Bob Miano's Blog

An Executive journal

2011 Archive

The Big Picture Focus of Seattle IT Leaders

Innovation, the Cloud and Data.

The Harvey Nash CIO Survey is big. It’s big in size—40+ pages long. And it’s big in reach—2,000 senior IT leaders from around the world participated this year. Though I love the survey’s sweeping insights and vast reach, one of the very best parts of our year-long examination of the data is holding up our findings to the scrutiny and input of local market CIOs.

At the end of September, I went to Seattle to do just that. I led the CIO Forum in which an all-star lineup of technology executives came together to share ideas, strategies and expertise with an audience of IT professionals and business leaders. Our panel included Travis McElfresh, the CTO of InfoSpace; Edmond Mesrobian, the CTO of Expedia and Erez Yarkoni, CIO of T-Mobile. Needless to say, good discussion and lessons to learn were abundant among this distinguished crowd.

We've just wrapped up all of our U.S. CIO events for the year and I wanted to share some of what we saw and learned in our forum out on the West Coast from our audience, from our panel and from the pages of the survey. You can see how this thinking compares with participants across the globe on our CIO Survey microsite.

Practical Innovation
Innovation efforts have two major objectives within most IT organizations and CIOs have to strike the right balance between them. Among our panel most businesses are investing 50% of their innovation resources in new technology development and the other 50% in efforts to reduce IT costs.

While the percentages may vary from company to company, that push and pull between innovation as investment and innovation as a tool to reduce costs is ubiquitous. As our panel spoke to the importance of innovation efforts working within a business function and aligned to business goals, pragmatic innovation became the theme. Our audience and panelists spoke to the fact that rogue innovation efforts will not help businesses today and that innovation, creativity and big ideas are essential but still need to be tied to the practical goals and needs of the business.

The Cloud Keeps Growing

The CIO Survey identified the rapid growth of cloud computing utilization and our Seattle event reflected that surge. The majority of the audience and the businesses represented by the panel are working on leveraging cloud computing and/or virtualization. Clearly cloud computing is no longer just media buzz. Businesses are putting both the public cloud and private cloud solutions to use and experimenting to find out what will work best for their businesses. Given this feedback, I wasn’t surprised to read Lucas Mearian’s article in Computerworld on October 4, that a recent research report from Gartner found that companies selling private and/or public cloud storage have seen annual revenue grow 56% to date this year compared to 2010.

Big Data Rules
As one wise panelist told the audience, “Information should always be available, never at rest.” Managing ever growing business data today—and the big data it has become—is a challenge most CIOs are confronting as we speak. While Seattle’s panelists are approaching their data management in various ways, it was clear from the forum discussions that businesses able to harness big data today will be tomorrow’s big winners.

In addition to these shared strategies and challenges shared during the event, I was amazed at how generous our Seattle CIO/CTO panel was in sharing their specific priorities with our audience. It was a thrilling and unique opportunity to view business strategy from the IT leadership helm, and I want to thank each of our panelists for making it happen.

Your Viral Brand Value & the Recruiting Consequences

The essence of your brand has an important double life these days—one that is measured in links, in “Likes,” in “tweets” and in “Friends.” Your viral brand hums along the ever-expanding arms of today’s social networks and your employees, former employees, customers, partners, vendors, competitors and investors all play a role in its development.

It’s amazing but true that the brand that lives in Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and in the millions of smaller networks fueling social media’s growth today has a profound role in talent recruitment. The very best candidates and today’s skilled professionals will learn your brand through their own social networks. The more positive buzz circulating through the social media sphere, the more your business will attract smart, ambitious and innovative thinkers.

Helping businesses navigate an evolving recruitment landscape and the social media tools that shape it, Harvey Nash Plc is one of only a handful of global recruitment firms that grew in recent years. That success is one of the reasons Harvey Nash has been selected as a finalist for a Grant Thornton Mid-Cap Business of the Year, one of the annual National Business Awards handed out in the UK.

We are extremely proud of our growth and believe that staying ahead of innovations like social media and attuned to the quickly changing landscape of the IT industry have been essential to our success. I invite you to read these insights from our global CEO, Albert Ellis, as he explains the power of a strong viral brand and its increasingly important role in recruitment today.

Overcoming the Innovation Hurdle

Innovation. Ideally it’s at the top of every CIO’s To-do list. It’s at the top because strategic innovation can set a business apart in the marketplace, launch it far ahead of the competition, drive new revenue and keep a business evolving and improving.

However, all too often, innovation activities and investments often get pushed to the bottom of the list as the year progresses. Why? Because many businesses—especially small and mid-size companies—are cautious with their budgets, concerned with keeping current systems flowing and, frankly, not investing time or energy into staying abreast of technology and the ways it can create revenue. This can be seen in how the ongoing global economic challenges have resulted in widespread cost-savings and efficiency mindsets among IT leaders. But the reality of competition will inevitably drive companies to innovate. The question is will you be a leader or a follower? Will your company seize market share or relinquish it?

This spring, Harvey Nash took a hard look at the innovation challenges businesses face today in our annual CIO Survey. Nearly three quarters of the 2000-plus survey respondents said that if they don’t innovate and embrace technology their companies will lose market share. The dual challenge facing CIOs is that of maintaining cost efficiency and driving innovation, so how do they best balance that act?

CIOs that have a broad vision have many ways to increase innovation without busting budget limits.
Here are a few:

• Take a Global Perspective. Look past the IT budget and consider how IT innovation can solve the global challenges of the business. If IT can help sales or marketing expand inroads into new industries or prospect groups, business groups will likely contribute to those innovation investments. Innovation most often takes root outside of the confines of IT—in the business organizations where competitive, sales and industry challenges and opportunities are shaping the marketplace. CIOs need to work at becoming highly visible throughout the business organizations so that when the earliest signs of innovation appear, IT can help cultivate and contribute to those efforts.

• Embrace Social Media. It does not require a huge investment to get into the social media game, and the innovation payoff can be high. Social media offers businesses ways to rapidly build an engaged network of experts, staff, partners and clients whose ideas and collaboration can launch projects, track market events, increase valuable dialogue and keep the business well tuned to the marketplace.

• Revamp Processes and Procedures. One way to increase innovative thinking and collaboration is to improve business processes. Tired routines can squash creative thinking. Examine projects that are being addressed and consider whether it is time to change teams and how they interact. Could increasing collaboration early on foster innovative thinking? Could more input from business units improve project results? Scrutinize what can be done to increase creativity and ingenuity in daily IT routines; it may be the most productive, lucrative activity you engage in for the health of the business.

• Keep a Close Eye on Competitors. Avoid tunnel vision (innovation work can be intoxicating and sometimes all encompassing). It’s important to remember to keep a close eye on your competitors to ensure you don’t miss key opportunities and developments. Watch what market trends competitors are emulating and with what technologies are they experimenting. It’s amazing how many innovative ideas come from building on the successes of competitors. You only need to look as far as the mobile phone or e-book industries to confirm it.

• Consider the Cloud. Despite growing pains and security challenges, cloud computing is entering the mainstream. With Apple just recently introducing the iCloud and joining the ranks of Amazon, IBM, Google and others offering business-oriented cloud services, the floodgates are officially wide open. Now is the time for businesses to examine their own cloud capabilities and opportunities. How might their services and solutions be affected by the cloud? Can they be enhanced through the cloud?

• Gear Up Your Sales Staff. Increase the efficiency, mobility and flexibility of your sales team with iPad and other tablet devices. Innovative, fun business tools can spark new ideas. As users “play” with applications they often cross pollinate personal and business ideas.

To CIOs wondering if now is the time to push innovative programs; the answer is absolutely YES! Go for it. Your business depends on it, your job depends on it and your customers are depending on it. The 2011 Harvey Nash CIO Survey shows that IT budgets are expanding and revenue numbers are increasing. Now is the time to jump on the growth wave and introduce programs and innovations that will push your businesses ahead of the competition and leave recession-centric thinking in the dust.

U.S. Employment Rates ARE Improving

Last week, the BLS reported an increase of 216,000 new jobs and an unemployment rate of 8.8%. While some pessimists will claim the 8.8% shows very little progress, I would ask them to take another look. Those numbers represent the 6th straight month of employment gains. Have a look:

- October 2010 BLS Numbers: 210,000 new jobs gained
- November 2010 BLS Numbers: 93,000 new jobs gained
- December 2010 BLS Numbers: 152,000 new jobs gained
- January 2011 BLS Numbers: 68,000 new jobs gained
- February 2011 BLS Numbers: 194,000 new jobs gained
- March 2011 BLS Numbers: 216,000 new jobs gained

I will concede that the difference between February’s 8.9% unemployment and March’s 8.8% doesn’t look or feel significant. But, I will also argue that those six months of gains above offer positive news that can be seen in improving local job markets. For example, at Harvey Nash we are seeing greater job demand in all our markets, most dramatically on the East Coast as I explained in this recent article in the New Jersey Record.

How we look at numbers like unemployment and consumer confidence defines so much of how we feel about our economic health and security. I, for one, agree with the many pundits out there who say that today’s employment measures do not give an accurate account of what is happening in the marketplace.

Take for example the fact that to be counted as unemployed, someone must have searched for a job in the past month. Today, many people out of work are counted in the labor force metrics for much longer than they would have been in the past. Why? Because they are required to search for a job in order to receive unemployment insurance benefits. Those unemployment benefits have now been extended to historic lengths—99 weeks. So today’s numbers cannot be accurately compared to past periods of long unemployment because the rules of the game have changed.

Some experts argue that higher unemployment would actually be a good thing rather than a bad one. Take a look at this article in Money, which explains how higher unemployment could be a sign of an improving economy as once discouraged job seekers are optimistic enough to start looking for work again. Clearly U.S. job numbers as they are calculated today are open to wide interpretation. Perhaps a more accurate measurement of American job trends would be to evaluate the number of employed in comparison to U.S. population trends?

Whatever the new measure is, we can all agree on this: As long as qualified people who want to work can’t find jobs, we have a problem. So six months of gains is encouraging, but I am not kidding myself. We still have a long way to go.