Register for "A Guide to Data Products: Everything You Need to Understand, Plan, and Implement" - Friday, May 31,1:00 p.m. ET

Dewayne Washington: Part I - The Role Of The CIO

In this podcast, Dewayne Washington speaks the unadulterated truth about the role of the CIO. Washington is a senior consultant with 20+ years of experience in BI and Analytics in over two dozen verticals. He is the former BI manager at Dallas/Fortworth International Airport and the current CIO at The Business of Intelligence. He is also the author of the book Get In The Stream, the ultimate guide to customer adoption, and his Data Warehousing and Mobile Solutions implementations have been featured in CIO Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. Washington is also a sought-after speaker and mentor for organizations striving to leverage BI and Analytics to meet business goals, thus earning him the title, BI Pharaoh.

In part II, Dewayne discusses key to IT success.

Key Findings:

  • The power used to be on the IT side, now it’s swinging back to the business side
  • CIOs need to blur the lines between IT and business
  • CIOs need to start with “yes” and “how can we,” not “no.”
  • If you’re not a proactive CIO, you will be replaced
  • Spend a year listening to IT and the business before making significant changes
  • Understand business pain points and implement solutions without being asked 

This is an excerpt from the podcast interview between Henry H. Eckerson and Dewayne Washington.

Eckerson: The role of the CIO has evolved quite a bit. Could you explain what that role was and what it is today?

Washington: If we go back far enough, the role of with CIO was mainly around hardware and very primitive software solutions. Things like keep email up and going, create an e-mail server, purchase Word and Excel, and set up a network so that people can communicate back and forth. It was pretty simple. It was more like keep the lights on, almost like a high tech janitor.

What happened is that as technology evolved people knew they needed a guy that understands it and implements it to allow us to work a little better. So, they got this person to lay the groundwork or the foundation, and that created a separation. But it was more setting up networks, getting in infrastructure just at the base level to allow the business to work.

Eckerson: How has that role changed and what was the reason for that change?

Wahsington: I think there have been two evolutions and the first evolution came right after you bring these people in to lay the groundwork and the foundation. No one else really understood this side of the business, and IT became its own separate entity. At some point there was almost no way to do business in an efficient way without utilizing IT. You couldn't send e-mail without an e-mail server, you couldn't create a Word document without having Word in place, and if you had any questions you had to go to IT to ask them. So, IT began to grow, not only in numbers, but in mentality, and in the ability to beat upon our own chest. And we developed this God complex where everything kind of revolves around IT. We could say no and yes to projects, and you have this evolution of a separation of the business and IT.

Now, I think the pendulum is beginning to swing to the other side. All the power used to be on the IT side, and now it is swinging back to the business side. There are all types of tools out there that allow the business to do IT work without utilizing IT. I can't tell you how many vendors will call up the business side of a company or corporation and say, “Hey, you can utilize our solution and implement our solution, and you don't even need your own IT organization.” For that to be a selling point means that IT organizations have been a roadblock in the past, and people are looking to bypass their own IT organization so that they can get things in quicker, and they can get them less expensive because for years IT has told them that “This is going to take a long time. It's going to cost a lot of money, and I don't think you should do it.” Now, because solutions are in the cloud, they're more nimble, people have different options. I can pick up my phone and create an infrastructure right now, literally in minutes, that would have taken months years ago and decades ago would have been impossible.

So, because IT has become more of a commodity, the IT mentality no longer works because the business doesn't have to go over to IT to ask them every question. A startup CEO right now can implement an email server, get Google Docs in the cloud, they can do all of these things without utilizing IT at all, without having a CIO or a CTO or even anybody who's remotely technical. They can do it all from an iPhone, iPad, or just from their computer. So, things have begun to change. The power is coming back on the business side, and there in lies the issue because we're in the middle of this pendulum swing. It’s interesting to sit back and watch it.

“I’ve seen entire organizations go away because they were being a barrier to progress”

Eckerson:  It sounds like you're suggesting other parts of the business are somewhat phasing IT out. Do you see this as a problem, and what does the CIO need to do about it?

Washington: I definitely think that it’s a problem, and it's one, unfortunately, created by us. We created it on the IT side, and the business is solving that problem. I've seen entire IT organizations go away because they were being a barrier to progress. So, now we have the role of the CIO and how it's changed over time. Before it was just heads down, implement the foundation. Now CIOs have to be a lot savvier. They've got to bring out their eraser and begin to erase and blur the lines between IT and the business. It's all the business. There's no finance in the business. There's no parking in the business. There's no HR in the business. There's just the business. CIOs need to begin to erase that line and say, “It's not us against you. We're all in this thing together.” That means bringing the other side in and taking IT out into the other areas of the organization, embedding IT into business areas, embracing those business users who are IT savvy and utilizing them as an extension of your own organization.

From a CIO perspective, one, you've got to understand technology. You've got to understand where it's going. You have to implement an environment that allows your people to go and explore new technology because there's new stuff all the time. What used to take a year and five million dollars, I can do in seconds. I literally can grab my phone right now and spin up 200 VMs. The world is shifting, and you've got to shift with it and understand that mentality. Understand what a serverless technology looks like. You've also got to have your foot on the other side of the house and understand the business, understand the business reasons, the business questions, understand the why. When you really understand it well, you'll implement solutions that the business side of the house has not even thought of because they didn't know it was even possible because you're keeping in line with the technical side.

If you just sit back and become an order taker, you're going to get replaced. You want to make sure you're entrenched on both sides, that you have your ear to the CEO, understanding what HR needs are, understanding what they are, and listening to them with the lens of IT so you can implement a solution that is going to allow them to do big business better. That's the reason IT came about to begin with. How do we bring technology in to allow us to do business better? Now you have CIO's that almost have to be ADD. They have to have their foot in both places.

Eckerson: In a recent blog you mentioned CIOs say “no” a lot to his or her customers. Do you want to clarify that and talk about why that is?

Washington: What'll happen is that customers come and say, “we would like this” and IT says, “No. We don't want to do that.” Sometimes it's not as blatant as “No.” They’ll say, “Well, do you understand the complications of that?” or “That's going to take a long time” or “That's going to cost a lot of money” or “That's going to create a security risk on this side.” These issues may be true, but the issue is that IT starts with “no” instead of starting with “yes” and “how can we.”

I'll give you a perfect example. One time my team implemented Apple TVs and were utilizing them to train people on iPads. As we were showcasing a product we had built for one of our customers, they were intrigued at how we were able to show what was on the iPad on the screen without any wires. We told them about the Apple TV. On the business side, within one week they outfitted every single conference room with an Apple TV without IT. Maybe a month or so later, we're talking with IT implementing Apple TV all over, and they said, “Oh, we can't do this and that and all this protocol has to be followed.” I said, “Look, we can make this happen. This would be great for the business. It will empower people to share and collaborate better.” And we just kept getting “no, no, no, no, no.” Finally, I said a couple of things. “One, my daughter can do this. My son can do this. And guess what? Our customers have already done it without you. And I'm no longer asking. I was bringing you in to collaborate. I'm now saying this is what we have to do.” Fast forward a few months, and we were able to get it done. Apple TVs are being used everywhere, but IT’s immediate response to that was to go over to the business side and decommission all of their Apple TVs. That's insane. That's the opposite of what you want to do. Your customers have already replaced you. They've already said, “You're irrelevant here.”

IT organizations cannot survive like that for very long. You want to erase that mentality so when your users come with some idea, listen to that idea. If you're doing it right, two things will happen: one, they won't have to come to you. You come to them because you understand what their pain points are and apply a solution to them when you see them going through the pain that they're going through. Second, when they come to you, they'll come to you as a partner and say, “How do we come up with a solution to fix this?” When you start from yes, they already believe you're going to come and help them. When you hear their issues, you should start thinking of solutions. Don't automatically start thinking it’s going to cost too much, this is going to take too long, this all is going to be too hard. That's not going to fly.

You're not going to have a job long if you continue with that mentality. You will be replaced and sometimes you won't be replaced with another CIO. You'll be replaced with other consultants. You'll be replaced with vendors that are coming in to do the job for you. Consultants call your customers and say, “Look, we can implement this without your IT organization.” If we can figure out a way to get it done, then you in your own organization need to do the same thing. Figure out a way to put your heads together. IT people are smart. They're brilliant, and IT needs to say, “How do we” not “here's a reason why we can't.”

Eckerson: How do you start saying “yes” more?

Washington: It's simple. Become more of a business partner. At the end of the day, your goal is to move the bottom line, if you're in a for-profit company. If we move the bottom line, we all move it together because we're all in the same boat. We're all going to sink or swim together. When you sit down with someone and understand where they're coming from, understand their pain point, and let me see if I can come up with a solution that allows them to move quicker.

There will be some things where you have to say “no” or “Well, how about this instead?” There'll be some times when you have to do that, but when you've got that great relationship with the organization, and they know that you're for them, they’ll know if you're saying that, then it must really be the case, and you're not just being the typical IT person and throwing up a wall or barrier.

You start saying “yes” more by understanding the business from the business perspective and start applying solutions without the business asking. That's the key. A lot of CIOs just sit and wait to be asked to do something and half the times are saying “no.” If you're coming up with a solution to bring to the business, the business will say, “I didn't even know this was possible. This thing was taking us two weeks to get done and they can automate it and we don't have to worry about it at all, and we can concentrate on something else.”

“While budgetary concerns are real, the good CIO doesn’t let it be an excuse”

Eckerson: What do you say to CIOs that are mainly saying “no” because of their budget? How do you allocate money where it's needed?

Washington: You've got to start being creative. If you've got all this legacy hardware that you're running, then you've got to start looking at the cloud. If it doesn't make sense to move to the cloud and save some money, does it make sense to consolidate? How do you restructure databases so that you’re not spending a million dollars a year on it? Technology has changed, and you need to be brave. You have to ask, “How do we restructure what we have?” Whenever you become that partner, you will find money start showing up. People start having money for things that they want to pay for, so it may not even come out of your own budget. While budgetary concerns are real, the good CIO doesn’t let it be an excuse. They say, “How can I do that cheaper? How can I do that quicker? How can I be more efficient? How can I save on licensing? How can I save on hardware? How can I limit my maintenance? Let me consolidate into one solution. Maybe I can even find this solution from a crowdsourcing perspective and not even pay for it.”

You've got to be a proactive CIO. You can't be a reactive CIO. If you're in that reactive state, you've got to switch your whole mentality. And you need to surround yourself with some good VPs that are proactive so they can bring those ideas in and begin to transform your IT organization. It won't happen overnight, but you've got to start putting those things in place. You can't just sit back and say, “It's because of budget. We don't have enough money.” People are going to get tired of hearing that, and they're going to replace you. I want you to understand, that is one of the trends we started to see all over the world. CIOs are being fired all over the world, and sometimes they're not being replaced. You've got to transform, and if you say, “I don't have the budget,” I don't want to hear it.

You can set up an AWS instance for a dollar. You can set up an Azure instance, and they'll give you two hundred bucks for free. All it’s going to cost you is time to sit down and figure it out and bring your team in to figure out what types of things we can do. So, I don't want to hear “I don't have the budget” because to implement some of these things literally doesn't cost you anything but time and ingenuity. Go find that ingenuity and those creative individuals. Sometimes they're not on your team. Sometimes they're over in HR. Sometimes they're in finance. It is your job to go find those people so they can help you implement something that's going to move the business forward.

Eckerson: What are some of the keys to being a good CIO?

Washington: The keys to being a good CIO are very simple. I got some advice as a young manager. My director told me something that I'll never forget. He said, “Hire people you trust and trust the people you hire.” Jim Collins said in his book From Good To Great “get the right people on the bus, and then figure out where the bus is going.” The right people are humble, hungry, and smart. I have to explain smart. We’re talking about someone who is socially intelligent. Somebody who doesn't hurt people all day and doesn't think that they're the world's end, and so they can say whatever they want to whomever. You have to get people on the team who have all three of those because if they are none of those, they are not going to work well on a team and will not go over to the business side and operate very well. So first of all, it’s getting the right people on the team.

I will never forget, there was one person on a help desk one time, and she was the meanest woman I've ever met in my life. It was so bad that the business side would tell you “when you call the Help Desk and you get this certain woman, hang up and call back.” And that was that person there to help you, and she was the most unhelpful person I've ever seen in my life, and I remember talking to the manager about that. I said, “Why would you have her as the face of IT. To the rest of the organization, whenever they think about IT, they think about that helpdesk and who is there. Why would you have the meanest person in the world as the face of IT? That's just rubbing everybody the wrong way.

“Build the right team and have a concept of love and care”

I remember one CEO saying, “These two words signify everything we do: love and care. We provide service with love and care.” Even when the customer is messing up, love them through it. Care about people even when they're aren't able to care about themselves. From a CIO perspective, you're going to have to build the right team and have a concept of love and care. Have a concept of how to reach out to the other side of the business. When I've built a team that was centered around loving and caring, I used to get calls from VPs that had the best things to say about my team. It definitely works when you build a team around love and care, and you trust the people you hire to do the right thing.

I remember one time, I was frustrated, and I called my team on the phone. They were saying some stuff, and I was just totally disagreeing. And when I got off the phone I realized two things: one, I was yelling. Two, I only have smart people on my team, and if I have a team full of really smart people, and they're all on the same page, and I'm on a different page, it might be me. Coming into the office I said, “Hey guys, let me first apologize. I was yelling, and I don't want to yell. I've got to realize that all of ya'll are on the same page, and I'm not on that page then I could be wrong, and so let's go with your solution.”

That goes back to trust the people you hired. Trust their solution. They're not always going to be right. Sometimes they're going to be wrong and that's OK. Give them latitude to be wrong. Have an environment where somebody is able to make a mistake because it allows you to be creative. Create an environment where people feel free to be brave. I tell developers all the time if you haven’t crashed a server you're not a developer. If you’re a DBA and you haven't deleted a database accidentally, you're not a DBA. Get out there and to try new things, but it's the CIO that sets the tone. If you set the tone for fear, nobody's going to take any risk and they're not going to get out there and do the courageous things to move your organization forward.

Eckerson: What are some other common CIO pitfalls? What do you want to avoid as a CIO?

“Have conversations with all levels of the organization . . . Just shut up. Listen and watch what they do.”

Washington: A lot of times new CIOs come in and want to start implementing their mentality. You got to realize that the company was there before you got there, and even if it was a struggling company, it was there before you. Learn how to listen. Learn how to understand. You need to spend about a year really listening to all levels of the IT organization, listening to all levels of the of the business side. Understand before you begin to start making changes. I've seen so many times they misstep because they thought they understood something.

I say all the time, “Good people have options, and great people have choices.” If you're a good employee you are always being presented with options to do something. If you're a great employee, a phenomenal employ, you can choose at any time to do something different. You can choose to start your own company. You can choose to work for another company. When they see CIOs start making dumb decisions that they feel can affect their future without listening, those good people begin to exercise those choices. And you're left with what's left, which are not good people, and you're left to try to build an organization with people who can't go anywhere else. Don't go in and start changing everything up.

Begin to have conversations with all levels of the organization, including your own. If you're a CIO, sit down with the DBA and just shut up. Listen and watch what they do. Hear their frustrations. Those people have great ideas to save money and to do things more efficiently, but they don't have any one's ear. Talk to a web developer or an ETL developer so that they know you're approachable. Everybody says, “I've got an open door,” and whenever you walk past it’s closed or the assistant is stopping you before you get any closer. Get outside of your glass palace.

Another thing I hear a lot of CIOs complaining about is how nobody uses stuff. “We've got these new reports in place and nobody uses them and we spent six million dollars on this brand new piece of software and nobody's using it.” But there's a reason nobody's using it, and I will use a particular example. I remember walking into the office one day, and there was a webcam in the package on my desk. It was weird like where did these come from? I checked and everybody in the entire company had them. I find out later the IT organization decided to roll out webcams, but they didn't tell anybody. They didn't train anybody on them. They didn't say what they were for. A couple years later, most of those webcams were still in a package in the bottom of somebody's drawer, and that's what I call a horrible implementation. They didn’t even check to see if anybody wanted it or sell me on why I really want this.

So, as you get ready to implement bring the business in, work together, understand what business problem you're solving, and keeping those people engaged to the entire process. What they want what they want is going to change forty million times, but why they want it won't change at all. Understanding that goes a long way to missing those pitfalls.

“I think we have a great opportunity to bring glam to IT”

Eckerson: Many perceive the CIO position as unglamorous. Why is it good to be a CIO?

Washington: On one hand, I agree, and on the other hand, I disagree. I remember sitting with a friend of mine at a conference, and they were getting an awared, and he looked at me and said, “I want you to come on stage with us and I want you to bring your teammate.” It was great. I said, “You know I really appreciate this. A lot of times CIOs and IT people don't get the opportunity to be on this type of stage.” And I've got to sit back and say where this IT journey has gotten me. I have eaten in the best restaurants. I've been on the most expensive yachts in the world. I’ve been featured in some of the most prestigious magazines in the world. I’ve lived a really, really cool life because of this IT thing. I know on one side you could be heads down worried about the network, and there's no glory in that because people are not concerned with the network until it doesn't work. You get negative press, but no one praises you when it's working great. I get that.

Now is the most exciting time in history to live and be in this industry. If we go back forty or fifty years, nobody thought this would catch on. I was taught to program in fourth grade. No one thought that would become the way the world gets run. I see why people would say it's not glamorous, but on the other hand, I've been able to travel the globe. I just got a call yesterday to go out to Sweden and speak from an IT perspective. I'm excited about that because the day before, I wrote a list for 2018, and it's the one of the places I wanted to go in 2018. I'm not going to Sweden because I look great, I'm going to Sweden because they want to hear about IT related stuff. If that isn’t glamorous, I don't know what is. I think that we have a great opportunity to bring glam to IT.

Henry H. Eckerson

Henry Eckerson covers business intelligence and analytics at Eckerson Group and has a keen interest in artificial intelligence, deep learning, predictive analytics, and cloud data warehousing. When not researching and...

More About Henry H. Eckerson