Laughing at the CIO: A Parable and Prescription for IT Leadership

Laughing at the CIO: A Parable and Prescription for IT Leadership

by Bob Boiko

View All Available Formats & Editions

While many firms focus most on the technological aspects of the information technology (IT) equation, this guide shows that success requires attention to the information itself. Using an instructive business parable, a set of guiding principles is presented; their implementation can be used to effectively build and manage an IT department in any


While many firms focus most on the technological aspects of the information technology (IT) equation, this guide shows that success requires attention to the information itself. Using an instructive business parable, a set of guiding principles is presented; their implementation can be used to effectively build and manage an IT department in any company, large or small. From CEOs and chief information officers (CIOs) to managers who want to become information leaders within their organizations, business leaders will learn how to see the big picture, identify practical goals and solutions, work with staff to build systems that work, and turn information into a powerful corporate asset.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A three-hour train journey took only a few minutes yesterday as I read the draft of your book. A really excellent piece of work."  —Martin White, Managing Director, Intranet Focus Ltd.

Product Details

Information Today, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.46(d)

Read an Excerpt

Laughing at the CIO

A Parable and Prescription for IT Leadership

By Bob Boiko

Information Today, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Bob Boiko
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-937290-78-8


Rebooting IT

Les Knowles, a thin man more comfortable in jeans than in the business suit he was wearing, was sure the CIO job was his. CEO Garrick Pulaski, who had not worn jeans since his waist passed 40, sat behind his desk and smiled. Les had interviewed up and down the corporate ladder and had given all the right answers.

"You would do a good job here," Garrick said. "I like your creativity." But before making an offer, Garrick turned the conversation to Jack Tarr, the outgoing CIO.

"We've decided to make him CTO despite the fact that he is ill equipped to deal with the last 10 years of technology," Garrick said, studying Les' reaction. Les offered a noncommittal nod.

All the new stuff — intranets, communities of practice, wikis, blogs, knowledge management — was beyond Jack's command. The old CIO had paid no attention to these systems. Neither had the CEO nor his executive staff.

"The new CIO will," Les thought.

He wanted this job. He belonged at the executive level. But why were they going to make Jack Tarr CTO?

Garrick said that Jack was an employee of more than 30 years; he had saved the company from technological nightmares many times. He was a friend of the founder and a near god in the eyes of many analysts. And while his programs were slowly being replaced by commercial software, Jack still held the keys to many of the systems that made Allied Financial Services, Inc. (AFS) run. But across AFS, Jack's department was seen as a black hole; support was nonexistent. Most people were using out-of-date software. Sharing information was a nightmare of incompatible and lost files.

"I was brought in to take the business national," Garrick said. "That means expansion, and expansion means leveraging the knowledge of the professional staff across a growing group of new hires."

"I think we talked before about the chairman's philosophy," said Garrick. Les had heard it from just about everyone who interviewed him. The founder had built the company on the strength of his personal relationships with customers and had handpicked a professional staff that could do the same. Les wondered whether this "founding myth" had become little more than a marketing message.

There was a lot of work needed to get the more recent staff behind that philosophy. Few were naturally able to convert customers into friends. It would be great to apprentice them to the veterans, but most of the old guard worked at AFS headquarters in Columbus, and the new hires were dispersed in offices around the U.S. Plus, the older staff was getting older. Many were reaching retirement, and few wanted to relocate to where they were needed most. In a year or two, Garrick felt the organization would hit a growth wall from a lack of seasoned staff.

Knowledge management was the problem. Jack could not manage to get the knowledge out of the heads of the old guard and decrease training time for employees fresh from college or competing firms.

"So we need to keep Jack, but we need you to go where Jack can't." Jack would be made Chief Technical Officer (CTO), a lateral move. He would oversee the development (or the slow decay) of his analysis systems. Technically, Les would be his peer as Chief Information Officer (CIO), but Les would be in charge of almost all computer systems.

Les was not entirely happy to have a peer CTO, but he got the picture. He had met many Jacks in his travels and knew that they really did prefer the programmer's cave to the bright lights of the meeting room. Some days, Les too longed for the solitude and creativity of the technologist's life. But that was not the track he was on. Jack would probably be more than happy to give up most of his staff and spend full time on the care and feeding of his Pascal programs.

Les managed to say confidently that it would all be OK, and the talk turned to compensation.

Starting Up

By the spring 2004 board meeting, Les would need to have a staff and a strategic plan in place. His priorities were clear: provide better desktop support for the employees, get the marketing systems going, and "do" knowledge management on a corporate intranet.

The first was a no-brainer. He could hire someone for end-user support. The marketing work was tough, but he had done enterprise systems before and knew the challenges. He had industry contacts and a grasp of the product market. A good Web site for marketing was mostly a matter of getting the right staff and vendors in place.

Knowledge management, on the other hand, seemed vague and ill-conceived. Moving the knowledge of the old-timers into the heads of the newcomers was a noble goal, but Les had no idea how to accomplish this with the computers, databases, and applications that were his stock and trade. Maybe if he could turn up the right products, he could make it happen.

Les organized his staff into three groups:

The Desktop and Server group would ensure that the hardware, software, and support infrastructure was in place, create a standard computer desktop, and establish a help desk.

The Enterprise Information Systems group would own and operate the critical data systems that kept the company running, aside from Jack's analysis programs.

The Web Services group would handle the Web sites and knowledge management applications.

His first job was reorganization. The desktop and server group just needed a strong manager to make sure they did their jobs. But most of the other staff would have to go. They were neither trained nor motivated to do the work that Les had in mind.

The reorganization hit a bump when Jack lobbied Les to help his friends keep their jobs. Les took this as a test of his authority. He flatly refused, and Jack backed off. Les hired a new director for the Desktop and Server group and gave him the best of the old support staff. He decided to manage the Enterprise Systems group himself at first and hired a mix of fresh talent and former colleagues. To lead the Web Services group, he hired Tira Sing, whom he knew to be sharp, trustworthy, and personable. He would leave Tira to build her own team.

At the spring board meeting, Les had a compelling strategy put together and had his key staff positions filled. While he fudged a bit on knowledge management, he was confident that portals, knowledge management systems, and other collaboration applications could be procured and combined into a workable intranet. Neither Garrick nor the board had substantive complaints or changes. They mostly asked about how the re-org had gone and how much his plan would cost. The board and his boss were off his critical path, and he could set his mind toward building systems.

Planning with Sandi

Les was not looking forward to his meeting with Sandra Rodriguez. Pretty and hyper-confident, she reminded him of the girls he could never talk to in high school. And she was not happy. She and Jack had been at loggerheads. Jack gave great service to the analysts, she said, but had no time for marketing. Her CRM system never seemed to make it onto his schedule. Jack's "pocket protector" staff was so "Web-clueless" that she had considered hiring her own Web staff.

Sandra had been abundantly clear about this when she interviewed Les. She had been clear about it a few more times since. Les had heard that she supported his candidacy but was not sure why.

Sandra described her re-org (or "dead wood removal"). After substantial bloodletting, she had brought together business intelligence, media relations, marketing, and sales professionals into a focused group. They had been able to go from market opportunities to branded products in two months.

AFS had grown by an order of magnitude during her watch. Customers were flocking in, and the business was in full swing.

"The problem is we are stretched to the limit. Our analyst staff cannot handle the volume of new customers, and satisfaction is going to fall if the old-guard doesn't start teaching the newcomers how to relate to the customer."

"And," she added, "that Web site is a mess. I'm behind you, Les, but you gotta help me here."

She told him to call her Sandi, but she remained Sandra to him as they planned out the approach to her CRM system and Web site.

Web Services

By the time Les had returned from the spring board meeting, Tira was already settled in and down to business. She had cut her long black hair to "director length" and pushed her jeans and saris aside for a new flock of business suits.

Tira had helped Les prepare the board presentation, so she was no stranger to what it proposed. Together, they boiled her major initiatives down to a new Web site for the marketing group and a "next generation" intranet that did knowledge management and collaboration.

After a month of review, the plan was approved as Tira had drafted it. With her team in place, she was set for a summer launch of the new Web site and a winter launch of the intranet. Les had lobbied to cut these schedules in half, but Tira held firm, having been burned in the past by an executive's unrealistic timeline.

The other directors had also delivered realistic and fundable plans. Les began the fall season confident that he and his team would reinvent IT at AFS.


Information Initiatives

Les figured that marketing was the key to his success. Marketing was the new, cool group everyone was looking to and also his biggest client. So he made the marketing group's CRM application his top priority.

The CRM Application

The CRM application, Sandra said, would enable a personal approach to each customer. A personal approach, in turn, would require that records of all interactions be available to anyone with customer contact. The idea was pretty standard: Know your customer. But now it was the computer that was supposed to know. With the thousands of customers who didn't know what they wanted and the constant throughput of sales and support people, technology was the only hope of maintaining relationships.

Les' business analyst reported back after a month. "Aside from some generalities about relationships, horror stories about certain CRM systems, and pleas for particular vendors, no one had much to say. If this is the big deal that they insist it is, you'd think they would have more interest in figuring it out."

"Typical," commiserated Les. "But how different can each of these systems be?"

The analyst suggested that AFS invite a few vendors to come in and demo. Les agreed, though he knew it was not wise to have vendors set requirements. As he expected, each company seemed better than the last. They all had great features, well-known customers, and assuring answers to every question. The staff's apathy seemed to disappear. People took notes and argued over products. After five demos, Sandra's group was buzzing with feature requests. The analyst boiled them down to a number of "must-haves." Les thought that they were more "would be cool to haves" but told the analyst to proceed anyway.

While the analyst transformed the requirements into a Request for Proposal (RFP), marketing was performing its own selection process fueled by the relationships that the product companies had managed to form at the demos.

"They let the vendors lead them by the nose," Les thought. "You'd think our marketers would be wise to their own tricks." Still, the demos had resuscitated the process and engaged the client. At least the marketing group was getting educated on CRM.

Les stepped in to lead the final selection knowing that it could get hot. Despite his best attempts, it turned into a horse race. People ignored his spreadsheets and cheered on their favorite vendors. So Les left the haggling to the marketing group and confined himself to making sure that whatever they chose was technically sound, compatible with their existing platforms, and not too much work to implement.

At last, the group managed to choose a product that everyone could live with. A contract was signed and installation began. The application was harder to get running than Les expected, but they stayed close to schedule.

The customization of the product was another story. More than once, Les had lived through implementations driven by a kaleidoscope of ill-conceived feature requests. To avoid that nightmare, he insisted that the technical staff write specifications of how the features would be implemented. But when the business analyst tried to engage the marketing group, he found that their apathy had returned. The group seemed to feel that its work was done.

Les told Sandra that if she wanted a successful implementation, she needed to get her staff involved again.

"Les, choosing a vendor already strained my team. We told you what we want. Can't you just make it do that?"

"No," he said flatly. "This is not our system; it is yours. If you can't put the time in to make it work, maybe it is not worth doing."

It was a statement of fact, but to Sandra, it sounded more like a threat.

"OK," she said in a business formal tone. "You tell me what resources you need, and I will tell you what I can spare."

Sandra left the room with a smile, but Les was unsure whether the meeting had gone well. He had gotten what he wanted, but she didn't seem altogether happy. In fact, she wasn't, and she told her staff so. If the staff wanted software, the staff would have to "play the IT game and probably start filling out forms."

It took more than three weeks to put together a meeting between the project team and marketing. Les outlined a plan calling for participation from two analysts, one system administrator, one training supervisor, and one documentation specialist from Sandra's team. It also called for review and acceptance of the specification from Sandra and her directors.

When the business analyst recommended that changes go through "the standard change form process," a chuckle issued from marketing. The marketing group accepted its responsibilities as outlined, even if the group did assign the same person to most of the jobs. The project could now move forward, but Les suspected that the problems were not over.

By the end of 2004, the CRM system was ready to be launched. Its features were fewer than what had been in the RFP, but it seemed to have the big things that the marketing group had asked for.

The Web Site

Tira began work as soon she had hired her team and secured her budget. She reported to Les that the current external site was a mid-1990s design with a lot of old content. She laid out the enhancements that would bring the site up-to-date technologically. Les pushed for a simple update first.

"Let's improve the look and feel," he said, "and kill the out-of-date content. We can roll out more advanced features later. For now, let's establish our reputation for quick turnaround of good-looking sites."

During the next few months, the project team met with people in marketing and found, to no one's surprise, that marketing was short on time and requirements and long on desires. The IT team never got to meet actual end users and was told summarily that whatever content was on the site now was pretty much what should be there. Later on, however, the IT team got more content ideas than it knew what to do with. They began to receive emails with attachments, directory locations, and vague recommendations.

These emails landed on the desk of Allena Nhlahla, the newly hired information architect and Web designer. When Tira asked about the emails, Allena expressed her frustration and then pointed out a more serious problem. Only about half of the material on the site was from marketing. The other half was from just about every other group in the company. The marketing half was fairly well organized, while the rest seemed scattered and of dubious value. She offered to do a fuller audit of the information that each group needed on the site and modify its structure accordingly.

"Can of worms," Tira thought. Redefining the site now could dilute its focus and upset marketing — her main (and as far as she knew only) client. She asked Allena to choose a sample of the nonmarketing pages and find out how much they were used. Allena soon reported back that the server logs were never completely configured, but from what she could infer, most of the pages in question were low in popularity. Some of them had only been accessed once or twice.

Tira figured that this was more than enough information to make a decision herself, but she checked with Les anyway.

In their weekly meeting, she asked if anyone else had come forward with requirements for the site besides marketing.

"I've never heard anyone but marketing even mention it," replied Les.

"We have lots of pages from other groups," Tira said. "Nobody seems to own them and some have hardly ever been accessed. Is it OK to get rid of them?"


Excerpted from Laughing at the CIO by Bob Boiko. Copyright © 2007 Bob Boiko. Excerpted by permission of Information Today, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Bob Boiko is the founder and president of Metatorial Services Inc., a faculty member of the University of Washington Information School, and the author of Content Management Bible. He is a cofounder of CM Professionals, the first and only content management organization for practitioners. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >