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A letter to the CIO of the future

Ralph Loura, CIO HP Enterprise Group, Global Sales Operations, HP Labs

March 2015

So you want to be a Chief Information Officer? Then “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride”. The job of CIO is considerably different today than it was just a few years ago; and with today’s rapidly shifting global business trends and emerging technologies, the CIO role is likely to continue evolving in the coming years. What skills and experiences will equip you for success as a CIO, and how will today’s opportunities shape your career?


IT as a Value Creator


If you’ve spent any time in an IT department, you know IT has historically been a service provider to the business. The CIO led this inwardly focused cost center, and was tasked with optimizing spend and gaining efficiencies through offshoring, process optimization, and resource consolidation. Important and difficult work, with results achieved through strong architectural and process discipline and through tight financial and operational governance. Good organizations had a reputation for military precision and operational rigor; more challenged organizations had track records that were rife with transformation and operational projects with problems hitting budget, scope and value capture goals. Process control, discipline and standardization at the operational and technical core was the order of the day, and reinforced as the path to success at nearly every turn.


But with the rates of change accelerating in global business and technology, businesses now look to IT as a source of differentiation, and not in the usual area of efficiency and operations. Modern CIOs are tasked with embracing change, providing tools and strategies for competing with a new breed of competitors, and applying new sorts of technology to power differentiation in areas businesses have not traditionally considered technology-driven.


The Importance of a User-Centric Mindset


In delivering IT for the new style of business, every CIO must embrace a model that’s much more user-centric. A successful IT organization is no longer based on acquiring a rare or expensive asset and working out how best to monetize it. Instead, the thinking should start and end with “How can we ensure a remarkable experience for the user of our service?”, then work backward to design the infrastructure and application strategy required to make that experience a reality.

Uber is a great example of user-centricity. The company founders didn’t start by investing in a cab and medallion, then designing a business model to optimize for a return on that investment. They started with the user in mind: “This person needs to get from A to B in the most efficient fashion (for them) possible. How do we solve that problem?”


So embrace a user-centric mindset, and gain an intimate understanding of your customers’ and employees’ needs. I’m not recommending you abandon the process and operational control model in favor of unconstrained user-led behavior. Instead, you have to take what I call the “Jane Goodall” approach to IT: a more anthropological approach to understanding how your user community consumes compute. Learn to see what isn’t directly shown, listen for what isn’t said, and identify the need that isn’t clearly expressed. Ultimately, it’s the outcome that matters - solutions must be as well-crafted and operationally sound as before; but they’ll now be based on true user needs unbiased by preconceived limitations.


Those organizations that can make this pivot will gain traction and trust from the boardroom, who will begin looking at IT not as a cost center, but as an innovator prepared to harness emerging technologies in ways that drive business outcomes.


Emerging Technologies and Business Acumen


IT leaders have gone from project managers and budget managers to orchestrators of business strategy. In the past, static knowledge of a technology or set of technologies, and the ability to deliver traditional programs and projects, were sufficient skills for an effective IT leader.

Today the CIO and every role within IT has to continually to retool and reinvent itself. This sounds like a high order when faced with a huge legacy environment, but it doesn’t have to be an all-in, or all-at-once move. By being connected to company strategy the CIO can decide where to innovate first – achieving that user victory I mentioned earlier will attract more attention and investment.


Encourage your team to continually evolve their technological tool set, for example: from using traditional source code management tools to open source. This enables the deployment of more distributed cloud-based apps capable of rapidly evolving and scaling with your business through continuous integration and delivery. Advancements in virtualization are limiting the overhead required for meaningful development, allowing IT to deliver meaningful compute solutions addressing specific needs, even for small user groups, more rapidly than ever before.


What Success Looks Like


So you’re connected to your company leaders and delivering meaningful outcomes, your employees have cutting-edge skills, and your infrastructure is scalable and responsive to business changes. What does this mean on a day-to-day basis for your company and your team?


You’re more agile - able to respond to your customers, employees, vendors, and partners quickly and with meaningful results. You’re more efficient in delivering services and value to your marketplace, which drives growth and margin for your company. You’re also more efficient at gaining the productivity of your employee base and fully engaging them to continue driving growth and providing great services – and continuing to win with the new style of IT.


So hopefully you now have a ton of questions. Where am I going to best make a difference in my business? Is it speed to market or is it leveraging margin expansion through pricing alternatives? Is it capitalizing on big data or is it exploiting mobile to provide a different user experience? How do I get what I need, done well and done right and ultimately deliver a spectacular experience to the business? Listen to the following HP webcast to gain some insights: Perspectives: How to capitalize on the wave of IT change.


Connect with me via Twitter/ Twitter at @RalphLoura and LinkedIn/ Ralph Loura on LinkedIn

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Ralph -


I love how you articulated the shift from a "service provider to content creator" and ther user-centric mindset as a new imperatives for IT.


I had a few questions . . . maybe for future topics? 


When IT stops sweating the capital in favor of sweating the experience  - how does that change your metrics of success and what different KPIs should you focus on?


SImilarly - the need for speed seems critical but that has always been seen as a tradeoff with risk.  Is it possible for IT to move faster and acclerate value creation while at the same time INCREASE quality along the way?


I hope you'll explore (and answer) the other questions you raised at the end. 


Great stuff!!!!!!!

Great Article!

To listen on what is unsaid and what isn't clearly expressed are the things that the teams on the ground can use powerfully to develop systems/features that really helps the business users. To move from providing software for requirements, to provide solutions for a business problem is a cultural mindshift that needs to be inculcated.



Thanks!  I appreciate the enthusiasm and the feedback.


Relative to the shift, I expect to see multiple modes of operation co-existing (hopefully peacefully, but likely not always) in modern IT shops and companies over the next 5+ years.  Much in the same way that today we see client-server and cloud as new models that clearly create value; but there are still workloads requiring superdomes to deliver value via those models.  The trick, as you so clearly pointed out, is to realign governance and incentive structures so we encourage and monitor the right behaviors and outcomes in the right areas. 


I don’t have the answers just yet, but it is something that I’ve personally been working on for about three years and HPE IT will be factoring into our future state work.  I’m convinced that three key changes need to happen in harmony:


  1. Change from within – IT needs new models, modes of thinking and working, and in many cases new tools and architectures
  2. Change from the business – as opposed to the traditional customer/supplier relationship, we need to have a collaborator relationship with the key business partners to drive the sort of change required to get to this new style / mode
  3. Change from the ecosystem – I need to change how third parties are incented and perform in order for them to be part of the journey


As to risk, we’re looking at new models of risk vs. reward.  I brought a model with me that I developed a couple of years ago and in our approach we are merging that with Gartner’s Pace-layered framework.


Both questions above, great topics for follow up pieces.  Thanks!

Pete DeLisi

Ralph, I like your comments, but I'm not sure that you are saying anything that we haven't been saying to IT executives for at least the past two decades. As a HP shareholder, I'm not very happy about HP's success. As also a strategy consultant and academic, I believe that, similat to DEC, HP has lost its strategic identity. We no longer know what business HP is in or where it is going.


What does this have to do with the role of the CIO and to your comments? The future CIO would understand business strategy as well as, or better than, the senior executive team. He or she would truly be a peer with them. This CIO would understand that strategy is all about choices and that IT can't do its job successfully unless the corporation makes those difficult business choices.


Is this too much of a stretch for the CIO of the future? Maybe, but we keep talking about the CIO being strategic without understanding what this truly means.

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