Splunk’s Andi Mann will explain how transformational CIOs think at Channel Partners Evolution.

Jeffrey Schwartz

August 14, 2019

11 Min Read
Pile of Cash

The most successful CIOs are those who are willing to disrupt the status quo of their IT organizations to help their businesses become more agile and remain viable in an age where startups can displace established enterprises with minimal but strategic investments in technology. While cloud-based systems and application reduce the barrier to entry for upstarts, they also open the door for all enterprises to transform their businesses.

Andi Mann, chief technology advocate at Splunk, has advised CIOs that the risk of standing still is typically greater than making bold investments that might disrupt the business in the short term. It’s a topic Mann has spoken on for some time and has documented in ‘The Innovative CIO,” a book he co-authored in 2013, which he says is still relevant today. At Channel Partners Evolution on Wednesday, Sept. 11, Mann will deliver a keynote that delves “Inside the Mind of a Transformational CIO.” In advance of his presentation, Mann talked to Channel Futures editor at large Jeffrey Schwartz.

Channel Futures: Given all the change in technology over the past seven years, how relevant is The Innovative CIO in 2019?


Splunk’s Andi Mann

Andi Mann: There are a lot of innovative CIOs and transformative CIOs around. And I think that number is growing. But I still see a lot of businesses treating technology as a cost center. I wrote the book about the idea that every business is a technology business, and I think that is that is even more true now than it has ever been. And yet, I still see a lot of businesses fail to take advantage of transformative technologies to move their business forward. In terms of the technologies, they’re always changing, but they’re at some level all the same. Since I wrote the book, new things have come out. And, of course, things like containerization have really upset the way we look at technology infrastructure. But ultimately, containers are still a form of virtualization, which we’ve been dealing with for 40-50 years now. I do think that there is a lot more understanding in business of the role of technology. But I feel like there are still a lot of old-school technology leaders who are struggling to transform themselves as much as [they are] transforming the business.

Hear from Andi Mann, Splunk’s chief technology advocate, during his keynote, “Inside the Mind of a Transformational CIO, at Channel Partners Evolution, Sept. 9-12, in Washington, D.C. Register now!

CF: To that point, are IT partners enablers of that, or struggling with it?

AM: There are a bunch of partners, whether they’re VARs, systems integrators or other types of partners, who don’t necessarily help businesses innovate. They help them to work on their technology as they perceive it but they’re not driving their customers to the leading edge. They allow them to stand still, and I don’t think that’s helpful. But there are also a lot of really amazing technology partners who are driving innovation — and in significant ways. But yeah, there are a lot of channel partners who just take and fulfill orders. Order-taking is OK when you’ve got an order in a field, then you need someone to fill it. But it doesn’t move the needle on technology innovation, on driving business competitive advantage, on getting products and services to market faster or being able to try to deliver new things and managing failure and dealing with risk.

CF: How do you handle that?

AM: When I see opportunities to …

… turn that around to introduce them to more innovative thinkers and help them drive innovation in their strategy, I do so. That is much more exciting to me than seeing some of the traditional old school players just doing the same job they’ve been doing for 20- 30 years.

CF: What would you say is the least understood issue that CIOs have that the partner community can address?

AM: I think across the board, it’s about the human issues. In my presentation, I’ll talk about the transformational CIO, their priorities and so forth. There’s obviously the high level of the transformation they need to do. And a lot of that is around customer focus, and “Customer 360.” It’s about delivering fast, failing fast, being agile, adopting to technologies as well – data analytics, machine learning, cloud delivery, cybersecurity – all this stuff. The technology is sort of easy, though. It’s the people that are hard. And that’s always been true in our industry, I believe. And so, what I see as the biggest challenge for transformative CIOs today is much more about addressing organizational issues, shifting from old structures to new approaches to technology acquisition.

CF: What kind of technology acquisition?

AM: Things like cloud, but as a business model, or cost-management model, rather than the technology per se. The new mode of work, especially among millennials, is around collaborative modes of work, which is less competitive internally with people working together and collaborating to achieve common goals. Managing the organization, dealing with culture change and with the shift to digitalization — this is as much a human challenge as a technology channel challenge.

CF: Do you see CIOs making the technology acquisition decisions around these modernizations or transformations before they deal with those organizational issues, or vice versa?

AM: It depends on the CIO; of course, it can go either way. The way that I see is most successful is when people deal with the technology and the people simultaneously. And that sounds like a glib answer — do it all, right? But what I mean by that is, if you start with the technology, then you create culture problems. Technology, to a certain extent, can drive culture change. If you bring in an automation tool, for example, you can help your people to understand that what is important to you is going faster, and having repeatable results. And you can start to get people to adapt with technology. But for the most part, technology, change in isolation, creates a culture problem. People push back; they don’t want to do new things. A lot of organizational employees are not necessarily great at change, which is why they need a leader as a transformational CIO.

CF: In that regard, do you find or recommend CIOs bring their IT teams into the technology, procurement or assessment process before making those decisions?

AM: Absolutely. In my book, The Innovative CIO, I quoted Henry Ford, though it’s not clear that he really said it, but the saying was that if …

… he had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. If a CEO or an IT leader asks a team what they want, they might just say they want a faster horse. They want to do the job they’re currently doing but do it better and faster. And that’s perfectly legitimate. But by the same token, a transformational CIO needs to have a vision of their own. And he or she needs to be able to lead their people into change, even though those people didn’t necessarily see why that change was necessary.

CF: What about when that change involves eliminating any number of jobs in an IT organization. What’s the best approach to dealing with that?

AM: There are always going to be people who will not be able to come along with the change. And that’s one of the hardest jobs I think any leader has, is restructuring their organization. And in some cases, removing the people who can’t help them succeed. I believe there’s a huge value that, for lack of a better word, legacy or traditional IT people have, when you go through these changes. If you can bring them along, the long-term workers have deep, deep insight into your business, into the processes into the people and the politics of departments. They are incredibly valuable. That involves working with them, retraining, and in a lot of cases, showing them the benefit of these changes.

CF: From a technology acquisition perspective, what are some of the most difficult decisions CIOs have to make?

Mann: One of the biggest and most difficult decisions that I think transformational CIOs make is radical change. It’s relatively easy for small companies to pivot and fundamentally rewrite their rules of engagement, their corporate missions, their visions, what audience they’re going after or even the product they’re trying to sell. And yet, when we see traditional companies that failed to pivot, the impact is potentially even greater. The classic stories about Blockbuster and Kodak and companies that failed to pivot, they were afraid to radically reinvent even a part of their business. And so, I think one of the biggest challenges that they face is biting the bullet when they need radical innovation — when incremental innovation will not cut it.

CF: What roll can integrators and the partner community play in helping them go through that transition?

AM: Channel partners can be absolutely radical in guiding businesses through reinvention and innovation. A big part of that is …

… simply education. An IT leader especially tends to be literally in a glass room, in the data center. They don’t go out to conferences necessarily all the time; because they’re very busy people, they don’t get a chance to interact with peers, channel partners or vendors, but generally channel partners who have a unique relationship with the CIO. Partners have permission to introduce new ideas, even if it’s not necessarily an immediate need, or solving an immediate problem, to be able to sit down and have a conversation with a CIO about new technologies and discuss other companies that they working with, and how they have helped solve similar problems.

CF: How are partners supposed to navigate the influence of the lines of business, which are also sometimes working around the CIO? Or those who aren’t necessarily working around, but working with different agendas, or who basically feel that they can get things done faster by going rogue?

AM: So this is an interesting topic with a couple of angles. I’d say, at least initially, that rogue IT or shadow IT is something which I see as very problematic in organizations where the CIO reports up to say, the CFO or the COO. But certainly, once you have a relationship with the executive team, and you start to listen to their priorities, you’re in a better position. And shadow IT comes about typically for one of two reasons. One is that the IT leadership, or the technology leadership, is not communicating to the business what they’re doing, what their constraints are and why they are not doing certain things. For example, the IT team at some point was going to be cloud-enabling business but it was a nightmare for IT because of security and compliance and purchasing and vendor management, and maybe a bunch of other things that the business didn’t even realize their IT that leaders were doing for them. So partially, it’s about the IT leaders not communicating what their constraints are. Also, part of it is the business leaders are not communicating what their needs are to IT. So a big part of working with the business units is literally working directly with the leaders in those teams working with the head of sales, the CMO, the CFO. And in that respect, channel partners and others, providing education is incredibly valuable.

CF: The session description says you’ll be talking about some key technologies and approaches. What are some of the key technologies you’ll be discussing?

AM: Some of the technologies that I look at are really transformative, and are sort of top of mind for this transformational CIO. Cybersecurity is No. 1, depending on which day of the week it is. And in that I included a bunch of other things such as privacy, compliance, data governance and those sorts of things. And then there’s cloud computing. And when I talk about cloud computing, I mean a lot of things. Yes, the platform of cloud – so infrastructure as a service — but also the acquisition of business model. But today, increasingly, CIOs are assigned to think in terms of composable infrastructures and ephemeral systems. So cloud, containers and orchestration fit into this as well. We start at that edge cloud as well, mobile devices and sensors and IoT, connected to the cloud — super high priority. And I think No. 2 is automation and orchestration, as [they] fit in with the previous two as well. Being able to deliver software and business projects faster, and in a repeatable way, with higher visibility and higher reliability — that’s what automation orchestration does.

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About the Author(s)

Jeffrey Schwartz

Jeffrey Schwartz has covered the IT industry for nearly three decades, most recently as editor-in-chief of Redmond magazine and executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner. Prior to that, he held various editing and writing roles at CommunicationsWeek, InternetWeek and VARBusiness (now CRN) magazines, among other publications.

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