From Steve Jobs's Leadership Style to IT's Evolution in the Workplace: An Interview with Eric Bloom—Part 2

[interview]
Summary:

Eric Bloom is a writer for TechWell and is the president and CTO of Manager Mechanics LLC. In part two of this interview, Eric discusses how IT is becoming more interwined with management than ever before, career challenges for IT staff, and the idea of concierge tech support.

Eric Bloom is a writer for TechWell and is the president and CTO of Manager Mechanics LLC. In part two of this interview, Eric discusses how IT is becoming more interwined with management than ever before, career challenges for IT staff, and the idea of concierge tech support.

Jonathan Vanian: I want to talk to you about IT and the role of the CIO. What trends are you seeing in modern day IT? What's happening that people should be aware of?

Eric Bloom: There is a movement afoot, and the (related) term has been around for a long time. It used to be all about data processing, and then it moved to management information systems (MIS), and then it moved to IT—information technology. Now, there's a strong IT mega-trend afoot that is basically about bringing IT even closer to the business, to where IT is slowly moving to what they call business technology (BT). From information technology to business technology, in which they say there are no IT projects, only business projects.

Since IT supports the business, everything that IT does should be able to tie back to some sort of internal business as opposed to simply being a technology goal.

JV: So, it's like keeping the two departments more intertwined or in-the-loop of each other?

EB: Yes.

JV: Is this similar to the idea of DevOps?

EB: It could be, absolutely, if CIOs— in general—were being pushed to be very strong senior business executives who, by the way, happen to know a lot about technology instead of being chief technologists.

JV: When you were starting out in your career, was there a view that as a CIO, one generally doesn’t have as much managerial experience as those in senior management?

EB: Well, let me say, it's not managerial experience. It's mental focus.

JV: Mental focus, okay.

EB: Certainly, CIOs were very, very good managers, but they had to focus first on technology and second on the business, as opposed to first on the business and second on technology. How they thought earlier in my career, the truth is, I didn't know. I wish I took some of my classes when I was in my twenties.

JV: It seems like we are seeing more references to the CIO in today’s news. Five years ago in mainstream news, the CIO would have not really been referenced in stories, but now, you have news coming out in which every company is sort of a development company and you're now seeing the names of CIOs.

EB: Also, technology used to be—let's say in the '80s—a new and exciting world. “You too can automate your general ledger system,” but most of that stuff has become, obviously, a very common choice now. The latest direction we have seen is that IT is moving from the back office in some ways into the front office.

I'll give you a specific example. With the movement on the web towards utilizing social media into an act of listening in which where firms analyze what companies and people are saying about them, there's a much tighter alliance between the CIO and the VP of marketing, the CMO, or whatever you want to call them.

JV: Right, the two are intertwined.

EB: But marketing and IT has, really for the first time, a much deeper relationship than simply giving the creative people in marketing some PCs so that they can run high-quality graphics. The two have become connected because of how they are related to the digital world.

JV: Right, because IT is keeping tabs of all the data that is coming and flowing in, and I'm sure that's very useful data for marketing. It makes more sense that's happening nowadays.

EB: Absolutely.

JV: Can you elaborate a little bit about your newest book, CIO's Guide to Staff Needs, Growth, and Productivity?

EB: There are two things that came together in this book. One of which is that having had senior IT executive roles, I think like a CIO. It's where I grew up to be. On the other hand, is the nature of my column with IT World, called "Your IT Career."

I'm literally getting mail from people around the world asking questions about their careers. Things like “Is it better to become an analysis or a project manager?” “Should I get an MBA or a masters in computer science?  

These people were asking me these questions as opposed to their management because I'm not their management. If they worked for me and someone else wrote the IT career column, they'd be asking that person instead of me. What's that given me is a really deep understanding of the people within IT, the IT rank and file so to speak.

JV:What are some of the things you found that IT staff wants to know but is a little bit too scared to ask?

EB: I'll get a question like “My company is moving more towards cloud computing. What does that mean for my career? Will I lose my job?”

JV: Very specific.

EB: People will say "I've been a COBOL programmer for twenty-five years. Should I learn Java?" Another kind of question that I got was “I have fifteen-years experience as a project manager; is it worthwhile for me to sit in and become a PMP.?

For IT managers, I get questions like “IT is moving from a centralized to a decentralized business model or organizational model; what will that mean to me now that I'm reporting to the business person instead of internally through the CIO's organization?” These are very career-critical questions.

JV: To me, the common theme around these questions seems about how to keep one’s job when change is happening. "What can I do to keep my job?"

EB: It's the combination of change or “What should I do during this change?” or “What should I do to grow professionally?”

JV: The growth, yeah.

EB: Through my book, what I've done is basically categorized what those types of questions are. I take the columns that were most representative of the type of issues and questions that IT professionals were having.

The real question that they're asking us if they want to stay in IT is “Do I want to go on to IT management or do I want to stay a technical professional?” So, first of all I'll display the column. Then, I'll say why that question is important to the people who were asking it. Next, I’ll explain why it's important for the CIO to understand that these questions are being asked.

JV: What have you seen the role of the CIO involving into? It seems to me like it's going to be definitely more hand-in-hand working with business, but what do you see?

EB: I think you said it. I think that they (CIOs) really need to be executives and start with a business function, and then everything has to be driven toward it. I think the CIO is certainly a position for the future, but there is also a new job title that's beginning to emerge, which is the chief digital officer who is basically pulling everything, from the website to social media to videos, to basically anything you would think of as digital media; this is, to a large extent, an awful lot of the dynamic business function of the company.

In some cases, CIOs are being asked to rename their titles or they're being actually told to rename their title into this, because it's incorporating more of marketing and all this other stuff to it. In other companies, depending on the specific CIO and the nature of the company and so on, there have been cases where all of that digital stuff has been stripped out from the CIO's responsibility. What the CIO has been left with is basically to be in charge of the infrastructure and internal-accounting-type systems; sort of that flexy stuff related to the web and social media that is being handled in some cases through marketing.

JV: There might be a marketing person in-charge who is the CIO-level of a marketing manager running a specific department.

EB: Yes, or one might report to the other. The chief digital officer or the equivalent of the chief digital officer responsibility works into the CIO or, in some cases, the CIO is reporting to a chief digital officer. It depends on the company dynamics, the individuals in the role; a million different things.

JV: I want to go circle back to some stuff that you wrote on TechWell. You wrote a recent story on the idea of concierge tech support. I thought that was a very entertaining story. Could you just give a little brief summary of what that is for some of the people who may not have read that column?

EB: First of all, anyone who hasn't read the column, shame on you. The idea here is that there are help desk groups in 90 percent of the companies; what happens is that a senior executive calls them (the help desk) and they (his issues) get handled a little bit differently than everybody else.

The president of the company calls up and says, “I just bought a home on Cape Cod. I'm going to be working there three days a week during the summer. I need someone from the help desk to drive down to Cape Cod for a day to make sure I can properly connect it to the internal business systems.” Or, the VP of sales walks in and says, "Hey, I just got a new iPad. Make this thing work for me. I don't care what you have to do, but make it work."

This is for senior executives and certain other professionals—for example, it could be portfolio managers within asset management firms, chief rainmakers in a law firm, doctors or faculty, people who are very senior and in high respect in their specific industry—if they walked down to the IT help desk and say “Make this work.” They might say “Make this work at my house, because that's where I need to be able to connect to if I am at home and an emergency happens.”

That’s what concierge support is. It's a recognition that these people get special handheld support whereas your typical help desk call is maybe twenty minutes. In this case, these types of calls can be effectively a whole day or more.

JV: The idea of this is not necessarily fighting back against this extra time. It's a given that you're going to have to do this extra time.

EB: Yes. It's a given that it happens. Therefore, it should be given a name, because if it didn't have a name, it can be given its own budget item.

Additionally, what happens is that you can remove it from the typical help desk performance networks that you keep track of. I'll give you an example. Let's say that during a given week, you did twenty-five help desk calls, twenty-four of them took twenty minutes apiece and one of them took a day-and-a-half. If you include the one that was a day-and-a-half, because they have to drive down to Cape Cop to make sure that the president can securely connect into the company from his office at home, and you add that one in, what's the average help desk time? Instead of being twenty minutes, it's maybe forty-five minutes or however the math works. It really hurts the IT help desk manager's ability to properly measure and track productivity of his or her team because of these larger instances that are sort of one-knocks that always seem to hit at one time or another. It's really a re-categorization and a budgeting and measurement for it.

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