketing, all the way down to how they’re operating and what they’re automating.
CIOs, ten years ago, managing the data center, managing the infrastructure and keeping things running, was probably good enough. When you look at it today, just yesterday Wall Street Journal talked about a KPMG study saying CIOs are expected to drive growth and drive revenue through innovation. That means being able to build customer-facing applications. It means providing analytics that are self-serving to the organization so that they can find answers to the questions that they have. It means looking at emerging technologies and figuring out where the market is going to be in five to ten years, bringing that vision to the C-suite and to the board, and telling them, “Here’s what AI is going to do for us,” or, “Here is what blockchain is going to do for us,” or, “Here is what the impact of automated vehicles or smart cities are going to be.”
We could see what the difficulties are and challenges in getting to those technologies, but we know that the investment takes time to build up. We have to project that future back to our audience, to our colleagues and say, “These are the things that we have to start taking on now so that we’re more competitive over the next few years.”
Michael Krigsman: Why is that so difficult for CIOs to do?
Isaac Sacolick: Well, first is it starts with just getting out of the office and building up a perspective that our colleagues have done over the years. It means meeting customers of different types and not only learning how they’re using the products and services that exist, but understanding what their pain points are, understanding what their alternatives are, and have a perspective of where their business is going. Then talking to people who are everything from general managers who are running businesses as they exist today and are incented for short-term gains and working with customers for satisfaction, and working with the people that report to them in terms of how they sell products, how they market products, what the operations look like around a product, and help define what that digital business is going to look like 3, 5, and even 12 years from now. CIOs cannot do that by just looking at uptime reports, [but by also] getting out into the field, getting out and viewing customers, going out to tradeshows where you can learn from other industries in terms of how they’re applying technologies.
Michael Krigsman: Right.
Isaac Sacolick: Building up an ecosystem of partners that you can work with, these are the things CIOs have to do, and it’s a lot of work because you’ve got to run the business part and also go out and become a customer-facing spokesperson–
Michael Krigsman: Right.
Isaac Sacolick: –for what your company is trying to do over the next few years.
Michael Krigsman: I want to remind everybody, we are talking with Isaac Sacolick, who is the author of the book Driving Digital, which offers advice to chief information officers. Right now, there is a tweet chat taking place using the hashtag #CxOTalk. Please, jump in with your questions and your comments on the role of the CIO.
Isaac, I guess the basic question that I have is, again, why is it so difficult for CIOs to think about their work from a customer-facing perspective? Is it historically the training of CIOs? Is it something in the technical mindset? Why do CIOs have so much difficulty with this, historically?
Isaac Sacolick: Yeah, so I think it’s a double-edged mindset. We were educated to follow the business. The business was the lead. Then we would come in and support the business in terms of what they wanted to do. The reverse also occurred, right? Our business colleagues really didn’t like hearing from the CIO in terms of what we thought the business was going to do or what solutions or technologies we wanted to put in place.
We had to break out of that mold, first by understanding a little bit more about what our business does, what our marketplace needs, and what customers want. But, we have to build different types of relationships with our business colleagues and not talk about mobile devices or the latest security threat. We have to talk in their language about where growth is going to come from, what new types of competition might exist in their market over the next few years, or what the impact of a specific technology might be coming up over the next few years.
That’s a dialog, and a lot of us are introverts. We’re not facing; we’re not spokespeople as much as we’d like to be. Getting out of that shell, really coming up with a perspective, and selling the perspective.
We’re not sellers. We’re not marketers. But, coming up and saying, “Look, I think this is where we need to be over the next three to five years because I’ve done a lot of listening around this,” and then retune that pitch, that vision based on the feedback that I get from my colleagues so that they’re always staying a few steps ahead of where they need to be.
Then I’ve got come back to them with a plan, right? A CIO coming with, “Here’s where things are going to be three to five years,” without a plan is useless. We can’t get away with that. They expect us to have a roadmap. They expect us to know what technologies we might use. They expect us to put a process together that will get their colleagues onboard with a solution and help with the change management process. That whole combination of things is essentially what makes it hard.
Michael Krigsman: Correct me if I’m wrong. Really, what you’re describing are personal characteristics that many CIOs possess towards being an introvert towards looking at the technology rather than the business issues. Is that accurate? Is what I’m saying accurate?
Isaac Sacolick: I think it’s accurate, but I meet a lot of CIOs at conferences. I think, in the last two or three years, it’s gotten a lot better. We’re not talking about an extra nine of uptime anymore, and we’re not talking about the improved latency a storage solution might give us.
We’re talking about, well, if we want to bring self-service technologies into the organization, how are we going to get people to use a new set of tools effectively so that they can actually get business value out of it? The entire set of conversations are very different. We’re not talking just about how to run Scrum and how to hire Scrum masters. We’re talking about how we organize multiple teams geographically that are going to orchestrate different products coming out at different times leveraging the same technology platforms, so we get some scale and value out of all the learnings that we do with our technologies.
I think it’s changed a lot over the last couple years in particular. I think we still have a way to go as someone sitting at the C-suite. I think we’re going to feel some of the impact of security, how to represent that, and how to sell those ideas to the board. I think we’re going to feel the impact in some organizations that elect to hire chief digital officers and how we partner with them and work with them to get the same business results. I think the role is definitely going through a change, but I think, as a group, we’ve gotten better at representing business functions than technology and how they operate.
Michael Krigsman: Before we move on to the positive attributes, I just want to query you. To what extent is this kind of old way of thinking still prevalent? I call it a digital CIO or an innovative CIO versus a traditional CIO. I’m not sure if that’s the right terminology, but that’s what I call it. To what extent is this still a big issue?
Isaac Sacolick: I think it varies. CIOs who are working in large organizations with multiple businesses with multiple GMs with different people working underneath them, you’re going to find a spectrum of people who are very supportive of the ideas coming out of the CIO, a partner that can express their business needs in terms of opportunities and problems. They’re open to working with the CIO in terms of what solutions are applicable, what the organizational structure needs to be, and the project structures need to actually execute. We’re going to have some early adopters, some people who are really supportive of what we’re trying to do.
We’re also going to have some people who are less supportive who are antagonistic. I talk about it in the book and on my blog. I call them detractors, those that are probably making a good living off of how the business is operating today, maybe in the later stages of their career, and maybe don’t really like technology, in general. Maybe they don’t like what the impact of social or artificial intelligence is on their business and how things are running today are just fine.
The reality is, the CIO has to, number one, get some wins out of their early adopters, show some progress, and show how they’re operating with those early adopters. But, at some level, you’re going to hit some general managers who are operating significant parts of the business. You’re going to have to find people in their organization that are willing to make changes, that are willing to sign up and do proof of concepts or to look at data a little bit differently and build, from the bottom up, a group of people who will be supportive of doing changes in those legacy, but important, businesses where maybe the leader isn’t as supportive.
Michael Krigsman: Inevitably, if a CIO does not adapt to the kind of changes that you’re describing, she or he will become less and less and less relevant to the business over time. Is that another way of stating what you just described?
Isaac Sacolick: Oh, I don’t have to state it. It’s a reality. There are a few ways it can happen. The CIO that’s just keeping the lights on is eventually going to be replaced. There’s something that’s going to happen to that business where the CEO or the board are going to look for somebody who can really bring technology to a point where it’s a competitive advantage of at least on par with their competitors or at least can deliver change that they’re expecting. That’s a very common thing to happen, unfortunately, but it’s one way the CIO and their role can get disrupted.
You can hire as a CIO to get some digital skills on your team if you don’t have it yourself. Particularly in B2C companies, you have the hiring of chief digital officers. Some of them are great partners for CIOs and others slowly chip away at the strategic areas that the CIO owns and leave really the infrastructure that’s left. Start with moving app dev over and moving customer-facing application development over. Maybe doing a little rogue IT if they don’t really like the tools the CIO is providing. Then chip away and maybe pull over the CRM or the marketing tools so that they can get an end-to-end customer view.
Slowly, what ends up happening is the CIO is left with Helpdesk and maybe running the ERP, and that gets outsourced at that point. CIOs who aren’t moving fast enough, I talk about that in the book, moving smarter and faster, are likely themselves to get disrupted and the organization is expecting the CIO to be that digital leader to really bring not just a strategy and the ideas, but the execution, which traditionally our strong point is our ability to execute against a change plan that involves technology moving our organizations forward.
Michael Krigsman: That’s really a very interesting way; it’s a very insightful way of looking at it. Essentially, what you’re saying is a CIO who is not able to adapt is going to lose control and lose relevancy in a, we could say, death by a thousand cuts.
Isaac Sacolick: [Laughter] I think that’s been the history over the last couple of years. I think if we had an executive recruiter sitting with us, I think a big part of their business over the last few years has been working through those transitions. I think it’s part of the reason the chief digital officer role emerged. In some organizations, they wanted somebody who could represent digital and not just technology.
Even in one of my roles, I rebranded the IT group and we called ourselves the digital organization because we wanted the entire team, the entire company, to view us differently and to partner with us differently. We called ourselves the digital organization as part of that.
Michael Krigsman: There’s a marketing element, so it’s not just doing the substantive work, but there’s also a communication component to this as well.
Isaac Sacolick: Absolutely. I think, actually, there are two roles there. There are communications and marketing. I think marketing comes first, right? It’s easy to find some people in the organization who are willing to partner with you and take on a role in a program in its early days.
I think part of the role of the CIO is to find those people, understand their skill sets and what motivates them, and get them involved in some of these programs. But, as those programs get bigger, you’re going to start getting more people across the organization involved. You can’t put a new technology out that’s customer-facing without having marketing and sales involved. You can’t do something internally without maybe somebody in operations or even HR involved with it.
That audience that’s going to be involved in your change program is going to grow over time, and so, first, you need to market what your program is about, what its goals are, what you’re trying to accomplish so that when you start talking to the next 10, 20, 50 people in the organization that they know what you’re about and, very quickly, will give you indications whether they want to be a part of it or not. That’s what you need. You need them to understand the goals and what the mission is and to really want to be a part of it. That’s the marketing role.
The communication role is to make sure that people, whether they’re participating or not in the program, know what the status is, know where you’re going short- and long-term, can hear about the success of the people in the program and what they’re accomplishing, but also explain some of the speedbumps and some of the failures when they come about because transformation just isn’t easy. It isn’t a script that you go follow. We usually apply agile principles to them, so we’re going to make some mistakes going left and right. It’s important for people to know, hey, we’re learning as we go. That’s part of what we’re trying to accomplish is learn from the new people who join the project, learn from customers at the same time, and put that feedback into our programs and adjust our goals and our mission as we learn through them.
That’s the communication part, and I think they’re both really new skills, particularly in smaller IT organizations that may not have a marketing communication skill on the IT squad. There needs to be somebody. Maybe it’s somebody from the PMO. Maybe it’s the CIO themselves that needs to take on those roles and make sure the organization understands what their future is and what they’re working on.
Michael Krigsman: I want to remind everybody, we are speaking with Isaac Sacolick, who is the StarCIO. He writes the StarCIO blog. He has just written a book called Driving Digital. He is a three-time serial chief information officer. Right now, there is a tweet chat taking place on Twitter using the hashtag #CxOTalk.
Isaac, I’m utterly confused about what I think is an important point. The CIO, information technology, it’s about technology. What you have just told us is that, in fact, the role is about, yes, a little bit of technology, but about communication, about marketing, about getting people on the same page. I’m a technologist, and that’s what I want to do. Why the hell should I do any of these other things that you’re saying?
Isaac Sacolick: [Laughter] Yeah, well, I think you hit it right on the nose. It’s really about people, first, and getting people to leverage technology and leverage information in ways that go beyond the traditional ways they have done it before. That’s really a fairly large mindset change in terms of the people that you’re working with, including that person that wants to sit behind a screen and code all day, wants to sit behind a screen and make sure the infrastructure is running okay every day, or just likes working with technology, in general, and finding the next node library or the next node SQL technology that might be interesting in the organization.
If you talk to those people, because you have to as a CIO, you have to bring your own staff onboard with this program, they will realize that, when they are doing those things, they have to get their colleagues involved with it. They have to understand what they are building, if they are coding, so that other people can leverage that code and build upon it. If they’re building systems out, we want standardized systems so that they have some consistency to them. In fact, a lot of us are investing in dev ops and automation to enable some of those things.
There’s definitely a new mindset. It’s a new culture within IT to be thinking this way. CIOs do spend time talking to their staff a lot more about this than they’ve ever done before because, even with something like agile, agile is not just about running Scrum meetings, standups, and just getting things done. It’s about getting the right things done the right way, working as a team, and learning new skillsets in the middle of it.
That’s a mindset that’s very different in IT organizations that very often were ticket-based, right? Tickets came in. We looked at them. Idle said that we responded to them. We had an incident rate and a response rate against those things – very machine oriented.
Michael Krigsman: Hey, listen. I’m a happy, legacy CIO.
Isaac Sacolick: [Laughter]
Michael Krigsman: That’s what I do. I respond to trouble tickets, and I like it. I don’t want to do any of this other stuff. Anyway, that’s just me. Then again, I’m not a CIO, so I guess I’d be a lousy CIO.
We have a question from Twitter, from Mario Lopez. Mario Lopez says, “With boards, obviously missing knowledge of IT and information security, with both CIOs and chief information security officers knowing this, why aren’t CIOs and CISOs demanding to get a seat at that table?”
Isaac Sacolick: I think the first thing is, I don’t think we can demand to get seats at tables. We have to earn them. I think we have to gain the respect of them. Part of it, at the board level, you don’t get to make board relationships unless you’re invited to speak at them.
I think the way you get there, as a CIO, is when you’re making presentations just to your management team, to the executive team. They need to know that you can make presentations at their level unfiltered that are appropriate for board conversations. The CEO does not have the time to go filter what you’re building for the board. They need to be spoken to at a different level.
In particular, when it comes to things like security and data governance, the things that are operationally sensitive that require people to do things differently, require technologies to be in place and are not things that are moving the business forward from a revenue perspective or a growth perspective. You need to be able to talk about where those technologies and where those practices are really at risk in your organization and why and show that you can make a priority investment. What areas of governance and security are clearly important for the organization and how it’s going to impact things? How are you going to potentially even tell a growth story from some of those investments? I think that’s the path CIOs have to follow to be able to get those board seats.
I think, over time, we’re going to see more CIOs, who have been digitally focused or security focused, get invited to take on board seats of other companies. I think that will also happen. I think that’s also a good trend for our industry and our role is to have people with some technology and security background on boards. But, I think the way you get there, one way or the other, is you are presenting yourself in a way, particularly at the executive level, in a way that they feel comfortable that you can sit in front of the board with them.
Michael Krigsman: Again, it’s not just the technology that you’re describing. At that level, it’s fundamentally about the ability to make investment to demonstrate that you know how to make investment decisions, large investment decisions with the right judgment and then communicates it properly.
Isaac Sacolick: That’s right. It’s back to the marketing and the selling of the concept. If you’re going to talk to the board over a sizable technology investment, putting an entire data pipeline in place or cornering off a group to do artificial intelligence or taking 30 of your plants and putting IoT in place. I just talked a whole bunch of gibberish to most board members. They have no idea what I just said. Right? If I’m going to talk to the board and say, “Our plant is going to be greener and more sustainable, and we’re going to be able to market the story around this to our customers, so they understand that we care about these things. I’m going to tell you how we’re going to implement technology in the plant to become greener,” that is a different conversation.
When we talk about artificial intelligence, it’s not about deep learning or neural networks or natural language processes. Those are all the tools we’re using to get there. We talk about how it’s going to make it easier for customers coming into our store to make second and third purchases once they’re in there because we know what they’re looking for a little bit. We know the time of the day, the time of the month. We know a little bit about what they were searching online, and we can present ideas to them. These are the things that drive second and third purchase behaviors. That’s what artificial intelligence can do. That’s a different conversation than speaking to what a big data environment is going to do for our infrastructure.
Michael Krigsman: I think this is a very key point, Isaac, that you’re bringing up. And so, how can CIOs who have been in the job for a while and who have focused on technology–because that was what was expected–how can they learn these kinds of both the communication skills but, more importantly, the judgement behind it because that’s really getting to the heart of what you were just describing, I think?
Isaac Sacolick: Yeah. We talked to a couple of those things already: getting out of the office, going to customers, going to conferences and learning from other industries, [and] relying on your vendors and your analysts to tell you new things. I think I’ll shift it a little bit. I think CIOs also have to focus on their staff and also the greater organization itself in terms of becoming a learning organization. I’m not talking about training on the next technology. Those are important things.
Learning implies that somebody on my staff is voluntarily going to realize that we have a lot of content in our repositories that are really interesting, but we can’t do very much with it. How can we use artificial intelligence to bring the insights to a larger number of people in our organization? What is the right way to implement it? What are some of the technologies that we can look at? How do I sponsor a pilot around this?
We have to change our mindset in terms of how we’re working with the staff and let them learn and be smarter about bringing solutions to us. There’s just too much technology out there for the CIO to learn on their own. For us to learn, we need to go to 10, 20, 100 people in our staff who are innovative, who are exploring different things, and say, “Tell me something that is interesting that you’re doing that we can find applicability to.” Then our job is to figure out, hey, I know somebody in the organization who needs this. Here’s the problem we really need to solve, or here is somebody we need to pilot with, and here is a group of people I want you to work with on this problem. That’s what the CIO needs to respond to there.
Michael Krigsman: Yeah, I think that’s really first-rate advice. If you don’t have the skills, you hire for innovation, essentially, whether it’s communication, technology, all of these things. You hire the right people, and you get the right kind of support.
Isaac Sacolick: I think it’s more than just hiring. I think there are five things CIOs need to do to look at talent. Hiring is a piece of it. We understand that piece of it. I think learning and establishing a learning culture is another part of it. We have a staff of 100 to 500 people. We’re not going to replace them with dev ops, AI, [or] engineers overnight. We need some of them to step up and learn the culture, the mindset, the technologies, the practices, and that really requires a learning organization. It requires CIOs to think differently about partners. Where can I get a partner who understands the capability that we are unlikely to learn?
We were brought up finding partners who can take over commodity services for us. Right? That was our partnering strategy for the most part. Now we have to find partners who can bring a capability that we’ll never get to, learn from them, and then maybe do something different in three to five years.
In some cases, we have to bring technologies down to our business group, things that we used to do internally inside the IT group and give that capability to the business to do it themselves. Those are things like self-service business intelligence, things that we might have put a Cognos or a Business Objects in on the IT group and did a lot of reporting five to ten years ago. Now, we’re putting things like Tableau out. We want hundreds of people in our organizations to start using these things in safer ways than they might have done in Excel. And so, we need to provide governance and practices to them so that they know how to use these technologies differently. New ways to bring technical capabilities into the organization go well beyond just hiring for new people.
Michael Krigsman: When we talk about the digital agenda, why is that so important for the CIO, and where do the challenges lie for the CIO with that?
Isaac Sacolick: Yeah, so again, my background in being a CTO at startups, startups are still trying to challenge the status quo. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is that larger organizations are changing their marketing positions and the types of products that they’re investing in. everybody is at risk of being disrupted. The impact of technology, the top industries that we think are going to be disrupted by technology over the next ten years include financial services, include healthcare, [and] include automotive.
We’re not talking about just technology companies that have to grow beyond today’s technology or media that was disrupted because most of our media consumption is now digital. It’s really affecting every organization. What that really requires is [for us] to rethink what the business is going to look like three, five, seven years down the road. Inevitably, a technology capability is going to be part of that, changing people’s behavior in terms of how they’re working with a technology, [and] learning what the end consumer really requires.
I could just imagine. I don’t know this firsthand, but imagine you’re sitting with Starbucks. Somebody comes to the idea of mobile ordering a cup of coffee. What a crazy idea! You’re going to be on your phone. You’re going to order a cup of coffee. You could just go online, wait five minutes, and get the same cup of coffee. That was a brilliant idea. We all went to Starbucks more because we knew that cup of coffee would be waiting for us when we got there, and we didn’t have to wait in line, and so we ordered more coffee from Starbucks when that happened.
[There are] lots of different examples of changing consumer behaviors based on the fact that somebody figured out a way to offer a convenience that was never there before. That’s digital, and that’s digital disruption. That means the CIO who knows most about technology has to present ideas back to their business partners about things that we might need to be able to go look and do over the next few years to be competitive.
Michael Krigsman: Okay, so now the pieces are falling into place. The CIO must understand technology, but it’s not just the old technology; it’s the technology that drives and enables innovation. The CIO must understand the business dynamics. Equally important, the CIO must be able to communicate that. And, equally important, the CIO must be able to hire the right people and, not only that, create a learning organization and the mindset that you were just describing.
Isaac Sacolick: Oh, I’ve got one more for you, too. [Laughter] The interesting thing about digital; once an organization gets it, the CIO is going to get a little bit of funding, usually, and a little bit of a time window to be able to go implement some of these transformations and technologies. Then the marketing and the communication needs to be there because we’re going to get a few quick wins. We’re also going to hit some speed bumps along the way, so we need our relationships in communications and marketing to move the program faster without letting these speedbumps slow us down completely and coming to a halt. But, at some point, we need to start showing growth. We need to start showing ROI.
The detractors in our organization are also going to get a louder voice as we get more speed bumps and things don’t go exactly as planned. It’s going to be a little bit harder for us to get money if it takes longer than we all want it to. Let’s just face it, transformations do take a long time. This is not an 18-month program and then things are going to be better and go back to normal.
We need to find ways to automate more. We need to automate IT with programs like dev ops. We need to automate our staff with things like artificial intelligence and take cost out at the same time. The thing that we always were good at, we have to be even better at. There’s that dimension in there as well.
Michael Krigsman: We’re about to run out of time. We have only five minutes left. Very, very quickly, can you just comment on this notion of, “You, CIO, need to innovate. You need to drive growth. And, oh, by the way, your budget is too big; do more with less”? Very quickly, can you just comment on that?
Isaac Sacolick: I think CIOs have to be prepared for that to happen. If you think you’re just going to get a 10% boost, you’re going to run an innovation budget, and that’s how you’re going to project this growth but not look at your entire portfolio and ask tough questions about how you’re operating and look at your colleagues in terms of where they can benefit from technology so that they can be a little bit more efficient. These are the things that we’ve traditionally been good at, but we have to be even better at it because we can’t just add five new technologies and keep the five legacy ones running. We’re not going to end up with double the staff to keep running double the size a portfolio of technologies. [Laughter]
Michael Krigsman: Essentially, more aggressive portfolio management in terms of prioritizing what works, what doesn’t work, what you should keep, and what you need to make a painful cut on.
Isaac Sacolick: CIOs have to be really good going out and sponsoring the sunset and shutdown programs, things that are not working well. Their sponsors are not going to volunteer that information, and the CIO needs to find the ones that are not moving the business forward and suggest and make a business case to shut down things that are just not working anymore.
Michael Krigsman: Low code environment, citizen development, what’s the deal with that, should we care, and why should we care?
Isaac Sacolick: I think it’s probably the most important tool, technology tool that CIOs need to look at. Again, they need to do a lot more app dev. They need to change the way the workforce is operating. We do not have enough staff to do that. Our staff who are strong at app dev really need to focus on the customer-face pieces, the things that are going to move the needle, as they say, and so building tools for managing customers, for dealing with knowledge bases, for doing workflows, for integrating eight enterprise data sources into a single utility that can be used for a one-time purpose. All these use cases are great use cases for low code environments where you can get developers to be more productive. Even citizen development programs, those are when you actually take the programming capability, take tools, and give it to business users and say, “Go ahead and build your own app to do digital asset management because it’ll be better than a spreadsheet.” There are tools out there that will help them do that.
Michael Krigsman: What about the fact that the moment I let the unwashed masses of users start touching code, I get all sort of messiness around governance, security, [and] data integration. How do I manage that?
Isaac Sacolick: CIOs have to stop using the word “governance.” They have to implement governance in a way that people understand it. We know what governance is. It’s things like version control. It’s things like locking down information to the right people who need access to it. It’s things like improving data quality.
Go back and solve those problems, in particular when you give out a new technology to a business group. If I give Excel out and hundreds of thousands of spreadsheets are created, and then I replace it with Tableau and 100,000 reports get created, maybe I’ve improved the experience and made the company more intelligent, but I’ve got a large legacy to deal with. Provide the tools that do things in a safe way, in a controlled way, in a practiced way. That’s really what governance is about. Our end users don’t understand that, so we have to help them with the actual understanding of the practices they need to implement.
Michael Krigsman: I’m halting. I’m hesitating because that term “governance,” the larger principle here again comes back to a relentless focus on clear communication.
Isaac Sacolick: Absolutely right. I’ve done this. If an organization doesn’t understand data quality, I will put a picture. I will show what’s in the CRM directly across sales leaders and the CEO. They will start seeing what data quality looks like when they see duplicate customer records; when they see pipelines that haven’t been updated by salespeople over time. That is a data quality issue. It’s a governance issue.
It can have some automation to it to make it easier on people, but if I went to the CEO and the head of sales and say, “I want to apply data governance to how we’re managing our CRM and our customer data, they’re going to think I have three heads on.” You’ve got to demonstrate the problem and let them understand the impact of the problem and say, “I can come here with some tools, practices, and responsibilities to improve on that particular problem. Here’s what the impact is going to be when we do that.”
Michael Krigsman: Okay. This is all just outstanding advice. As we finish up, out of everything that you know, if you were sitting down to a CIO and saying, “Here is the key to the kingdom,” what’s the magic bullet here?
Isaac Sacolick: The magic bullet is to do a ton of listening. Open your ears up to lots of different places where you can learn from in a short amount of time. Then make suggestions and proposals. Go back to them and say, “Hey, what if we did this? Hey, what if we partner with this group? What if we piloted something that looks like this?” Do the pilot and show people the pilot. Take some chances and extend what you’re doing to show a potential thing that you can go invest in, that you can go and execute on.
Then listen back. Listen if you’re heading in the right direction. Listen for feedback in terms of things they’d rather see. Then continue to do that over and over again until you start evolving to a solution, into an idea that people really resonate to. That could be your business strategy for digital. That could be a way of delivering a solution to a difficult problem. But, that feedback loop of listen, propose solutions, listen again, propose again, is what I would advise CIOs to be doing today.
Michael Krigsman: In other words: listen, collaborate, iterate.
Isaac Sacolick: Yes. That’s the agile CIO for you. [Laughter]
Michael Krigsman: Listen, collaborate, iterate. I love it. Well, this has been a very fast 45 minutes. We have been speaking with Isaac Sacolick, who is the author of Driving Digital, and he writes the StarCIO blog. Isaac, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us and taking time today.
Isaac Sacolick: Thanks, everybody and, everybody, have a good holiday weekend.
Michael Krigsman: Right now is the time. Subscribe on YouTube. You can like us on Facebook but, really, subscribe on YouTube, please.
Next week on CxOTalk, we are speaking with the chief marketing officer for Deloitte, one of the largest organizations in the world. Tune in. Go to CxOTalk.com to keep abreast with what’s happening. Thank you so much, everybody, and thank you to our guest, Isaac Sacolick. Thank you so much. Have a great day. Bye-bye.