Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result

Written by Zahid Jiwa, VP UK&I, OutSystems

From the laptop to the laws of gravity, British ingenuity has shaped our world and we have a strong history of championing new ideas, innovations and inventions.  Britain’s capacity to excel in research and development has continued to be at the heart of our economic growth and today we are still one of the world’s leading innovators. As we slowly start to climb out of recession, growth prospects remain at the mercy of continued budget constraints combined with a growing IT skills shortage. Thinking about our legacy as a powerhouse of discovery and invention, it is clear to me that the only way that we can get out of today’s economic malaise is by continuing to invest in sustainable innovation.  However where IT is concerned, I think that’s easier said than done.

But before we talk about innovation, I think I need to stress that innovation doesn’t need to be ‘big bang’ or about radical change or an amazing new invention. Innovation is simply a new way of doing something.  Whether a new feature, a new service or a new process, innovation is often about incremental progress, which enables the business to work more effectively and efficiently.

According to CIO Magazine, business process improvements and increasing IT capacity to drive innovation is top of the list of most frequently cited IT management priorities.  However, according to IT Wire.com, over 25% of all CIOs also list innovation and technological change as one of the biggest challenges facing them in 2013.

So why does IT struggle to innovate?  Or to put it another way, why does the business perceive that IT can’t innovate?  I believe there are two mitigating factors.  The first is that according to Gartner, at least 80 of the IT budget is still spent on Keeping The Lights On (KTLO). So if the total spend on enterprise-wide IT is likely to be $2.68 trillion (as cited in a recent New York Times article), and 80% of this spend is allocated to what is essentially maintenance, you get the picture in terms of how much KTLO costs.   The second factor impacting IT’s ability to innovate is around the accumulation of new service or change requests made by business units, which puts a massive strain on IT resource. This creates an inevitable backlog which can result in a failure to deliver. IT departments are then often seen to be incompetent, slow, and by default unable to support innovation. The real failure here however is actually a lack of budget and resource, not incompetence or an inability to innovate.

The reality is that any business faced with the critical need for new applications and an IT department unable to respond will find a way to solve the problem by either building their own application, renting cloud based solutions that don’t need IT’s involvement, or hiring an IT consultancy to help them build the application.  However this doesn’t address the problem. In fact, for most companies it makes the problem worse.  Technology debt grows and backlogs get bigger. Unable to react, IT inevitably gets left behind and becomes an unsustainable business model. IT departments are then rendered as ineffective and irrelevant, relegated to being a cost centre unable to help the company innovate.

Organisations continue to walk down this path and expect to arrive somewhere different.   This has to change; IT has the ability to innovate in so many ways, if only given the chance.

Posted in IT

Taking Control of Your Cloud

Lilac Schoenbeck, Vice President of Product Management and Marketing at iland

Cloud computing services are increasingly being adopted mainstream and are fast becoming an integral part of every organisation’s IT strategy. Many industry analysts are saying that cloud will become a major platform for growth for organisations and especially for mid-market businesses. This is because, previously, if an organisation wanted to get a new idea off the ground, they would often have had to make a significant upfront investment in IT before they even knew if their business idea was going to work. The cloud, however, levels the playing field.

When done right, cloud takes away barriers to entry and makes technology available to all organisations regardless of size. From day one, a business can ramp up very quickly and easily without having to make serious upfront capital investment. The move to the cloud is seamless. Costs are predicable. There are no big step changes or spikes in costs for maintenance or renewal requirements. Remote working and disaster recovery can also be built in.

However, because of this rapid growth and evolution, it could be argued that the definition of cloud has become somewhat unclear. Today, the term is used for everything from physical hosting “elsewhere,” to Gmail, to almost anything imaginable in between. It seems that the meaning of cloud is different to different organisations depending on how cloud services are being used.

Some companies view cloud as anything stored or accessed from anywhere that isn’t “actually here on this very piece of hardware.” To the average consumer, most view cloud as the internet. To them Gmail, YouTube and Pinterest are all in the cloud. But, pressed further, I think they would cite cloud back-up, for example, as real cloud. To business users, business apps are actually the cloud. They see marketing apps like Marketo and Eloqua and Hubspot all as cloud. Some may also cite web hosting. To an infrastructure user, cloud is a place to get external resources (CPU, RAM, Storage) which can scale up or down. Some clouds may include varying amounts of software. Usually infrastructure people draw a line between SaaS and cloud, unlike with PaaS which is currently being described as one of the fastest growing areas of all cloud computing services. For example, analyst firm Gartner estimates a steep rise in PaaS adoption and forecasts an increase in spending to more than $2.9 billion by 2016.

In the midst of all this uncertainty, one thing all users believe and fear is that once something is in the cloud it is completely out of their control. This misconception is the reason that many large enterprises and government organisations only use the cloud for testing and development. Data is brought back in house when the IT project is ready to go into live production. Equally, many organisations have data sovereignty issues (i.e. they cannot permit their data to reside on services outside the EU) which limits the extent to which they can utilise cloud services. Naturally, once something is uploaded to a sharing site, a great deal of control is lost.

But this doesn’t have to be the case for IT systems, as some cloud service providers are evolving to address this concern. If a workload is hosted in the cloud with a cloud service provider, users should be able to define the actual location of that workload so it can be as close to home as they’d like or farther away for disaster recovery purposes. It’s important for companies to look for a provider that offers this level of control.

This control is also important because, today, governments are still defining their laws regarding jurisdiction and access to data in their territory, and many organisations have preferences regarding which country they’d like to inhabit. If workloads can be sent flying around across national borders, users have lost a great deal of control over their own fate, and that of the data, which can be a costly trade-off. Check the fine print of your cloud service provider agreement.

No matter what their organisation’s definition of the cloud, users need to select infrastructure providers that are able to make it usable to the everyday business while addressing regional data sovereignty issues. At iland, we are growing to address the regional needs of our customers. Most recently, we added a data centre in Manchester and extended our operation in London. What’s more, through this growth, we’ve developed a turnkey process to rapidly expand to other countries as customers demand it.

CMOs vs CIOs – Why can’t we be friends?

By Kevin Cochrane, CMO at software company OpenText

It can be subtle, but I’m seeing competition escalate between CMOs and CIOs. These executives have had a complete rewrite of their jobs in recent years, and as marketing becomes more of a technology game and IT becomes more consumerised, the two camps sometimes battle for both authority and budget.

Some CIO-CMO pairs see these authority and budget issues as a zero-sum game.

The truth is, CMOs and CIOs have the potential to grow the pie–really grow it–but only if they stop worrying about who is going to “win.” Of course, they first need to get over a few hurdles before they can hold hands, sing Kumbaya, and take over the world. CIOs and CMOs speak different languages and work on different timetables. But the two also share the fundamental business challenges of delivering growth and innovation, as well as high levels of customer satisfaction. They need to remind themselves that they are on the same team.

I’ve been a CMO for several technology companies over the years. We are expected to create compelling customer experiences, be fast and responsive, stay on top of every new channel and technology, automate our CRM and sales cycle, and have perfect metrics and insight into what’s working and what isn’t. We’re being held to much tougher key performance indicator (KPI) targets. Everything that can be measured is, along with some of what can’t really be measured. CMOs are increasingly uncomfortable leaving technology decisions up to CIOs–whose evaluation criteria may not be the same.

Meanwhile, the CIO’s job has completely shifted in the past few years. CIOs used to be the ultimate technology decider. There was no cloud or bring-your-own device (BYOD); there was custom enterprise software that tended to be inflexible and hard to use. CIOs now have a very different agenda: to create an information infrastructure that is responsive–agile and highly capable so that it reduces the distance between need and execution. It needs to meet modern users’ expectations for usability and functionality, and modern executives’ time frames. CIOs also have to ensure that legal considerations of governance, compliance, security, and privacy are maintained.

CIOs are working hard to ensure employees have the tools they want and need to be effective. It is not easy to meet both consumer expectations and enterprise needs. Strategic CIOs are exploring the leading edge of technology and driving innovation that supports automation, analytics, and interoperability across the enterprise and myriad channels, including mobile and social. They are tearing down IT silos caused by legacy systems and updating infrastructures to meet modern constructs.

Just as CIOs have been forced to become more customer-experience savvy, CMOs must step up their tech prowess. But this is something CIOs and CMOs must do together. Working together, several great things can happen. First, innovation happens at the edges. When two masters of their own disciplines are in intense discussion–the CMO bringing market insight and opportunities and the CIO bringing tech insight and opportunities–that’s where the big “aha” moment comes from. That’s when the big growth opportunities show up.

So how do you put an end to the zero-sum game? Histories and bad blood can make it tough. Aside from rough past IT experiences, CMO colleagues have told me they feel CIOs look down on their role as one that requires less expertise. And I’ve heard CIOs accuse CMOs of taking too many risks, blinded by short-term goals.

The bottom line is, CMOs and CIOs must be able to work together to merge market vision and technology opportunity to deliver innovation and growth. Once they recognise they need each other, they can find that sweet spot exponentially faster.

The first step is to synch goals. Get respective teams together to define a shared set of expectations. KPIs for each discipline must relate to one another and most certainly make sense together. If CIOs are concerned only about projects completed and uptime, and CMOs are concerned only about leads, then they are going to have a hard time working together. Time frames should align. Budgets should be viewed as a shared opportunity that is aligned with those KPIs. And–perhaps most powerful of all–CMOs and CIOs should team on new initiatives, bringing them to their CEOs and boards as joint proposals. In doing so, they will gain maximum support and acceptance from the rest of the C-suite.

Disruption in both marketing and IT has been relentless. But as CMOs race to be transformational by building a responsive experience, and CIOs aim to be more strategic by building a responsive enterprise, the two can and should be each other’s greatest allies.

Could CIOs be more important than CEOs when it comes to business transformation?

Charlie Mayes, Managing Director, DAV Management

According to analysts at Forrester, CIO’s are now viewed as the most important senior leaders in driving business transformation, with many believing them to have more input than a CEO.

In a recent report, Forrester highlighted the CIO’s key role in supporting business transformation, with technology being a primary enabler for change and playing a key part in breaking down barriers within an organisation’s structure. Their view was backed by a survey of respondents from the US and Europe involved in business transformation programmes within the last three years.  29 percent of survey respondents believed that the CIO was the most important figure in terms of supporting and driving business change. This was the highest amongst the C-suite, and more than that of the CEO, which was seen as most important by 24 percent of respondents, alongside the chief technology officer.

The role of the CIO has changed dramatically in the last decade. Technology now forms the backbone of most businesses, where it is a major enabler of change and a driver for sustainable competitive advantage. It’s no surprise, therefore, to discover that IT has become a key component of organisational planning and strategy. As such, today’s CIOs need well developed business and leadership skills, in addition to their more traditional technical abilities, in order to operate successfully at this level.

The magnitude and complexity of responsibility has also increased. Time was when the IT leadership was just about implementing technology and delivering projects to time and budget.  Clearly these things remain important but they are now hygiene factors.  What really matters for the new generation of CIOs is delivering value to the business, whether this comes from the way in which they support the day-to-day operations, ensuring that business and IT strategies are aligned or by helping to deliver IT-enabled business transformation.  Unfortunately, when it comes to the latter, findings contained in the Forrester report suggest that many CIOs still have some way to go.  The report identified four types of individual:

  • Soldiers or Order-Takers – These CIO’s do not have the ear of the project leader in the way that other CIO’s often do. According to Forrester, they account for roughly 10% of CIOs and should, as a minimum, make sure that the business leaders are aware of the potential pitfalls of a project and highlight the most damaging mistakes to any allies with greater influence on a project.
  • Leaders of IT – This group successfully balances IT and enterprise business needs and is capable of ensuring that the appropriate IT functions are involved in a transformation project, as well as providing a wider enterprise focus. Leaders of IT account for the majority of CIOs, approximately 70%.
  • Change Consultants – According to Forrester, around one in 10 CIOs have extensive experience in advising and consulting on the business transformation process having been involved in projects in the past and are able to implement templates, best practices and learning from other companies.
  • Transformation Leaders – This group is given or takes the responsibility (either hands on or as a sponsor) to lead the transformation themselves. They ensure effective resource application, funding and progress tracking, and report directly to the CEO. According to Forrester this CIO role is relatively uncommon and accounts for around 5-10% of CIOs.

Many CIOs are evolving into business leaders and are proactively encouraging business innovation. However, not all are moving in this direction. In our experience it is still very much dependent on the individual and the relationship that he or she has with the organisation.  Other factors such as culture, the agenda for change and the nature of the relationship with other leaders in the business, will also shape the role and responsibility of a CIO.  Inevitably, there are those CIOs that have a keen understanding of the business and approach technology from a business driven perspective, and there are those that are born and bred technologists.

So that leaves us with the original question – could CIOs be more important than CEOs when it comes to business transformation? They could indeed, but the variation of skills and approach in CIOs remains vast.  Few CIOs today can be regarded as change consultants or transformation leaders according to Forrester’s definition. Many simply don’t yet have the experience of leading and driving large-scale technology enabled business change programmes to successful conclusions.  But I believe this is changing with CIOs increasingly maturing into true business leaders.  As they develop their skill sets, garner business experience in the wider organisation rather than just in IT and function more entrepreneurially (whilst retaining a ruthless focus on good business practice), then I think we’ll see a new breed of CIO that is well equipped to lead and deliver business transformation.

We Can Fix a Leaky Digital Branding System in 2014

By Chip Meyer, CEO of Reactx

After years of grumbling, industry-wide complaints about wasted brand spending and missed opportunities for publisher revenue have reached a fever pitch. Earlier in February, Netscape co-founder turned big-time VC investor, Marc Andreessen, let loose on Twitter about how tech vendors are continuing to drop the ball in digital branding, and how publishers are failing to hold ad tech companies to a higher standard. “The issue,” he tweeted, “is that most ad tech is optimizing against the local maxima of price, rather than consumer relevancy.” Immediately a chorus of notable voices from both the vendor and publisher sides chimed in to support Andreessen’s sentiments (there’s certainly something to it).

Andreessen’s argument was simple: We see too many poorly-targeted ads with poor ad content, which does no one any favors. The core problems he hinted at go fairly deep. For brands and publishers to thrive in a digital setting, we need to see a more advanced alignment of brands ads and publisher content. Tech companies need to take advantage of media that delivers highly relevant, targeted ads across quality content, to make programmatic the valuable digital branding tool its proponents have long claimed it could be. And campaign performance must be measured in a way that makes sense for the way 21st century consumers interact with content and ads, rather than concentrating on click-throughs or assuming every impression is worth the same as any other impression delivered to the same targeted consumer.

It’s a tall order, but that’s what brands and publishers want, regardless of whether or not they know how to ask for all of it right now. They will soon enough, and there are vendors in the market right now who are happy to deliver the goods.

Brand marketers also demand rich content — like page take-overs, overlays, skins, peels, IAB Rising Starts, rich video and a variety of other dynamic digital ad creative that is needed for the depth and rich feel branding necessitates. However, for programmatic to serve these high impact, custom premium ads that brand needs to move the needle for branding online, the industry at large needs to get over the old idea of having to pre-qualify them (i.e. pre-determining that custom digital ad format will render properly on a specific publisher’s domain or page, before it is served).

Pre-qualifying custom ads is holding up the delivery of billions of dollars in high-quality, engaging digital ad content served via Real Time Bidding (RTB). The process of pre-qualifying digital ads is fraught with costly RFPs and custom one-off creative development for individual publisher domains and pages. It’s effectively neutering the speed and scale advantages of programmatic and impression level targeting, turning the delivery of custom ads into a time-consuming, clumsy and expensive process that is not adaptive to cross-device designs and auto-customization of creative and brand messaging. Pre-qualifying ad is a poor fit for the highly competitive, real-time digital environment. By eliminating pre-qualification for custom ads, brand marketers and publishers will save nearly $5 billion in what is now simply wasted spending — money they should be spending with publishers instead of on coders.

Let’s look at measurement. Andreessen hinted at something very important here: Not all impressions are created equal, even when they’re delivered to the same consumer. What matters is how the consumer engages with the ad, and the content around the ad, where it’s served. To that end, we need to look at new metrics for ad engagement, like time spent with the ad. If the consumer spends more time with the content around an ad, that’s a more valuable placement than one where the consumer quickly clicks away. Understanding time spent with the ad can be a great boon for publishers to entice brand marketers to shift their spending from television to digital. For marketers, taking advantage of metrics around time spent with the ad is simply good branding.

The seeds have been planted for an industry-wide move toward more premium, high impact (relevant) ad placements and metrics. In the coming year, an increasing number of solutions will be suggested for the problems of garbage ads and wasted spending. But for change to happen, brands and publishers need to understand what smart branding and smart measurement mean today. Whatever happens, buyers and sellers alike will have to adjust their mentality — and the tools they use — to account for the value of branding in a digital environment.

Do you know what you’re working with?

By Steve Denner, co-founder and director Adestra

Technology is well and truly in the hands of the masses – almost 80% of UK consumers own a smartphone. I recently read that in 1991 the cost of buying all the iPhone components would have been around £2million – but are we really making the most of all the computing power now available at our fingertips?

Remaining up to date with the latest technology can be difficult. As soon as you’ve got to grips with the capabilities of the latest tablet or games console, the next model is already being prepared for release. This game of cat and mouse also applies to marketers, who need to maximise the technologies available to them, meeting (and even predicting) customers’ needs.

But as businesses and consumers rush ahead, are we missing out on anything, from handy user shortcuts to deep-rooted capabilities? The promise of automation carries the same risk for marketers looking to simplify their strategies at speed. Once businesses have invested in marketing automation programmes, they need to ask: are we getting the most out the increased functionality at our disposal?

There’s a danger that business leaders could adopt an attitude along the lines of: “we might not use all the functionality we’ve invested in just now, but it’s good to know we’ve got it”. This increasingly common sentiment proves that marketers aren’t making the most of the functions they’ve invested in, and are wasting money in the process. This could be the result of a lack of knowledge about how to use the technology – or an overestimation of the technology companies actually need. Both represent a waste of resources for marketers.

I don’t mean to suggest that marketers are at fault here, but simply that technology is evolving so rapidly that there isn’t always sufficient time to adequately train marketers to maximise the potential of new technologies. In their bid to keep abreast of consumer expectations and technological developments, businesses might also be investing in automation systems without accurately evaluating their brand’s actual requirements. Without understanding basic brand needs and objectives, technology will never be able to fulfil them.

To make the most of any automation investment, marketers must make sure they have the right people in place to implement and maintain their systems. If not, the next stage is to skill-up, skill-shift or recruit new talent into the workforce. These are implications that technology vendors should be able to advise and help clients with. It’s risky and, quite frankly, inaccurate to assume that one person alone is capable of developing successful and profitable large-scale automated marketing campaigns – even with the help of powerful technology.

One way to ensure marketers fully understand and capitalise on the potential of a specific marketing automation system is to work with a partner who can offer valuable on-going support and guidance. The benefits of working with third-party customer service experts include real-time support, training, project management or access to specialist designers. On-site and third party expertise provides much needed backup for automated campaigns.

If marketers are armed with powerful technology, given expert insight and training and have access to tech support, they have a far better chance of winning the battle to drive customer loyalty, and unleashing the full potential of automated marketing strategies and campaigns.

Platform-as-a-Service: The New Black?

By Ramesh Loganathan, Vice President of Products at Progress 

Are you a dedicated follower of fashion? Don’t worry if the answer is no. Today, fashion is no longer the sole domain of devout catwalk copycats, and we all follow trends whether it is a conscious decision or not. Some designs are timeless, but I think it is fair for us all to say that, despite being ‘cool at the time’, some past clothing purchases can quickly become outdated after finding themselves replaced by newer, more fashionable alternatives. In this way, it’s similar to the way we use and consume technology, both in our personal and professional lives. From this perspective, an old Discman, fax machine and desktop computer are all comparable to a pair of fetching tie-dye flares from the 70s. It is rare we see people using Commodore 64’s to do word processing!

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Why Poorly defined Requirements destabilise IT Projects

By Huw Price, Managing Director, Grid-Tools

It’s a staggering statistic but over 60% of IT projects still fail in that they either run over time (74%) or incur more cost to complete (59%) with an average of only 69% of the functionality of the product actually being delivered. For larger projects it’s even worse. According to the Standish Group’s ‘Chaos Manifesto 2013’, failure rates for projects $1m+ are as high as 93%.

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Breaking the Refresh Cycle

By Kevin Linsell, Head of Service Development, Adapt 

If you manage IT in any capacity, you will be familiar with the unsettling feeling that emerges as your hardware approaches the end of standard support/ warranty, or your software comes up for renewal/ end of support. Sound familiar?

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How to Approach Applications Performance Management in Financial Services

By Tom Levey, EMEA Tech Evangelist at AppDynamics

Delivering a first-class mobile banking service to customers relies on multiple different applications and IT systems working seamlessly. The latest string of mobile banking app glitches should serve as a strong reminder to organisations that having robust analytics and application performance management solutions in place is crucial to ensuring customer satisfaction in today’s digital economy.

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