Executive Reality: You’re Not The Lone Ranger
April 22, 2013 Dan Burger
Who’s the decision maker in your company when it comes to approving IT budgets and the new projects that get the green light? And more importantly, does that decision maker understand the Power Systems running the IBM i platform? For the past 10 years or so, there has been a behind-the-scenes, conference within a conference held in conjunction with the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition. It is called the IT Executive Conference (ITEC), and it needs to have a greater impact.
As far as I know, this is the only IBM i-specific conference for executives. Most of the attendees, which on a good year numbers 40 participants, are CIOs and department managers who have a hand in mapping IT strategy. Some double as in-the-trenches, get-the-job-done employees as well. Overall they represent the meat and potatoes majority of IBM midrange shops, the Power 720 and Power 750 users. Bringing that group together to discuss what works and what doesn’t seems like a Smarter Planet kind of idea. It also seems like there should be a bigger number of attendees or this conference should be done more frequently and in multiple locations. Maybe it could be married to (or at least start dating) the iBelieve event created by looksoftware.
I have heard a variety of people from the IBM i community voice opinions about decision makers not knowing about or caring about the IBM i platform. Many of those decision makers come from other platforms and are fish out of water when it comes to discussing IBM i. But there are many decision makers and decision influencers from within the IBM i ranks–professionals who have moved along their midrange career paths to positions of trusted advisors to the business leaders. Too many of them never escape their caves or consult outside their tribes. In a more perfect world, they should be getting to know and exchanging information about IT business value with their peers from other IBM i-centric companies. They should have opportunities to discuss business value with IBM i executives and the IBM i vendor community.
There is a business case to be made for getting out and sharing experiences with others in similar circumstances. You could look at it as group therapy, a support group, skills training, or problem solving. What it comes down to is gaining visibility into what’s out there, what other people are doing right or have learned to avoid.
Skip the sales pitches, gratuitous testimonials, and the over the top evangelism.
“They do not want a talking head. They want discussion,” says the ITEC organizer Roxanne Reynolds-Lair, who believes facilitated discussions based on business value are the key difference between the sessions at the ITEC and most conferences where technical topics prevail. “Business value is very important,” Reynolds-Lair says. “The perspective is on what’s out there as opposed to how do you make it happen.”
Making a decision on corporate strategy is an executive function. People help make the decision easier, but one person ends up setting the strategic direction. By comparison, in most companies there is a team of technical people that carry out the implementation.
My Idea. Your Idea. Our Idea.
An example, provided by Reynolds-Lair from the ITEC, was the panel discussion on mobile application development. The panel consisted of representatives from five IBM i mobile application development tool vendors: BCD, LANSA, looksoftware, Profound Logic, and Zend Technologies. Each of the vendors presented a five-minute summary of mobile development. The rest of the 90-minute session was a discussion among the attendees and the panelists and sometimes just among the attendees, who applied what they had heard to circumstances in their own companies. The idea of a panel of vendors was new to the ITEC this year and Reynolds-Lair said it was highly rated by the attendees and will be included in the next ITEC, with a different topic focus.
Four sessions featured IBM i or Power Systems executives: IBM i product manager Alison Butterill, IBM i chief architect Steve Will, IBM director of growth initiatives Paula Richards, and Power Systems marketing vice president Zarina Stanford. And from what I’ve been told, this is no “I’ll endorse you if you endorse me” LinkedIn-type of exchange.
“The executive attendees asked the IBM executives tough questions,” Reynolds-Lair said. “They hold them accountable and the IBM executives answer the questions.”
There was no press at the ITEC. Reynolds-Lair said there was concern by some whether certain questions might not get asked and some might not get answered if the press was in the room.
Jerry Roedersheimer, the systems and programming manager at Rumpke Consolidated Companies, was selected to be the focal point of a session called the Solutions Exchange. Roedersheimer took 15 minutes to explain how his staff was planning two major projects. The first was an application modernization plan using PHP, Zend Frameworks, and BCD WebSmart. The second project was a plan for database modernization. After his “executive summary” of the projects, the full participation of the group began with questions for Roedersheimer and discussions involving others who had done modernization projects or were considering projects.
Roedersheimer described the value of this exchange of ideas as “phenomenal.”
“We live in our siloes,” he said. “To step out of that, ask questions, and hear how other people are utilizing technology is important. Knowledge is power. The more we understand how someone else is skinning the cat, the easier it is to step back and decide if that’s a good idea for our company.”
A Lot On The Line
The executives that attend have invested money, time, and resources in creating products and services and they put their reputations on the line, Reynolds-Lair pointed out. They need to hear from their peers that projects they are considering for their own company has actually proved to be strategic for another company by talking with an executive of that company. They need to hear IBM executives say there will continue be investments and growth in software and hardware. The direct questions are one way of holding IBM accountable for standing behind its products and demonstrating that the integrity is there.
Reynolds-Lair is the CIO at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM), which has campuses in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco, and San Diego. FIDM has won four IBM-COMMON Innovation Awards since Reynolds-Lair took over CIO duties. She’s also an IBM Power Systems Champion, a designation awarded to individuals who have a considerable talent for bringing ideas and innovative thinking to the Power Systems and in her case the IBM i community.
“As a CIO, I get emails all the time to attend events and conferences,” she says. “Typically they are free. They just want decision-makers at the event. I don’t have time to attend many conferences. I learned that a conference needs to be concise, interactive, and relevant. I base my decision on the conference’s reputation and content. ITEC is the only IBM i conference that decision-makers can get specific business information concerning translating business needs to maximizing the existing environment that’s centered around IBM i and Power Systems.”
CIOs and other people making or influencing CIO-type decisions should have an IT Executive Conference experience. When decision makers have only half the story, the outcome of the decision is left to chance. Taking into account only the benefits of an IT investment is equally as bad as only considering the negative impacts. Yet it happens all the time. Systems are oversold or underappreciated based on incomplete information and preconceived notions. It’s as true in the IBM midrange as it is anywhere.