Tag Archives: consultant

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.

Farewell and Onward

Last Friday was my final day on the analyst roster at Gilbane Group. My parting was voluntary, amicable, and done after much thought. I will always be grateful to Frank Gilbane for providing the opportunity to return to the analyst role and rebuild my public reputation as a thinker and problem solver. I anticipate that I will continue to be involved, in some manner, with the Gilbane conferences, which are structured as a separate legal entity from Gilbane’s research and consulting business now owned by Outsell, Inc.

I have chosen to leave Gilbane in order to better take advantage of the work opportunities that are presenting themselves with increasing frequency. In the days ahead, I will continue and build upon the advisory work that I have been doing since April through my own business, Dow Brook Advisory Services. The mission and business model underlying Dow Brook are quite different from Gilbane’s. In fact, I believe that Dow Brook’s subscription advisory service is a better way to serve companies that create and sell enterprise software than are the offerings of most established analyst firms. Time will tell…

There are several other business opportunities swirling about as well, including part-time and contract research and consulting projects. I am also open to any exceptional offers of full-time employment. I intend to give it my all as an independent analyst, but will remain open to any and all career possibilities.

In the short-term, you will probably not notice any changes. I will still be tweeting, blogging, etc. as I have for the last two years. I will still engage all of you to share, learn, and work together. The only real difference is that it will be done under the Dow Brook brand, as well as my name.

So here’s a toast to the past and one to the future! I am looking forward to making the future together with you. Cheers!

Have Software Suppliers Become Too Customer-Focused?

Remember the old dictum that says “the customer is always right”? Guess what, they aren’t.

Many times during my career as a management consultant, I have heard clients articulate their business needs and wants in the form of technical solution requirements. Besides completely ignoring the important intermediary step of stating those needs and wants as business requirements, the technical requirements voiced too often reflect only what the client knows to be possible; they do not imagine new and alternative technical solutions to business challenges. In other words, customers are not always a great source for innovative ideas on software functionality, much less on entirely new products.

I mention this because, lately, I have been hearing so many software vendors saying how focused they are on use cases and requirements voiced by their customers. Platform module and individual application development seems to be highly driven by customer feedback these days. Perhaps too highly.

Please do not misunderstand; software suppliers should consult frequently with customers, absorb their feedback, and develop against their use cases and requirements. However, vendors must also proactively imagine and build new functionality that will help customers overcome real and critical business challenges in ways that that they did not realize were possible.

A few software suppliers are mindful of this need. I recently saw a position opening announcement for a Senior Product Manager at a software provider that listed the following as one of the key qualifications for a successful candidate:

A demonstrated ability to get past what customers say they want and deliver what they really need

WOW! How powerful is that? It would be difficult to say it in a more simple, clear fashion.

The point of this post is to encourage software providers to think beyond stated customer technical requirements. Those are an important part of product planning, but cannot be the sole basis on which current product development and long-term roadmap decisions are made. Think and act like a management consultant; help your customers envision previously unimagined possibilities. That is a sustainable source of product innovation and competitive advantage.

Valuing Social Connections

A team of researchers from International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released a very interesting piece of academic research this week, which presents some findings from a study of “the largest organizational social network ever collected.”  The researchers collected and mined data related to c. 400,000 IBM employees.  The researchers further focused on a subset of that dataset — 2,600 consultants — to draw insights on how connectedness impacts the productivity of employees who generate revenues by logging billable hours.

What makes the study so interesting — in addition to the extraordinarily huge dataset used — is that it is one of the first attempts I’ve seen to assign a currency-based value to social network connections.  In this case, the social network is based in email; it lives in IBM’s internal deployment of Lotus Notes.

The study associates incremental revenue earned by a consultant with both individual and project-level email activity.  For example, the study finds that if an IBM consultant uses email to reach out to a manager that is not his direct supervisor, he produces, on average, an additional $588/month in revenue as compared to a consultant that only interfaces with her direct manager.

This is fascinating stuff, and my head is spinning with the possibilities of how this might be applied to inter-enterprise interactions conducted via emergent social software, rather than through well-institutionalized email.  I just came across this study today and haven’t had time to properly digest it yet, but will do so and comment further.  In the meanwhile, I invite you to read it for yourself and leave observations and  comments here.

Back In The Saddle Again


I am pleased to share with you that I have rejoined the workforce today, after having been unemployed for 3.5 months. I am now Lead Analyst, Collaboration and Enterprise Social Software Practice, at the Gilbane Group. I am honored and thrilled to be associated with Frank Gilbane and his stellar roster of analysts and consultants.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Gilbane Group, they are one of, if not the, preeminent analyst firms focused on Content Management practices and technologies. In my new role, I will be heading up Gilbane Group’s Collaboration and Enterprise Social Software Practice. As a practice, we will be working with many constituents to define and deliver on a research agenda examining industry trends related to enterprise collaboration tools and social software. However, our analysis will be different from others’ in that it will focus intensely on the content management aspects and implications of collaboration and social software.

I am very excited to have been blessed with this opportunity to lead a practice, especially at a firm of Gilbane Group’s caliber. I will have much more to say about my new job, collaboration, social software, and content management in the days and weeks to come. I will continue to blog here about the broader aspects of collaboration and social media, but you will also be able to find my thoughts on the content management angle of those technologies at the Gilbane Group Blog. I will, of course, continue to use Twitter to publically explore these subjects as well.

Here is how you may contact me at the Gilbane Group and the URL for the company’s blog:

email: larry@gilbane.com

phone: 617-497-9443 x154

blog: http://gilbane.com/blog