Dispatches from MIT CIO Symposium

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Cambridge, MA -- Updates from the annual CIO Symposium at MIT. (This story will update throughout the day.)

8:30 a.m. -- The event convenes, sold out on a misty day on the MIT campus.

9:00 -- CEO panel from Zipcar, ValTech, Markley Group, OMG says economy is bottomed out, consumer spending is throttled, but companies investing in technology. Customer facing IT a priority. All are investing in cloud platforms. Mobile technology is a priority, among the panel some are using cloud, some not. 

Smartphones have "changed the [customer interaction] landscape very quickly." Zipcar CEO says customers don't want to interac on desktop or desk phone, majority of traffic now running on iPhone and Android. Valtech CEO says losing devices is like "leaving your plans on the battlefield" given the power of the device.

Panel moderator Gary Beach says hyperconnectivity can have a downside on productivity. One panelist says yes, basd on network traffic uptick coinciding with major sporting events.

Discussing the future of CIOs, suggestions for new meaning range from "Career is Over" to "Cloud Integration Officer" to upbeat "Chief Innovation Officer." All agree CIO needs a seat at the big table as information takes center stage continues to driver lower cost and customer satisfaction. Top information job will be more strategic, needs to be more business focused.

In the world of big data, how global should companies be? Zipcar CEO says his business is to replace car ownership, and the company must think at the local level about costs, customs, user behavior, so global data is not the answer.

Top skills for CIOs going forward, driving value to the business, understanding customer marketing platforms.

9:45 -- Academic Research Panel takes up mobile, distributed workforce, the way companies work. Panelists from MIT are Anant Agarwal, Eric Brynjolfsson, Joichi Ito.

Brynjolfsson says productivity increases against "dismal" employment growth, companies need to manage that equation.

Agarwal says the "ultimate untethering" is freeing people to use preferred devices anywhere on their own time. Ito adds, "Agility beats strategy every time." Printing presses are libilities, tethering to any asset is. Brynjolfsson says CIOs need to manage an architecture that supports that.

How do you release ideas and technologies without wasting time or hand wringing? You don't need to wait for traction to make a decision, Ito says. The original idea for Wikipedia would have been kicked out the door otherwise. Double down on the home runs.

How does an enterprise manage failure in a way VC does not? Ito says if you release something you're not initially embarrassed by, you are too late. Opportunity cost is greater today than the cost of experimentation.

Brynjolffson says agile is important not to let weak releases linger and fail. Companies need constant "pruning," a different culture than the "five year plan to come up with the one best plan" and cites Joseph Alois Shumpeter.

Agarwal says untetered is congruent with resilient as long as the organization is agile.  

Ito says there is a big difference between data driven and metrics driven and the latter can be limiting. That's why pattern recognition in big data is "what the data is trying to tell you," the theory comes out of that. Brynjolffson says data driven is not just"taking a vote from the customers" but other dimensions and patterns are more compelling. Agarwal says a consensus view is a low-pass filter and damaging to innovation that makes for slow-moving organizations.

Brynjolfsson on evolving APIs and disparate ways to access data and third parties like Facebook: Curation is art and science, not planting 1,000 flowers and waiting for them all to bloom, setting how things look and feel is the difference between hugely successful companies like Facebook, lesser success and failure.

"Superstar" economy, "lumpy" investment results is new environment. Policy makers are not taking the effect seriously Brynjolfsson says. Agarwal says mom and pop shops could create tutorial spots like tea shops and create new economies. Ito says future of science and technology needs to create things that don't negatively impact the system. "Nature is not fair but it's balanced in a way," (i.e. opportunism is not necessarily so).

11:15 -- CIO Keynote Panel, Christian Anscheutz, CIO Underwriters Labs, Bill Krivoshik, CIO, Time Warner, Frank Modruson, CIO, Accenture, Tom Sanzone, SVP, Booz Allen Hamilton, Steven John, Strategic CIO, Workday. There is predictably some qualification and disagreement with the freedom and experimentation themes of the preceding academic panel. Underwriters Labs CIO says the approach is nice but "aspirational." Time Warner CIO says it was "a bit academic" based on scales of existing investments and commitments.

Accenture CIO takes a different approach, says look at project, find ROI and you will get funding if your project is better than what is being used in the enterprise. Old technology holds us back, he says. But, he adds, "building a highway takes a plan, not just a couple of bulldozers going down the road ... It comes down to what's appropriate for the circumstance."

One CIO suggests unwinding investments that are not competitive advantage, but adds that huge investments in technology are not necessarily a disadvantage. "Run IT as if it was a separate organization ... ask if I am delivering this product or service in a competitive way."

"We're moving into an era of big bets," says Anscheutz, and that calls for a high level discussion to raise the thinking from tactical to strategic. Why haven't companies approached cloud-based ERP? One reason is migration from embedded mature investment does not make sense, Booz Allen CIO says. If you have a "burning platform," Time Warner CIO says, it's a different equation. Inertia is not just about technology, Anscheutz says, it's about memories of past experiences and how hard it was to build and integrate systems core systems, a new headache with every new technology cycle.

Accenture CIO says "all our technology has to be stitched together on all our devices," roughly 70 percent of which are employee purchased. Choice is theirs, "generally works very effectively," it is the employee's responsibility to support. Otherwise they can sign up for a corporate device. He adds, a lot of their people have two computers on their desk, "One is the device we gave them, the other is the one they work on."

Booz Allen CFO says external comparisons to competitors of IT efficiency are better measures and easier to communicate to board etc. than internal IT measures.

A lot of freedom to customize has led to failure, Workday CIO says. "Cloud demands more order."

The CIOs spend a good bit of time on value and importancde of telepresence for internal and external communication. Part of the discussion is about bandwidth management, other parts on the importance of video presence, body language etc. Accenture CIO gets a lot of nods when discussing a bandwidth problem, the solution to which was cutting video resolution from 1080p to 720p, thus halving his requirement. "Nobody noticed," he said, the point being that reviewing requirements and usage can be its own solution to a problem.

1:45 -- Enterprise Mobility panel summons Cognizant SVP Ashish Mahadwar, FCC CIO Robert Naylor, Eric Scace, CSO, WWPass, Todd Schofield, head of enterprise mobility at Standard Chartered Bank. First question from moderator Susan Nunziata was about typical mistakes with mobility deployments.

Cognizant SVP says everyone is in a race to build apps and get them out the door but few are considering an enterprise strategy and what makes big picture sense. Also, there is not enough attention to usability, which is at the root of mobile utility.

FCC CIO Naylor says bureaucracy is a challenge and security strategy can be mistaken. He says the FCC and other agencies need to spend carefully and make sure there is not waste. Thus, tablets and smartphones of any kind can have good security, but it is not dependent on ownership.

"We do a crappy job of explaining how people should be using these devices," Scace says. Alos, we rely too much on the reliability of network providers and that apps will be fully useful at all times.

IT can be unduly restrictive with feature functionality of mobility, turning smart devices back into email clients, says Schofield. Also, mobility needs to address fitness for purpose (e.g., not high speed transaction streaming).

Schofield says mobility get support from the top f the org, which is looking for greatest gains. Thes are often not about porting a desktop, portable devices have more capabilities like location etc.

Naylor says end users are going to be using personal devices whether the organization likes it or forbids it, needs to define rights and work with the community to give a path to productivity, ROI. "They're going to do it any way, do you want to invest in it or deal with it later when it's a problem."

Scace says users are now building firewalls between public and private lives and want more privacy for themselves. Also doesn't see keyboards going away. I see lots of people around the auditorium with devices on their laps and none are talking into them.

Cognizant SVP says voice recognition a useful case for multitasking like driving a vehicle, or healthcare transciption, smart meters versus data entry, smart phones that can sense temperature and other body functions.

Final thoughts from panelists: Schofield says IT needs to take a position that is not default no. Scace says outsource the hard stuff. Naylor says remember you still have control and even a new layer of security with mobile devices. Mahadwar says make mobility a business priority, not an IT priority.

#MITCIOSymposium Prof. Anant Agarwal @MITCSAIL Untethered is congruent with resilient if the organization is agile http://bit.ly/JlJLUn

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