What Happens When IT Is Left Out Of The Picture?

Welcome back… Let’s return quickly to the movie Amadeus. For those of you that have the DVD, fast forward to Scene 20, about 1/3 of the way into the movie. Or, search YouTube for ‘Ballet scene from Amadeus’. 

Here’s the setup: Brash young Mozart is commissioned to write an opera for the Emperor of Austria. In a novel approach, Mozart inserts a ballet scene that is important to the plot. Yet, Mozart is dismayed to be told that the Emperor had previously decreed that no dances be included in an opera. Yet, Mozart (being stubborn as well as a constant innovator) continues rehearsals of the opera with the ballet scene included – but without any music.

The scene begins as the Emperor drops in on Mozart’s rehearsal of the opera – just as the ballet scene is onstage. The Emperor is confounded.

“I don’t understand” he remarks. “Why?” he asks, ”is there no music?”

Upon being told it was his own law that decreed this, he further asks “Can I see it with the music restored?”

Of course, the Emperor loved it, and he rescinded his decree banning ballet in any opera. Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro was revolutionary and a huge success.

Shifting to how this relates to IT…  think of Mozart’s ballet music in his opera as the IT infrastructure enabling a business to be successful.

Without IT, a Business Won’t Survive – and a CIO’s Neck is on the Line

Do you know how hard it is to perform a dance in sync with a group – without music to give the group audible cues?   

Imagine your telecom business operating without IT… in reality it is impossible…

I have worked with clients that have never tested a failover plan for critical systems – nor have tested a disaster recovery plan – who then are surprised at the outrage by the business when systems failures take down a company’s operations.

One of my favorite CIO stories is the one about the incoming CIO (Alex) sitting down with the outgoing CIO (Chris) on their first day on the job. 

Alex: “Any words of wisdom as I take this job?”

Chris: “Yes. I have prepared three envelopes for you with my guidance to you during the inevitable tough times. Please read them when you experience your most difficult challenges.”

After one month, the Customer Care system fails, and the Telecom company cannot take orders or handle customer inquiries for a full day. Alex is about to go to meet with the CEO, expecting to be thoroughly chewed out. Just before he heads to the CEO’s office, he reaches into his desk and opens the first envelope. It reads “Blame Former CIO”. He takes this approach with the CEO.

Two months later, Alex is told that a major ERP systems implementation is a year late and $7 million over budget. Just before he heads to the CEO’s office for his discussion, he reaches into his desk and opens the second envelope. It reads “Mea Culpa”. He takes this approach with the CEO.

Six months later, the Billing system sends out 1 million bills with incorrect amounts. Just before he heads to the CEO’s office, he reaches into his desk and opens the third envelope. It reads “Prepare Three Envelopes”. 

CIO Magazine reports that 30% of CIOs for companies with revenue over $1B are fired due to their poor performance. 

Lessons Learned: Focus on blocking and tackling – current systems operation and uptime as your top priority. Inspect and test systems performance and response times (More on this topic in an upcoming blog). Schedule tests of failover and disaster recovery plans.

Business-Led Systems Projects are a Recipe for Long Term CIO Failure

If a Business Unit tries to go off on their own to develop systems (sometimes due to frustration with IT) – and attempts to ‘do it themselves’ – the net result also can be ugly. Often the allure of an outside development group using agile methodology to solve a specific business problem drives such behavior. 

The obvious issues with Business-led systems implementations include:

A)     Systems implemented that don’t follow corporate architectural rules, which cause

B)     Systems that cost more to operate in the long run, and

C)     Systems that cost more to integrate with the rest of the company’s systems, plus

D)     IT organizations that are demoralized because the Business-led initiative uses all the ‘new neat technology’ while they are mired in the past.

To be avoided at all costs: Business Units that continue to be ‘renegades’ for other areas, fostering a continued cycle of the above.

Lessons Learned: As noted in a prior blog, the most effective CIOs spend significant personal time with Business Unit leaders and peers to develop both business and personal relationships. In essence, this close relationship should foster a ‘first touch’ approach – so that Business Units go outside of IT only as a last resort.

CIO Edicts of the Past May Be Out of Touch With Today’s Reality.

The Emperor, upon seeing the effect of a group of ballet dancers in his newly-commissioned opera attempting to dance without music, remarked in astonishment – ‘This is nonsense –just look at them…’  He quickly requested Mozart to perform the scene again – with the missing music restored. Seeing the total effect was artistic and pleasing, he reversed his prior decree. 

My favorite outdated policy is one implemented by a CIO of a now-defunct consulting company.  He deemed that ‘to save cost, everyone’s Exchange server email inbox is limited to 500meg’. On the surface, a noble goal. Reality: a productivity drain on every employee, forced to constantly manually archive and save messages on their local PCs. Plus, a huge security risk due to so many copies of emails dispersed through the enterprise. The right answer? EMC’s dynamic, multi-tiered SourceOne email archiving solutions.  

Lessons Learned:  Effective CIOs constantly question technologies and policies, searching for methods that can make IT more successful.

Next Week:  Why Don’t CIO’s Enforce Rigorous Performance and Stress Testing – BEFORE New Systems Go Live?

I hope you will join me and will pass on the link to your friends and networks. Please … subscribe, send me feedback, and check back next week for the next installment. If nothing else, I promise the International Travel tips will be extremely useful!

Today’s International Travel Tip:  All the World’s Flights on your mobile device or laptop

Here is a link to a very useful program that is A) Free to holders of an American Express Platinum Card and B) downloadable to your PC or mobile device.  A 60-day trial period is free for those that don’t have Platinum cards.  It contains all the airline flights on commercial carriers in the world.  It is extremely useful when things go wrong: flight delays, cancelations, storms, earthquakes (hey, I was in Chile during the huge earthquake of February, 2010 and this helped… more about that experience in a future blog).


Of some interest is that the American Express publishing department (which produces this eguide) sometimes doesn’t talk to the Platinum card division. Suffice to say you should sign up for it using the same email and snail mail address where you Platinum card statement is sent. This is also not well publicized – so be sure to insist on it.

I have typically used this tool as follows: afternoon thunderstorms cause a ground stop on flights at Dulles. I am aboard a flight to Atlanta to connect with my redeye flight to Chile. The pilot won’t allow phone calls, but you can check your smart phone or laptop for options from Atlanta to Santiago (since my flight from Atlanta may depart before I get there). Of course, I never take the last possible connection, but even allowing 3 hours of connect time in Atlanta, I leave Dulles 3 hours late. Upon arriving, I run to the gate to watch my flight (the only non-stop to Santiago) pull away. But the tool had already prepared me to ask Delta to fly me to Fort Lauderdale that nite (arriving at 1am), taxi to Miami airport, grab a couple hours of sleep at an airport hotel, and take the 7am LAN Chile flight to Santiago (stopping for an hour to wave hello to Cesar Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela). Savings:  at least 30 minutes on hold with weekend support at my travel department’s emergency line – which would have likely caused me to miss the last flight from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale.

About the Author: Laddie Suk

Laddie leads a cross-functional Dell Technologies Consulting team focused on digital transformation and industry solutions. He is a seasoned industry veteran with deep experience across multiple industries, solutions, and technologies. As a former Verizon Network CIO and Network Executive at AT&T and Bell Labs, he has extensive hands-on experience in leading strategic network and IT development projects and managing communication service provider environments. He has also led strategic and tactical engagements in network transformation, IT transformation, and business process and performance improvement for clients throughout the Americas.