Thoughts on the 2011 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium

This entry was cross-posted from Meanders: The Dow Brook Blog

The annual MIT Sloan CIO Symposium was held earlier this week. I live-tweeted heavily from the event, but also wanted to share some thoughts in this more structured blog post.

CIOs are, as a whole, a conservative group. They are attuned to identifying and minimizing risk in their organizations’ information environments. Most CIOs experiment with emerging information technologies while observing what other, more progressive, organizations do with those same tools. Once the majority of CIOs in large companies are comfortable embracing a new technology, the market for it rapidly expands.

Speaking with and listening to a number of CIOs attending the MIT Symposium made one thing clear — markets for technologies enabling more agile business decision making at a lower cost are about to explode. Most of the CIOs in attendance agreed that they must implement cloud, mobile, social, and analytics technologies now to support rapidly evolving strategic imperatives in their organizations. The mantra “do more faster and at lower cost” surfaced in nearly every session I attended.

What does this mean for enterprise software providers? First, their offerings must be architected and include functionality to support multi-tenant cloud hosting and delivery, mobile access, social interaction, and the identification of patterns resident in large data sets. These capabilities are quickly becoming table stakes necessary to successfully compete in the enterprise software market.

Second, we are about to see a new, large wave of investment in enterprise software. The combination of the business imperatives noted above and pent-up demand from the last few years of recessionary cost-cutting focus within enterprise IT departments has led CIOs to declare that now is the time to retool, if it isn’t already too late. Hubspot’s CEO, Brian Halligan, noted during the opening keynote panel that cloud and mobile “are not the future”; they are technologies we all should have adopted two years ago.

Comments from various CIOs attending the event underscored the limited ability that enterprise software providers have to enable signifiant, beneficial transformation in the way their customers run their businesses. Many panelists noted that they already have helpful technical tools in-hand, but that they aren’t being used to optimal advantage because of existing cultural and leadership roadblocks in their organizations. On the subject of leveraging big data, Rob Stefanic, CIO at Sensata, presented supporting examples from work they’ve done with their customers. Many organizations they’ve worked with collect voluminous amounts of data, but do little to make sense of it, much less adjust the business accordingly. He also spoke of one customer that had a handful of employees doing potentially meaningful analysis of operating data, but no one else in the organization was aware of their efforts or the insights generated. Stefanic neatly made the point that pattern mining and recognition is a big shift for his organization and it’s customers, which will require changing from a reactionary culture to one that values the ability to predict the future with reasonable accuracy.

In the end, there were few new ideas presented at the 2011 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. Instead, I left the event with a sense that there will soon be a large increase in spending on next-generation enterprise software, but that investment will be largely wasted, because the buyers won’t be able to make the systemic cultural and organizational changes necessary for the new tools to make a measurable difference. The missing piece for success is experienced management consultants that can help organizations review and revise their core beliefs, behaviors, and policies to really transform how they operate. Until that void is filled, vendors will sell more software, but organizations will continue to realize minimal benefits from investments in those tools. Even if normally conservative CIOs support their use.

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