Global CIO: Citrix CEO Templeton On Killing IT Inertia Before It Kills You - InformationWeek

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9/2/2009
07:36 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: Citrix CEO Templeton On Killing IT Inertia Before It Kills You

As CIOs search for ways to increase business agility and lower IT costs, Citrix CEO Mark Templeton says that "traditional enterprise computing is collapsing under the weight of its own complexity."

As a consequence—and this has been a theme we here at Global CIO have been pounding throughout the year—CIOs trapped under that collapsing weight and cost are seen by their C-level peers as uninterested, unresponsive, and even uninspired. And as we've all seen, that leads inevitably to IT being seen as a weight around the organization's neck and an obstacle to be avoided—and once that rotten situation sets in, the CIO might as well slap a giant bullseye across his back and slap across his forehead a flourescent bumper-sticker saying "Tactical Cost Center." It is not, by any measure, a career-enhancing situation.

But it also doesn't have to be that way; the future is not written.

"In a lot of organizations, this manifests itself as the CIOs' perceived or real inability to respond to business change," Templeton says, "and that's particularly troublesome these days when business is changing so rapidly in so many ways.

"So the a-ha! moment comes after all this stuff has worked for a number of years but hits its limit and can't keep up. For CIOs, the a-ha! is either a capitulation to those terribly powerful forces of inertia, where either I just can't handle it and have to move on, or I see the forces that are stagnating the company and I decide that instead of being terrified by them instead I'll embrace them in a whole new way of enterprise computing that's forward-thinking, forward-leaning, and forward relevant."

One company that did exactly is Bechtel, the 110-year old construction company that takes on giant projects such as the Hoover Dam, the British Channel Chunnel, the Hong Kong Airport, what will be the world's largest oil refinery, located in India, and many other massive global undertakings. As Bechtel's projects continue to get bigger and more complex, and more global in scope—researching, planning, engineering, logistics, and servicing, all on top of the actual construction work itself—and as regulations of many kinds became more complex and sourcing more dynamic and labor forces more fluid, the company's IT leaders knew an entirely new model was required.

In an engaging video just 3-1/2 minutes long, CIO Geer Ramleth and CTO John Jahraus describe the critical juncture where they realized they could not continue running their IT shop the traditional way—that either they had to kill it or it would surely kill them.

In that video, Jahraus describes his epiphany this way: "We said y'know, guys, we're not kidding—we are going to change, fundamentally, the way we do computing for this company. And the way we deliver, on top of that, IT services to the projects. And there was absolutely an a-ha! moment where the guys went from kinda all listening quietly, to where they were all up at the whiteboard designing the future."

Designing the future—sounds a lot more energizing and rewarding than rationalizing the past, doesn't it? And while that exact shift in temporal perspective—away from the past and toward the future—can be daunting for many CIOs, it can also be the start of an effort that let's them begin to actively build the type of companies their customers want and need rather than just maintaining the businesses customers bought from in the past. To get there, Templeton says, CIOs must be not just willing but eager to confront the daunting force of inertia.

"The most powerful force in the universe is inertia, and where we see it in business is an understandable desire to make it all about extending the past, doing today exactly what I did yesterday, maybe a little more efficiently but basically the same thing, because that approach is always less risky, less controversial, and it's always easier for us to when we don't have to drive really fundamental change and can instead just get by with some incremental change.

"That's why it's really important for leaders to understand and to confront the fact that inertia is the most-powerful force in the universe, and that comes into play when you've got IT budgets that are flat or declining, and you've got users who say, "Look—this isn't the computing experience I want," and at the same time you're seeing a very real acceleration of business change, and there's no question that the uncertainty of looking forward far outweighs the certainty of looking backward.

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