Commentary
9/2/2009
07:36 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary

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."



About a week ago, Citrix CEO Mark Templeton, in the midst of a two-week trip through Asia to visit customers and colleagues, was just wrapping up an inspired all-hands meeting with Citrix's 350 developers in Bangalore and was about to hop off the stage so the food and drinks could be rolled out. But instead, several members of the Bangalore team wheeled onto the stage a massive, ornate, double-layer birthday cake as the 350 colleagues began singing "Happy Birthday" to celebrate Templeton's 57th natal anniversary.

"It was so wonderful of them to do that—truly wonderful—but it was a complete shock to me because I never celebrate birthdays," Templeton said yesterday by phone from Tokyo. "The important thing isn't the age of your body; it's the age of your soul. If you keep the soul of a 29-year-old alive inside you, it doesn't matter how old your body is."

Just as Templeton, back in 1995, helped infuse sleepy little Citrix with a youthful and adventurous soul when he joined the $15 million company as VP of marketing, so too is he now looking to inspire CIOs to transform their companies' creaky and brittle physical infrastructures with a fresh and agile approaches that will reinvigorate the chances those companies have to compete in a business world that is changing at a dizzying pace.

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And Templeton is betting that Citrix—with 2008 revenue of $1.6 billion, more than 100 times bigger than when he joined the company 14 years ago—has the unique perspective and the unique technologies, products, services, and partnerships to make that happen. And his core strategy is simple: virtualization, centralization, and optimization.

What's not so simple—in fact, what's both maddeningly complex as well as dangerous—is for CIOs to find the willingness and the inspiration to step forward and realize that, as Templeton puts it, "traditional enterprise computing is collapsing under the weight of its own complexity." Those traditional models, he says, are doomed, and the only salvation for CIOs stuck under the crushing weight of all that expensive and inflexible stuff is the bone-deep realization that massive changes need to be made, which also means disruption, some turmoil, some personnel losses, a lot of pain, and a whole lot of will.

And that realization, Templeton says, is the CIO's "a-ha! moment"—and it can make or break careers.

"In all these situations we see where someone appears to just become an overnight success—like with a hot new singer, the explode onto the scene and people say, "wow—where'd that guy come from?"—if you do your research you'll see that each one of these sudden rock-star singers have been singing in churces or drugstores or playgrounds or anywhere they can for their whole lives," Templeton says. "It doesn't 'just happen.'

"And it's the same with these a-ha! moments for CIOs: they're always preceded by these guys being forced or pushed or shoved for a long, long time by forces they want to ignore or don't believe they can respond to because of budgets or CEOs who don't get it or just the everyday pace.

"But I think we're getting to the point where the confluence of technologies like virtualization and data centers and the cloud and networks and client devices are intersecting with flat IT budgets, and those two things are intersecting with the consumerization of IT where your experience with technology at home is so much better than it is at work, and on top of that you've got the situation where the real understanding of critical business issues among too many CIOs is just poor. And that's not cause they want it to be poor but it's the weight of all this other stuff and the time and budget it consumes—I just don't think that model can last," Templeton says.

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.

"But the problem is that in the face of all those forces—lower budgets, more business change happening faster, users demanding better IT experiences—CIOs simply can't defend the status quo any longer, and instead they've got to do something. This a-ha! moment is when the force of all that inertia gets turned from a straight-line path pointing back to where we've been to a new direction that shows where we're going."

So that's the challenge CIOs are faced with these days, and here's why Templeton believes Citrix is prepared to help CIOs overcome those challenges. First, the challenge, as outlined in Citrix's annual report:

Tight IT budgets are not a short term trend, they are the new reality. The distributed computing model is aging rapidly, exposing its complexity, cost, and inflexibility. It’s also quite clear that customers will be driven, even more rapidly, to centralize complexity in the datacenter, and distribute pure simplicity to the desktop. There’s tremendous potential for a true tipping point.

And second, the approach Citrix says it has been advocating for 20 years, a philosophy that Citrix says puts it "at the epicenter of this IT revolution":

Our goal is to empower our customers with the operating cost structure and agility of the web. . . . Over the next three years, squeezed between declining budgets and IT consumerization, thousands of CIOs will have an "a-ha moment." The gap between the web and enterprise computing will no longer be defensible—to users, to the CEO, or to the CFO.

Customers in various industries, Citrix said, have made the leap by following the Citrix philosophy:

--A large retail chain handles four times as many transactions per second --A global pharmaceutical firm accelerates time to market by six months --A bank in India expands its customer reach with "bank-in-a-van" service to underserved, remote locations --An airline reduces paper usage by 1.5 million sheets per year --And as noted earlier, Bechtel adopts an end-to-end IT virtualization strategy to consolidate its datacenters and securely deliver applications, even in the some of the most undeveloped and isolated areas of the world.

To make all that happen, virtualization has become central to almost everything Citrix does. And Templeton, acknowledging that the field is heavy with both competition and opportunities, comes back to his metaphor of the lively and youthful spirit animating and surpassing the limitations the physical world can impose on us:

"VMware makes fine products and offers customers a great alternative," Templeton says, "and their performance stands on its own. We believe the market demand and need for virtualization—not only for server-consolidation virtualization, but also cloud and network-virtualization and application-virtualization—that the size of that market and opportunity is enormous, and can and will support a number of large software companies offering great ideas and different approaches.

"VM is proprietary, more end to end, and gives you the full thing from management to storage to networking and now they're trying to say it even does desktops. It's reasonably proprietary in nature and it's premium-priced. That's fine.

"Our strategy is to differentiate with an open platform that gives customers more of a choice, and we think we're lower-cost and better for integrating easily with all types of networks and storage and management so that instead of having to replace a lot of things that some other solutions can require, with us you just connect it.

"But what it really comes down to is this: VMware will sell you infrastructure to give you a highly optimized factory, whereas we will give you the tools to give you the ability to distribute the outcome of that highly optimized factory. It's not about device-ownership, it's about distribution, and I think in the IT side of our global economy today there can be much more value in distributing than in manufacturing, and in being able to react rapidly and intelligently to that outcome instead of to the factory itself."

For all you CIOs out there: here's to youthful souls and a-ha! moments.

GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
or write to Bob at [email protected].

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