On Leading Digital

I recently finished reading Leading Digital – Turning Technology Into Business Transformation – by George Westerman, Didier Bonnet, and Andrew McAfee. This book was graciously offered to me by Capgemini during the recent CIO Perspectives event in Houston. As the title and introduction summarize the core of this book is: “Our most fundamental conclusion is that Digital Masters— companies that use digital technologies to drive significantly higher levels of profit, productivity, and performance—do exist, but they’re rare. For reasons that we’ll explain here, most firms fall short of digital mastery. That’s the bad news, and it’s why we believe you’re probably not ready to survive and thrive in the second machine age.  Here’s the good news: the reasons that companies fall short of digital mastery aren’t mysterious or too numerous to list. In fact, the reasons are pretty easy to categorize. Companies that struggle with becoming truly digital fail to develop digital capabilities to work differently and the leadership capabilities required to set a vision and execute on it. The firms that excel at both digital and leadership capabilities are Digital Masters.”

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

Digital Masters excel in two critical dimensions: the what of technology (which we call digital capabilities) and the how of leading change (which we call leadership capabilities). These are two very distinct dimensions of digital mastery, and each plays its own role. What you invest in matters, to a point. How you use those investments to transform your company is a key to success. Neither dimension is enough on its own. Each is associated with different types of financial performance, and each provides only partial advantage. Taken together, they combine to give Digital Masters a clear advantage over their competitors.

On Creating a Compellinq Customer Experience:

Put customer experience at the heart of your digital transformation.  Design your customer experience from the outside in. Increase reach and customer engagement, where it matters, through new digital channels. Make data and analytics the lifeblood of your customer experience reinvention. Seamlessly mesh your digital and physical experience in new ways. Keep on innovating—it’s never over. Every digital improvement in customer experience will open up new possibilities.

On Exploiting the Power of Core Operations:

Free yourself from old assumptions of the predigital age. Look for bottlenecks and inefficiencies in your processes, and consider whether new digital technologies can help you rethink your operations. Consider how each of the six levers may help you improve operations. If you can’t address both sides of a paradox at once, start with standardization or control. This may open up possibilities to address other levers. Consider examples from inside and outside your industry. As with customer experience, a strong digital platform is essential for operational transformation.

On Reinventing Business Models:

Constantly challenge your business model with your top team. Monitor the symptoms that drive business model change in your industry—for example, commoditization, new entrants, and technology substitution. Consider how you might transform your industry before others do it. Consider whether it is time to replace products and services with newer versions if your present offerings are under digital threats. Consider creating brand-new digital businesses using your core skills and assets. Consider reconfiguring your delivery model by connecting your products, services, and data in innovative ways to create extra value. Consider reinforcing your presence in your current market by rethinking your value proposition to meet new needs. Experiment and iterate your new business model ideas.

On Crafting Your Digital Vision:

Familiarize yourself with new digital practices that can be an opportunity or a threat to your industry and company. Identify bottlenecks or headaches—in your company and in your customers—that resulted from the limits of old technologies, and consider how you might resolve these problems digitally. Consider which of your strategic assets will remain valuable in the digital era.

On Engaging the Organization at Scale:

Lead the engagement effort to energize your employees to make the digital vision a reality. Use digital technology to engage employees at scale. Connect the organization to give a voice to your employees. Open up the conversations to give everyone a role in digital transformation. Crowdsource your employees to co-create solutions, and accelerate buy-in. Deal with the digital divide by raising the digital IQ of the company. Deal with resistance by being transparent and open about the goals.

On Governing the Transformation:

Look internally (e.g., IT, finance, HR, and capital budgeting) for effective governance practices. Consider which digital decisions must be governed at the highest levels of the company, and which can be delegated to lower levels. Place somebody in charge of leading digital transformation, whether that is a chief digital officer or another leader. Identify governance mechanisms, such as committees and liaisons, to assist in governance. Examine whether you need a shared digital unit, including the resources it would have and the roles it would play. Adjust your governance models as your company’s governance needs change.

On Building Technology Leadership Capabilities:

Assess the state of your IT-business relationships: consider trust, shared understanding, and seamless partnership. Assess your IT unit’s ability to meet the skill and speed requirements of the digital economy. Consider dual-speed IT approaches such as a unit within a unit or a separate digital unit that combines IT, business, and other roles. Focus your initial investments on getting a clean, well-structured digital platform; it’s the foundation for everything else. start building the right digital skills. Challenge yourself continually to find new things you can do with your IT-business relationships, digital skills, and digital platform.

In conclusion:

Our research has shown that Digital Masters enjoy superior performance, which should be reason enough to get leadership teams interested in the concepts presented in this book. But there’s also another, even more fundamental, reason: when it comes to the impact of digital technologies on the business world, we ain’t seen nothin yet. The innovations we’ve discussed in previous chapters, including social networks, mobile devices, analytics, smart sensors, and cloud computing, are certainly powerful and profound. They’re reshaping customer experiences, operations, and business models. The pace and impact of these innovations have been nothing short of astonishing, but they’re just a prelude for what’s to come. Technology’s role as the endless agitator of the business world will not only continue, but will accelerate—exponentially.

A recommended read in the IT strategy space.

On Confessions Of A Successful CIO

This week, I have the pleasure to review Confessions Of A Successful CIO – How the Best CIOs Tackle Their Toughest Business Challenges, the latest work by my colleagues Dan Roberts and Brian P. Watson. Dan first told me about this book on an earlier call in March, and since then I was intrigued and looking forward to reading it and hearing about the stories to be shared within it.

This book retells the stories of nine exceptional CIOs as they navigated their organizations through business transformations. While the story of each CIO varied, five common themes did emerge:

Bet the farm. These leaders are not afraid to take on the big risks. They’re not afraid to pitch the big ideas, because they know they can speak the language and justify the investment.

Answer the call. These leaders stepped up when they were called to action—oftentimes to help save their companies’ futures. This requires a confidence in their abilities, and in their own experiences, that not every leader has.

People come first. These leaders understand the value their people bring to their organization. They don’t treat them like a number or an interchangeable part.

Decisiveness makes all the difference. Despite their human side, these leaders understand that they need to make tough decisions that affect not only their people but also their company’s health.

Results matter. These leaders don’t do pie-in-the-sky research and development or implement the latest bright, shiny objects without knowing the business case and the long-term business value. They’re more focused on enabling and improving the business and on driving the all-important metrics that do that.

Here are some key lessons that I wanted to share from the CIO passages:


On turning bad situations into opportunities:

He turned a bad situation into a positive one, and now he drills that ethic into the heads of everyone in his GBS organization. “It’s more than fixing the issue. It’s not about playing an even game. If you are 1-0, to use soccer language, it’s not only about how to get to 1-1, but how can you win the game?” Passerini said. “When we have an issue, we always think not just how to fix it, but how to turn a negative perception of a system problem or change management into a success story. This is another element, from a cultural standpoint, that is so critical.”

On transparency:

“Tough love is important. I learned it’s so crucial to give people full transparency about what is happening,” Passerini said. “There is always a dilemma about how much you tell employees when you have a new idea, early on, because it may generate more questions and concerns than benefits. We have come to the conclusion that we share everything immediately … things may not always materialize, but we want our people to know that if it doesn’t work, we will change again and do something different.”

Three inquisitive questions to ask before undertaking a major initiative:

Passerini—adapting guidelines Lafley established for P&G executives in his “playing to win” philosophy—asks three major questions of his team before undertaking a major initiative. The first is, what right does the organization have to win?…The second is, what needs to happen for the initiative to generate that business value?…The third is the most important: What can go wrong?

On the importance of humility:

To Passerini, relevance needs to come with a certain degree of humility. He emphasizes to his team to not act like know-it-all, but to also have the confidence to accept more responsibility and the self-assurance to propose innovative ideas to the business.


On the importance of alignment:

“We started with the commitment around company-wide common processes,” Rhoads said. “Rather than going out into the company as an IT function and selling it as the IT solution, we were all aligned from a business perspective first. That allowed the IT organization to partner with every function and every aspect—all of which were also going through transformation.” All of this was taking place with the very active sponsorship of CEO Swanson, she explained. The vision was to build a business model that was not only immediately rewarding but also enduring. The vision was to take the long view.

On the importance of embracing a shared vision:

“You need to have a team that shares your vision. But then the team has to make your vision theirs’ Rhoads said. “And when they make your vision their vision, now you’re off and running. If that’s not happening, then the change isn’t happening.” Still, when Rhoads was asked if the change management or culture clash was akin to a wall, she paused—but what she said next neatly embodies her leadership style and her way of viewing challenges. “I’m not sure it always looked like a wall,” she said. “Maybe that’s it—I just don’t see it that way, so I don’t approach it that way.”

On the importance of maintaining self-confidence during the journey:

The people who put you in that job had all the confidence in the world in you. They’re asking you to take on a lot,” Rhoads said. “Maybe they’re stretching you in the role, but they’re not losing confidence, and you just have to recognize that it’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be messy—the stuff in the foxhole is not what you expected. But the last thing you need to do is start to get weak-kneed and lose confidence in your ability.”


On the struggle against mediocrity and the fight for mastery:

And he reasserts his intolerance for mediocrity every chance he gets. Every day he tells his team they need to be better than their competitors. If they stack themselves up against the competition—in everything from quoting cycle times to receivables to capital returns—and see that they’re lacking, as Bandrowczak says, a change opportunity presents itself. And if they can master those areas and beat the other industry players, his team gets better by default.

On the delivery trifecta:

Bandrowczak also takes issue with CIOs and business leaders griping about the difficulties in prioritizing key projects. For him, it comes back to a few simple elements: the right portfolio, the right staff, and the right resources. If you don’t have those things—or can’t figure out how to understand them or access them—you’re in trouble.


On strategies for combating team fatigue during multi-year initiatives:

After tackling the fear and uncertainty existing in the legacy team. Tennison also had to watch another potential issue: fatigue. Every veteran IT professional knows the stress and exhaustion that comes with working on multiyear, multiphase projects. You’ll see progress, but after a while, it just feels like running on a treadmill. So Tennison focused on two remedies. The first was a time-tested management tactic. He rotated people—including his direct reports— in and out of different positions, both inside the IT organization and out. “We gave them some new air to breathe,” he said. The second went to his core strategy for Net Control—and one that many CIOs play very differently. Tennison kept the team focused on the discrete deliverables they mapped for the fill project, not on one big-bang initiative.


On the importance of learning from failure:

Right after the sales project went south, Shurts began taking stock of what went wrong. And that was one of the first and most important lessons he learned. Instead of focusing on what’s right in your plan, Shurts said, you have to be “relentless” in determining what’s wrong, and what might not work. Things will go wrong on any project—the key is to pay close attention to detail and understand that the plan you put on paper will likely be different than what’s really going to work in the field.

On the constant need for validating commercial sponsorship of projects:

Superfusion had devolved into just an IT project—not a business transformation initiative. There were chronic delays with no end in sight. Few thought it would work…In his second week as CIO, Shurts went around the room, asking the company’s senior leaders why they were still doing Superfusion. No one could give him a credible answer. In his sixth week, he pulled the plug.

On the dangers of aiming for perfection:

“Rather than designing for the rule and accommodating the exception, they were designing everything to be perfect, perfect. perfect,” he said. “So we came out and said, ‘Something better today— especially at Supervalu—was worth far more than something perfect a year from now.'”


Guidance on outsourcing:

“The right way to do it is first, strategy, then financial analysis, and then pick your partner. If you do that, I think things will work fine,” Imholz said. “I’m not all-in one way or the other—I’m not all-in saying everything should be inside, or that you should outsource the majority of it.” Regardless, companies will continue to face challenges. And they’ll make mistakes. One of the biggest mistakes Imholz sees companies make is “to try to outsource a problem”—in other words, farming out an under-performing element of the IT operation. “That’s the wrong way to go about it,” he said. “If you can’t manage something reasonably well, then you’re not going to do terribly well outsourcing it, because management responsibility doesn’t go away.” If you’re going to outsource a problem, Imholz said, fix it first.


On the need for innovation to be executed to deliver true value:

When he talks to budding CIOs, he gets a lot of questions about innovation. His take: innovation for innovation’s sake doesn’t mean much if the operational discipline isn’t there. It’s all about executing.

On the role of IT as an enabler of The Business Strategy:

Schwartz is emphatic about his organization’s role as an enabler of the business. “IT doesn’t own the strategy—that falls to our business partners,” Schwartz said. “But if you’re an enabler, you can influence and guide and show what’s possible and be effective change agents.”


I will conclude this post with the brilliant reminder by Susan Cramm, from the forward of the book:

Leading with technology is, first and foremost, about leadership. While there is no one-size-fits-all road to success, great leaders, like the ones profiled within this book, are marked by a unique set of qualities: passion and drive to make a positive difference, the ability to engage others to chart the future and define the path, and the paradoxical ability to maintain optimism and perseverance through difficult circumstances. With courageous and disciplined leadership as the foundation, the other factor that distinguishes these leaders is a level of technology smarts that is only born from experience. Technology-smart leaders know how to identify fin the words of one of the CIOs profiled here) the “art of the possible” amid the complex assortment of desired outcomes, existing capabilities and complexities, and various resources—technical and organizational—that can be applied to the transformational journey.

A recommended read for any IT leader.


On Unleashing The Power Of IT

I just finished reading the book Unleashing The Power Of IT – Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together by my colleague Dan Roberts at Ouellette and Associates. Dan had generously and graciously offered me a copy of this book.

Below are key excerpts from the books that I found to be particularly insightful:

1) “But still, I firmly believe that IT organizations can be well positioned to compete as their companies’ value-added provider of choice—if and only //they’re ready to take a hard look at themselves and make some changes, both in regard to how they approach their work and the personal skill set they consider essential to tackling the demands of an ever-changing business environment. The bottom line is that the IT professional of the past won’t cut it in today’s corporate world.”

2) “Five Critical Success Factors That Enable IT Organizational Excellence…Leadership: Positively Influence and Inspire Others…Strategy: Establish the Right Game Plan for Your Organization…People: Hire and Professionally Develop Your Winning Team…Best Practices: Select and Customize Them to Fit Your Organization…Execution: Translate Your Strategy, Goals, and Initiatives into Specific Action Plans That Deliver Measurable Results.”

3) “In summary, leaders need to do the following in hiring and professional development: -Instill leadership competencies and behaviors. -Select people with the right skills and experiences that align with the position qualifications to execute the technology strategy. -Build leadership bench strength. -Embrace performance measurement and best practice methodologies that shape behaviors into desired results. -Learn how to select the right employees the first time. -Identify professional development programs that deliver sustainable results through phased-in learning, accountability mechanisms, and coaching. -Recognize that employee interpersonal competency and skill development is mandatory.”

4) “The Commitment Component of Change: ♦ Compliance vs. Commitment ♦ Changing Minds ♦ Understanding Resistance ♦ Emotional Cycles of Change…The Community Component of Change: ♦ Change Leadership ♦ Key Roles in the Change Process ♦ Transition Structures ♦ Network of Resources…The Clarity Component of Change ♦ Case for Change ♦ Urgency for Change ♦Capacity for Change ♦ Readiness Assessment ♦ Impact of Change…The Communication Component of Change: ♦ Mission and Vision ♦ Rich, Detailed Pictures ♦ Levels and Outcomes ♦ Build Your Tool Kit ♦ Communication Plan”

5) “Whether or not your staff believes it, the best way to build client loyalty is not by proving IT’s technology prowess but by building a service strategy that enables internal IT to be seen as a top provider of service. In fact, a well-developed and well-communicated service strategy is critical in today’s IT organizations. Clients demand service to be immediate and proactive, and if they don’t get it internally, they’ll find it elsewhere, by hiring either their own staff or external vendors. Indeed, good service is no longer just something that’s nice to have; it’s the make-or-break factor that determines whether clients choose internal IT or someone else to deliver the solutions they need.”

6) “IT leaders need to help all members of the IT staff develop a new mind-set 50 foster the transition of their organizations into a service-oriented culture. Here are three skills I teach in my workshops to evolve the participants’ mind-set toward a service-oriented culture. Developing a “We” Mentality…Learning to Love Complaints…1. Thank the client for making the complaint…2. Gather more information…3. Apologize for the circumstances…4. Ask how you can help…Making Every Interaction Count.”

7) “If you map out all the moments of truth that clients experience with the IT organization and assess what their experience is like through those interactions, you’ll have a good idea of your organization’s level of service and where it needs to improve. This can range from voice tone and body language to a grander scale, like revamping all your forms or streamlining your web site interface.”

8) “The big secret to managing expectations is the ability to understand what the client’s expectation is in the first place. That might sound really obvious, but IT organizations are often afraid to ask this question because they are concerned they won’t meet it. However, it’s impossible to meet an expectation that’s unknown. After understanding the client’s expectations, the next step is to stop focusing on what you can’t do and gear your mind to what you can do…There seems to be an awkwardness (almost an embarrassment) when IT manages expectations. However, I like to remind people I work with that clients are very used to this behavior from external vendors.”

9) “Here are the general characteristics that clients expect to see in a consultant: ■ Confidence in his or her own capabilities without arrogance ■ Enthusiasm and complete engagement during the project ■ Accessibility and responsiveness ■Knowledge about the client’s line of business and a willingness to learn more ■ Dedication to the client’s best interests”

10) “The more empathetic you are, the more you demonstrate to the client that you understand his or her reality. That creates the confidence that you’ll be able to work through future issues constructively…But being an effective consultant isn’t about the right answer. If other’s can’t hear what you have to say because of how you deliver the message. you have lost your ability to influence. Delivery is everything. If I have an important point to make, the other person is much more likely to hear me if I have been equally interested in his or her perspective. How I demonstrate that respect is empathy. In most conversations, that can be a simple paraphrase or acknowledgment of the other person’s idea first, before I add my two cents.”

11) “It’s my belief that to succeed in the IT profession today, all of IT—including IT leaders and the people who report to them—must get past their aversion to negotiating and learn how to manage the conflict that’s an inevitable part of their everyday lives. The good news is that good negotiators aren’t born; they’re taught. In fact, for a long time, I’ve strongly believed that IT professionals could do a better job negotiating if they learned about interest negotiations rather than better job negotiating if they learned about interest negotiations rather than using position negotiations.”

12) “Positions limit negotiations because there’s not a lot to negotiate over, and they create linear situations, with the participants starting at extreme endpoints and then moving along the continuum to some point at which both agree to agree…By talking about interests, the scope of potential negotiating possibilities increases dramatically. The two of them now can generate a list of options based on the different interests they have just stated…That’s because interests define each party’s real needs, wants, or concern. Interests are broader than and can be very different from stated positions. When you understand your own interests as well as those of the other party, you can spend your time developing possible options, not fighting over small concessions about one item.”

13) “Becoming politically savvy doesn’t come naturally. IT leaders need to develop skills—both personally and among their staffs—that will increase political awareness and make the IT organization successful at navigating through politically churned-up waters. Here are some of the key skills required. Creativity…Interpersonal…Effectiveness…Communication…Focus…Interests…Flexibility…Trust …Support…Conflict Management.”

14) “I purposely use the word lead rather than manage or control. Leadership extends both the client’s and the project manager’s sphere of influence beyond the mere administration of a project. Leadership by the client enables the project’s objective. It raises the stakes, legitimizes the need, and changes the effort from a game to a cause. One of the most powerful motivators for IT professionals is the opportunity to make a real difference in the business. It’s truly regrettable that so few business clients take advantage of this powerful secret to project success. Leadership by the project manager emboldens the actions of the team. Project teams thrive on being allowed (or empowered) to be creative, to experience the excitement of discovery, to enjoy a sense of real accomplishment, and to have fun while doing great things. A good project manager can lead a project team to places it could never be driven to…One final point about motivation: It is not something a project manager does to the team members. Rather, it’s something the team members do for themselves. Motivation is a door that is locked from the inside. The best a project manager can do is create a climate that enables and encourages good work. The vast majority of IT professionals I’ve met in my career want to do a good job. It’s truly unfortunate that too many of them are forced into situations that discourage, inhibit, and occasionally even penalize their best efforts. The key is to manipulate the environment, not the people.”

15) “You’ll know you have a high-performance, gelled team when you see the following characteristics: A shared elevating vision or goal A strong sense of team identity ■ Mutual trust ■ The interdependence of team members ■ Open and effective communication ■ A sense of autonomy ■ Low turrnover ■ Joint ownership of the product ■ A high level of obvious enjoyment”

16) “There are three primary reasons that companies look outside the internal IT organization for technology services: cost control, the desire to focus on core competencies, and supply-demand fluctuation. Very often, however, when I ask clients why they’re outsourcing, they don’t know what the goals are. And even when they do know, they’re not using metrics that tell them whether they’re meeting those goals. The vast majority of people I encounter say they’re outsourcing to control costs, yet only about half use cost as a metric. So it’s important to understand why you’re outsourcing, in the context of the corporate strategy.”

17) “The formulation of the IT organization’s image as the service provider of choice k one of the most important factors for a successful IT cultural transformation…For all these reasons, IT needs to market internally; to increase its credibility, build partnerships, and turn around any negative perceptions. This marketing is not about hype and empty promises; it’s about creating an awareness of IT’s value. It’s about changing client perceptions by presenting a clear, consistent message about the value of IT. After all, if you don’t market yourself, someone else will, and you might not like the image you end up with…So the first step is marketing to the IT organization that marketing is a good thing. This can be done in a number of ways, but the most effective is to let your IT staff know how important this is to your success and help the staff feel accountable for marketing. To elicit positive marketing behaviors from the entire IT team, IT leaders need to tie the marketing mind-set to measurements that provide incentive and reward.”

18) “How do you know when you’ve succeeded with your marketing efforts? What are the indicators of a good marketing plan? The first is to define up front what will determine success rather than waiting until the end. You need to know before you begin what you want to happen as a result of your efforts. Other indicators are the following: Your clients are requesting that IT be more involved in their business such as inviting you to business planning and strategy meetings or having you review and influence their technology decisions. ■ Your budget requests are being met without your having to constantly justify your existence and contributions. ■ Your current clients are referring others to you, or you can imagine your clients saying, “Hey, IT really helped us out,” rather than “Oh, those IT people!” ■ Requests for your assistance are becoming more focused and more in line with the products and services you actually provide. ■ You are getting unsolicited positive feedback, both formal and informal, from your clients and senior management. ■ Morale in the IT department is high. ■ IT is being included in merger and acquisition negotiations and due diligence. ■ IT is being included in meetings and sales processes with big C-level clients.”

19) “”Trust,” Davis proclaimed, “is something you receive for meeting or exceeding client expectations while being empathetic and understanding to institutional, departmental, and individual desires.””

20) “The 12 Core Competencies: 1) Influencing Others 2) Enabling Change 3) Leadership 4) Strategic Focus 5) Communication 6) Collaboration 7) Organizational Understanding 8) Problem Solving 9) Business Acumen 10) Project Management 11) Technical Understanding 12) Client Orientation ”


Omar Halabieh

On The Master Switch

I recently finished reading The Master Switch – The Rise and Fall of Information Empires – by Tim Wu.

The main premise of the book, as stated by the author: “To understand the forces threatening the Internet as we know it, we must understand how information technologies give rise to industries, and industries to empires. In other words, we must understand the nature of the Cycle, its dynamics, what makes it go, and what can arrest it. As with any economic theory, there are no laboratories but past experience…The pattern is distinctive. Every few decades, a new communications technology appears, bright with promise and possibility. It inspires a generation to dream of a better society, new forms of expression, alternative types of journalism. Yet each new technology eventually reveals its flaws, kinks, and limitations. For consumers, the technical novelty can wear thin, giving way to various kinds of dissatisfaction with the quality of content (which may tend toward the chaotic and the vulgar) and the reliability or security of service. From industry’s perspective, the invention may inspire other dissatisfactions: a threat to the revenues of existing information channels that the new technology makes less essential, if not obsolete; a difficulty commoditizing (i.e., making a salable product out of) the technology’s potential; or too much variation in standards or protocols of use to allow one to market a high quality product that will answer the consumers’ dissatisfactions. “

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “In fact, the place we find ourselves now is a place we have been before, albeit in different guise. And so understanding how the fate of the technologies of the twentieth century developed is important in making the twenty-first century better.”

2- “Schumpeter’s cycle of industrial life and death is an inspiration for this book. His thesis is that in the natural course of things, the new only rarely supplements the old; it usually destroys it. The old, however, doesn’t, as it were, simply give up but rather tries to forestall death or co-opt its usurper—a la Kronos—with important implications.”

3- “We have seen how important outsiders are to industrial innovation: they alone have the will or interest to challenge the dominant industry. And we have seen the power of considerations beyond wealth or security—factors outside the motivations of the ideal rational economic actor—in inspiring action to transform an industry.”

4- “Here, then, we come to the second weakness that afflicts centralized systems of innovation: the necessity, by definition, of placing all control in a few hands. This is not to say that doing so holds no benefit. To be sure, there is less “waste”: instead of ten companies competing to develop a better telephone—reinventing the wheel, as it were, every time—society’s resources can be synchronized in their pursuit of the common goal. There is no duplication of research, with many laboratories chasing the same invention. Yet if all resources for solving any problem are directed by a single, centralized intelligence. that mastermind has to be right in predicting the future if innovation is to proceed effectively. And that’s the problem: monopoly presumes a prescience that humans are seldom capable of. “

5- “For the combined forces of a dominant industry and the federal government can arrest the Cycle’s otherwise inexorable progress, intimating for the prevailing order something like Kronos’s fantasy of perpetual rule.”

6- “Whether sanctioned by the state or not, monopolies represent a special kind of industrial concentration, with special consequences flowing from their dissolution. Often the useful results are delayed and unpredictable, while the negative outcomes are immediate and obvious.”

7- “But what prevented monopoly and all centralized systems from realizing these efficiencies, in Hayek’s view, was a fundamental failure to appreciate human limitations. With perfect information, a central planner could effect the best of all possible arrangements, but no such planner could ever hope to have all the relevant facts of local, regional, and national conditions to arrive at an adequately informed, or right, decision.”

8- “As an object lesson in the way information networks can develop, it gives us occasion to consider what we truly want from our news and entertainment, as opposed to what sort of content we might be prepared to sustain, however passively, with our fleeting attention. For cable offered choices really only in the commercial range—(-enough, however, to suggest what a truly open medium could deliver to the nation, for better and for worse.”

9- “With its hefty capitalization, it offers the information industries financial stability, and potentially a great freedom to explore risky projects. Yet despite that promise, the conglomerate can as easily become a hidebound, stifling master, obsessed with maximizing the revenue potential and flow of its intellectual property. At its worst, such an organization can carry the logic of mass cultural production to any extreme of banality as long as it seems financially feasible.”

10- “For the information industries that now account for an ever increasing share of American and world GDP, the coming decade will be given over to a mighty effort to seize territory, to bolt the competition from its habitat. But this is not a case of one pack of wolves chasing another out of a prime valley. While it may sound fanciful, the contest in question is more like one of polar bears batting lions for domination of the world. Each animal, insuperably dominant in its natural element—the polar bear on ice and snow, the lion on the open plains—will undertake a land grab where it has no natural business being. The only practicable strategy will be a campaign of climate change, the polar bears seeking to cover as much of the world with snow as they can, while the lion tries to coax a savannah from the edges of a tundra. Sounds absurd, but for these mighty predators, it’s simply the law of nature.”

11- “The democratization of technological power has made the shape of the future hard to know, even for the best informed. The individual holds more power than at any time in the past century, and literally in the palm of his hand. Whether or not he can hold on to it is another matter.”

12- “The American political system is designed to prevent abuses of pubic power. But where it has proved less vigilant is in those areas where the political meets the economic realm, where private economic power comes to bear on public life…We like to believe that our safeguards against concentrated political power will ultimately protect us from the consequences of accumulated economic power. But this hasn’t always been so.”

13- “For history shows that in seeking to prevent the exercise of abusive power in the information industries, government is among those actors whose power must be restrained. Government may function as a check on abusive power, but government itself is a power that must be checked. What I propose is not a regulatory approach but rather a constitutional approach to the information economy. By that I mean a regime whose goal is to constrain and divide all power that derives from the control of information.”

14- “Let us. then, not fail to protect ourselves from the will of those who might seek domination of those resources we cannot do without. If we do not take this moment to secure our sovereignty over the choices that our information age has allowed us to enjoy, we cannot reasonably blame its loss on those who are free to enrich themselves by taking it from us in a manner history has foretold.”


Omar Halabieh

The Master Switch

On Blind Spot

I recently finished reading Blind Spot – A Leader’s Guide To IT-Enabled Business Transformation by Charlie Feld.

Charlie defines the title as: ” A blind spot can be described as a subject that is obscure or unintelligible to otherwise sharp and intelligent people.  Information technology (IT), unfortunately is that kind of subject to many business leaders. I say “unfortunately” because IT can either enable or disable an enterprise to sustain vibrancy and success in the 21st century. ” He then goes on to introduce the main premise of the book: ” This book describes a framework that I have developed and improved over the last 30 years with a variety of organizations, including Frito-Lay, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Delta Air Lines, Home Depot, and Southwest Airlines. This framework consists of four planks that form a platform for change and five phases that pace the execution over several years. Together they create a journey. The beauty of this framework is that it demystifies technology to the non-experts among us, is simple, and—like most principle-based approaches—is durable through the eras and across industries.”

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “My belief is that information technology should not be viewed as a complex functional area. It is an integrating discipline that enables the other functions to operate as a seamless, well-run business.”

2- “The impetus to start making big changes in the midst of turbulent times like these may seem counterintuitive. However, right now you have what may constitute a once-in-a-lifetime license to make dramatic change. The economic downturn has created a global referendum for change, and you hold the keys to change in your organization.”

3- “I realized then that the HOW alone will never drive change in an organization. The WHY and the WHAT must also be powerful and compelling.”

4- “The WHY change (WHY do anything?). This plank gives the platform durability. It more than anything else will enable the organization to mobilize, make investments, set priorities,take risks, and sustain the effort throughout the transformation. It is the business imperative that must be articulated by the executive team, or there is no point in launching a major transformation. Crafting the WHY is the responsibility of the executive leadership team (including the CIO).”

5- “Successful modern enterprises have created a new competitive model that deals with the “and” versus the “either/or.” These enterprises are simultaneously centralized for leverage. operational excellence, and global consistency—and decentralized for insightful decision-making, innovation, and speed.”

6- “It may seem counterintuitive, but the more standardized your systems and processes are, the more flexible you can be.”

7- “Many IT investments fail or fall short because they are positioned as IT projects, when in reality they are business-change initiatives that require IT enablement. This is particularly true when you are defining the WHY change and WHAT your business architecture should be.”

8- “Plan big and implement in small chunks. That, when combined, will dramatically change the customer experience and productivity end to end. Watch for this pattern because it is the best formula for sustainable success, absorption. and affordability.”

9- “The HOW to change (HOW will we do it?). This is the pathway Tom your current model to your future model, and it is where the heavy lifting comes in for both the business and the IT organization. To be successful, the following three principles within the HOW (discussed in detail in this chapter) must be adhered to; HOW Principle I: Define and design a business, application, and technology blueprint and architecture before you begin investment and construction. HOW Principle II: Enforce a “Common Way” for development and quality engineering. HOW Principle III: Be disciplined in your approach to program and project management.”

10- “It helps you understand what you are buying, your investment risk tolerance, the level of quality you consider to be good enough, the timeline and sequencing you require—how you will phase it, where you will start, and more. You just cannot simply leave it to the electricians and the plumbers to make these decisions for you.”

11- “The most successful answer from top-performing IT organizations is to build a culture of delivery. In a delivery culture, hands-on managers lead their teams. Project administrators. human resource generalists, and financial analysts support the teams during the lifecycle of a project. They do not control the agenda, nor are they accountable for the outcomes. Top-tier technicians, architects, and leaders participate in the tollgate sessions and project reviews. These are meant to be productive, working meetings that are non-punitive and owned by the leaders of the organization.”

12- “The WHO (WHO will lead and manage the change?) This is the last plank in the platform. You will see my personal bias revealed in this chapter because, although I believe all of the planks are important, the human aspect makes the real difference! This chapter outlines the key human-resource principles required for sustained successes, including: WHO Principle I: Organization Matters WHO Principle II: Leadership Matters • WHO Principle III: Culture Matters WHO Principle IV: Performance Matters Ml of these human-resource principles matter whether you outsource, smartsource, or go it alone.”

13- “If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that spending most of your time as a leader on the talent dimension is the difference between winning and losing at this sport. Every organization that gets IT right is good at this dimension.”

14- “The first skill required for great leadership is pattern recognition. In essence, this is the ability to see underlying relationships and get at the meaning beneath the surface. Leaders with this skill can distinguish the important factors in a situation from the noise. demonstrate this insight to their colleagues through discussions and decisions, and craft a compelling story of the organizations challenges and opportunities…Having set the agenda, you have to sell your ideas and have the credibility that you can pull it off. Over the years, I have debated with management-development professionals about the difference between skills, competencies, qualities, and other such labels. My reaction has been to not care so much about classifications, but to instead focus on describing what a leader is and why leadership is critical. Character has been the most elusive—it’s hard to explain, but you know it when it is there. Leaders must show personal character. This means doing and saying what’s right, not just what is expedient or what others want to hear—even if it’s at substantial personal risk…The final leadership skill within this category is influence and persuasion. I am convinced that in the next few years, the importance of influence and persuasion skills for leaders will only grow…Only by persuading others to support your course can you move the organization in the right direction on a sustained basis…All of the above—building the agenda and the foundation— are critical pregame activities because the goal of every leader should be to have an impact. However, even teams with great skills and high levels of dedication can fail to have an impact because of their inability to form successful partnerships with their stakeholders, act decisively, or stay focused.”

15- “However, once you have set a course, leaders need to be resilient and solutions oriented. When there are problems—as there inevitably are—leaders will need to emphasize solutions rather than hurdles. When you are engaged in game-changing initiatives, you’re the one who needs to develop new approaches to work over, around. and through obstacles and setbacks. No matter how—or how much—you plan, in the end most great things are accomplished by resilient organizations.”

16- “A high-performing team needs trust, hope, enjoyment, and opportunity.”


Omar Halabieh

Blind Spot

On Does IT Matter?

I recently finished reading Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage by Nicholas G. Carr.

The main premise of the book is best summarized by the author in the preface: “Through an analysis of its unique characteristics, evolving business role, and historical precedents, I will argue that IT’s strategic importance is not growing, as many have claimed or assumed, but diminishing. As IT has become more powerful, more standardized, and more affordable, it has been transformed from a proprietary technology that companies can use to gain an edge over their rivals into an infrastructural technology that is shared by all competitors. Information technology has increasingly become, in other words, a simple factor of production—a commodity input that is necessary for competitiveness but insufficient for advantage.”

The outline of the book is as follows: “I open with a brief introductory chapter, “Technological Transformations,” that provides an overview of my thesis and underscores the value of examining IT from a strategic perspective. I stress in this chapter what I see as the central—and positive—message of this book: that IT’s transformation from a set of proprietary and heterogeneous systems into a shared and standardized infrastructure is a natural, necessary, and healthy process. It is only by becoming an infrastructure—a common resource—that IT can deliver its greatest economic and social benefits. The second chapter, “Laying Tracks,” introduces and explains the critical distinction between proprietary and infrastructural technologies…In Chapter 3, “An Almost Perfect Commodity,” I examine the technical, economic, and competitive characteristics of IT that lend it to particularly rapid commoditization…Chapter 4, “Vanishing Advantage,” looks at the history of the use of IT by companies, showing how closely it follows the pattern established by earlier infrastructural technologies…Chapter 5, “The Universal Strategy Solvent,” steps back from the close examination of IT management to describe how the emergence of a new business infrastructure can change the basis of competition in markets. I discuss the corrosive effects of the IT infrastructure on some traditional forms of competitive advantage and describe how business success increasingly hinges on the simultaneous pursuit of both sustainable and leverageable advantages…In Chapter 6, “Managing the Money Pit,” I turn to the practical managerial implications of the commoditization of IT. Stressing the importance of controlling cost and risk, I offer four guidelines for IT investment and management: spend less; follow, don’t lead; innovate when risks are low; and focus more on vulnerabilities than opportunities…The final chapter, “A Dream of Wonderful Machines,” explores the broader consequences of information technology for economies and societies. I describe how our natural enthusiasm for a new technology, with its promise of renewal. can lead us to exaggerate its benefits and overlook its costs. and I examine how this bias has influenced our perceptions of the so-called computer revolution.”

Below are two additional key excerpts that I found particularly insightful:

1- “The most successful business executives ignore such academic distinctions, of course. They realize, intuitively, that successful strategy is about both achieving a privileged industry position and exploiting unique internal capabilities. They know, in other words, that business success derives from a continuous and purposeful mediation between what lies inside and what lies outside. The maturation of the IT infrastructure, with its corrosive effects on competitive advantage, demands more such acts of practical synthesis. It requires that managers see a competitive advantage as both a goal and a passageway, an end and a means. And it requires that they defend their company’s integrity as a stand-alone business even as they exploit the tighter connections to other companies made possible by computer networks. Agility must be balanced with stability, openness with guardedness. Those executives who are able to master such bifocal vision without losing their ability to take forceful action will be the ones that build the great and lasting companies of the twenty-first century. ”

2- “Although we’re now five decades into the so-called computer revolution, it remains difficult to judge with any precision the extent and shape of IT’s effects. Has it been truly transformative? Will it become truly transformative? The fact is, we can’t yet answer those questions with any certainty. The best we can do is to separate what we do know from what we don’t, and to look ahead with a mix of curiosity, skepticism, and humility. ”


Omar Halabieh

Does IT Matter?

On The Big Switch

I recently finished reading The Big Switch – Rewiring The World, From Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “What made large-scale electric utilities possible was a series of scientific and engineering breakthroughs – in electricity generation and transmission as well as in the design of electric motors – but what ensured their triumph was not technology but economics.”

2- “At a purely economic level, the similarities between electricity and information technology are even more striking. Both are what economists call general purpose technologies…they can both be delivered efficiently over a network.”

3- “If the electric dynamo was the machine that fashioned twentieth-century society – that made us who we are – the information dynamo is the machine that will fashion the new society of the twenty-first century.”

4- “What the fiber-optic Internet does for computing is exactly what the alternating current network did for electricity: it makes the location of the equipment unimportant to the user. But it does more than that. Because the internet has been designed to accommodate any type of computer and any form of digital information, it also plays the role of Insull’s rotary converter: it allows disparate and formerly incompatible machines to operate together as a single system. It creates harmony out of a cacophony. By providing a universal medium for data transmission and translation, the Net is spurring the creation of centralized computing plants that can serve thousands or millions of customers simultaneously. What companies used to have no choice but to supply themselves, they can now purchase as a service for a simple fee. And that means they can finally free themselves from their digital millwork.”

5- “It will take many years for the utility computing system to mature. Like Edison and Insull before them, the pioneers of the new industry will face difficult business and technical challenges. They’ll need to figure out the best ways to meter and set prices for different kinds of services. They’ll need to become more adept at balancing loads and managing diversity factors as demand grows. They’ll need to work with governments to establish effective regulatory regimes. They’ll need to achieve new levels of security, reliability, and efficiency. Most daunting of all they’ll need to convince big companies to give up control over their private systems and begin to dismantle the data centers into which they’ve plowed so much money. But these challenges will be met just as they were met before. The economics of computing have changed, and it’s the new economics that are now guiding progress. the PC age is giving way to a new era: the utility age.”

6- “Virtualization allows companies – or the utilities that serve them – to regain the high capacity utilization that characterized the mainframe age while gaining even more flexibility that they had during the PC age. It offers the best of both worlds.”

7- “Some of the old-line companies will succeed in making the switch to the new model of computing; others will fail. But all of them would be wise to study the examples of General Electric and Westinghouse. A hundred years ago, both these companies were making a lot of money selling electricity production components and systems to individual companies. That business disappeared as big utilities took over electricity supply. But GE and Westinghouse were able to reinvent themselves. They became leading suppliers of generators and other equipment to the new utilities, and they also operated or invested in utilities themselves. Most important of all, they built vast new businesses supplying electric appliances to consumers – businesses that only became possible after the arrival of large scale electric utilities.”

8- “When applications have no physical form, when they can be delivered as digital services over a network, the constraints disappear. Computing is also much more modular than electricity generation. Not only can applications be provided by different utilities, but even the basic building blocks of computing – data storage, data processing, data transmission – can be broken up into different services supplied from different locations by different companies. Modularity reduces the likelihood that the new utilities will form service monopolies, and it gives us, as the users of utility computing, a virtually unlimited array of options.”

9- “Not only will the Internet tend to divide people with different views, in other words, it will also tend to magnify the differences.”

10- “All technological change is generational change. The full power and consequence of a new technology are unleashed only when those who have grown up with it become adults and begin to push their outdated parents to the margins. As the older generations die, they take with them their knowledge of what was lost when the new technology arrived, and only the sense of what was gained remains. It’s in this way that progress covers its tracks, perpetually refreshing the illusion that where we are is where we were meant to be.”


Omar Halabieh

The Big Switch

On Only The Paranoid Survive

I recently finished reading Only The Paranoid Survive by Andrew S. Grove.

Below are excerpts from the book that summarize the key points presented by the author:

1- “Business success contains the seeds of its own destruction. The more successful you are, the more people want a chunk of your business and then another chunk and then another until there is nothing left. I believe that the prime responsibility of a manager is to guard constantly against other people’s attacks and to inculcate this guardian attitude in the people under his or her management.”

2- “We all need to expose ourselves to the winds of change. We need to expose ourselves to our customers, both the ones who are staying with us as well as those that we may lose by sticking to the past. We need to expose ourselves to lower-level employees, who, when encouraged, will tell us a lot that we need to know. We must invite comments even from people whose job it is to constantly evaluate us and critique us, such as journalist and members of the financial community. Turn the tables and ask them some questions: about competitors, trends in the industry and what they think we should be most concerned with. As we throw ourselves into raw action, our senses and instincts will rapidly be honed again.”

3- “A strategic inflection point is when the balance of forces shifts from the old structure, from the old ways of doing business and the old ways of competing, to the new. Before the strategic inflection point, the industry simply was more like the old. After it, it is more like the new. It is a point where the curve has subtly but profoundly changed, never to change back again.”

4- “Of all the changes in the forces of competition, the most difficult one to deal with is when one of the forces become so strong that it transforms the very essence of how business is conducted in an industry.”

5- “When an industry goes through a strategic inflection point, the practitioners of the old art may have trouble. On the other hand, the new landscape provides an opportunity for people, some of whom may not even be participants in the industry in question, to join and become part of the action.”

6- “When a strategic infection point sweeps through the industry, the more successful a participant was in the old industry structure, the more threatened it is by change and the more reluctant it is to adapt to it. Second, whereas the cost to enter a given industry in the face of well-entrenched participants can be very high, when the structure breaks, the cost to enter may become trivially small.”

7- “I suspect that the people coming in are probably no better managers or leaders than the people they are replacing. they have only one advantage…the new managers come unencumbered by such emotional involvement and therefore are capable of applying an impersonal logic to the situation.”

8- “As these questions to attempt to distinguish signal from noise: 1) Is your key competitor about to change? 2) Is your key complementor about to change? 3) Do people seem to be “losing it” around you?”

9- “I call the divergence between actions and statements strategic dissonance. It is one of the surest indications that a company is struggling with a strategic inflection point.”

10- “Ideally, the fear of a new environment sneaking up on us should keep us on our toes. Our sense of urgency should be aided by our judgement, instincts and observations that have been honed by decades spent in the business world. The fact is, because of our experience, very often we managers know that we need to do something. We even know what we should be doing. But we don’t trust our instincts or don’t act on them early enough to take advantage of the benign business bubble. We must discipline ourselves to overcome our tendency to do too little too late.”


Omar Halabieh

Only The Paranoid Survive

CIO Perspectives

I recently read CIO Perspectives by Dean Lane (The Office of the CIO). Dean was kind enough to send me a copy, after reading his earlier work CIO Wisdom.

As with CIO Wisdom, this book is a collection of articles by various IT executives on topics of relevance to CIOs and IT professionals at large. The topics are grouped into four broad categories: Finance and Performance, Customers/External, Internal Process, and Learning and Growth. What sets this book apart is the diverse perspectives gained from the contributing authors as well as the breadth of topics covered that include the people, process and technology aspects.

Below are excerpts of key learnings from this book:

1- Guiding Principles for Successful M&A: “1) People are number one. 2) Speed is king. 3) There must be IT governance. 4) Design for scale and reliability. 5) Use common project management methodology. 6) Communicate effectively. 7) Align IT with other business function.”

2- Zero Based Budgeting: “Know the critical influencers of IT cost, keep the executive team informed and involved, be flexible, and treat your budget as a tool you use to align IT with the business.”

3- Business Immersion: “Business immersion is about learning how business functions based on your own observations and through the perspectives of your peers from within their functional areas. It involves making an assessment of the challenges and opportunities affecting each, and how this information relates to the company’s strategy and financial objectives.”

4- Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): “…SaaS could create an opportunity for IT to grow from a (seemingly) ineffective cost center to a proactive technology strategy center, from deploying and maintaining software to a service-centric entity, supporting the business goals of the enterprise.”

5- Commitment and Delivering: “IT serves two internal customers. One is the executive management (the true customer) and the other is the end users. These two customer’s needs are not necessarily aligned.”

6- Phases of Corporate Lifecycles: “1) Spark it: Building/adding short-term capacity with low investment, 2)Grow it: Creating sustainable capacity for ongoing business operation and growth, 3) Hold it: Controlling costs in the face of steady capacity use and risk avoidance, 4) Trim it: Retreating or diverting to alternate modes of operation”

7- Leadership Characteristics: “What are the hats that a CIO juggles every day? 1)  Officer: Be a full business participant 2) Visionary: Look to the horizon! 3) Technologist: Know the field and the market.4) Educator: Teach, teach them all! 5) Controller: Process and method makes it all tick and tie. 6) Executioner: Get it done or get it gone. 7) Firefighter: First responders save the day.”

8- IT Governance: “There are four categories of IT governance: 1) Investment governance…2) Execution governance…3) Operational governance…4) Organization governance.”

9- Elements of Communication: “Message…Transmitter…Receiver…Medium.”

10- Communication in Information Technology: “Communication in the business environments is critical to the success of any undertaking. Good communications cannot ensure good results, but bad communications will most certainly fuel poor results.”

11- Keys to CIO Success: “1) Understanding of the business…2) Project management…3) Customer and client relationships.”

12- CIO as Anthropologist: “The anthropological CIO reminds him- or herself that the ultimate goal is to introduce the most effective, not necessarily the most efficient, process and technology. Effectiveness is based as much on acceptability within a company’s culture as it is on best practices; the most efficient processes and technologies are ineffective if the community refuses to adopt them, undermines their implementation, or mounts an outright insurgency…Introducing change means learning about these soft aspects of the organization and navigating a course that flows with rather than against the cultural currents that travel through it.”

13- Innovation: “Innovation seems to be most recognizable as revolutionary, but it is only one of three main classifications of innovation: incremental innovation, evolutionary innovation, and revolutionary innovation.”


Omar Halabieh

CIO Perspectives

CIO Perspectives



The Craft of Coding

I recently finished reading Clean Code – A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship – by Robert C. Martin.

What is clean code you might ask? One of the definitions that most resonated with me is that of Grady Booch, author of Object Oriented Analysis and Design with Applications: “Clean code is simple and direct. Clean code reads like well-written prose. Clean code never obscures the designer’s intent but rather is full of crisp abstractions and straightforward lines of control.”

The main premise of the book, as stated by the author, is: “learning code is hard work. It requires more than just the knowledge of principles and patterns. You must sweat over it. You must practice it yourself, and watch yourself fail. You must watch others practice it and fail. You must see them stumble and retrace their steps. You must see them agonize over decisions and see the price they pay for making those decisions the wrong way.”

The book is made up of three sections: The first one outlines the “principles, patterns, and practices of writing clean code”. This includes topics such as naming, functions, comments, formatting etc. The second one, includes several working examples of code cleanup using the tools from the first section. The last section, includes a number of heuristics and smells that help identify the need for cleaning code. These smells are divided by area, such as environment, names, comments etc.

What sets this book apart is the applicability, practicality and breadth of the concepts discussed. The last section of the book is of particular relevance as a starting point for identifying weaknesses or deficiencies in code. These then serve as a testing ground for applying the concepts introduced in the book. What the author stresses throughout his work, is the need to continuous practice and to clean the code in an iterative manner.

A recommended read for anyone involved with the software development lifecycle regardless of experience. From a critical standpoint, the choice of some of the case study code bases was at times questionable given its abstraction. This made them hard to follow at times.


Omar Halabieh

Clean Code

Clean Code