Why is a CIO More like an Orchestra Conductor than a Technology Geek? Personal Lessons in Advising Telecom CIOs

For my inaugural blog, I have decided to take a completely different tack (or is it ‘tact’?) and begin to stitch together a stream of consciousness related to a simple yet confounding question. Why do some Telecom CIO organizations fail miserably (or at least do not thrive) when others are wildly successful? How can Telecom IT organizations be more successful?

My perspective:

It is NOT solely about the Network and/or Technology.

It is NOT solely about IT and/or business processes.

It is NOT solely about IT gurus, architects and programmers.

What is it about? Well, you’ll have to read at least 4 of these blogs to get the whole story.

Here’s a Short Preview of What’s to Come

Blog 1: Selecting the Right Technology: an IT Organization is More Like an Orchestra.  Lessons Learned.

Blog 2: IT Process Re-engineering: Mozart Was the Earliest Recorded IT Business Process Engineer

Blog 3: CIO Leadership Part 1: How Should a CIO Spend His or Her Time (verses where CIOs actually spend their time): A simple way to check your effectiveness.

Blog 4: CIO Leadership Part 2: Inspiring CIO Leadership Makes a Difference: Leonard Bernstein vs. Most Other Conductors.

Brief addition to my bio: In addition to advising Telecom CIOs and other executives over the past 20+ years, I am also a classically trained violinist. But no worries, I’ll touch on all types of music … and most importantly – why inspiring teamwork is important… from orchestras to garage bands to IT organizations.

But I digress.

Selecting the Right Technology – an IT Organization is More like an Orchestra

An exercise for you to take – I promise it will be fun and take no more than 10 minutes:

Google or search on Youtube for ‘John Williams Star Wars London Symphony.’

Grab a pencil and paper before you play it.

Watch carefully as you see members of the London Symphony accompanying various scenes in Star Wars. You’ll recognize John Williams’ fabulous soundtrack for these movies.

First, some helpful terms and analogies between and orchestra and an IT organization:

Conductor: John Williams, leader of the orchestra (IT Translation: CIO)

Concertmaster: the leader of the violins, someone who sets the directions for the entire string section. Usually viewed as the orchestra’s representative to the CIO.  (IT Translation: IT Chief of Staff)

Section Leaders: leaders of respective groups of instruments, who set direction, assign parts to play and rehearse their group prior to concerts. (IT Translation:  VPs/Directors of software development, applications maintenance, IT Operations, IT architecture)

Individual soloists: specialists on their instruments, they are given lead roles in pieces of music (IT Translation: Architects, Senior PMs, Team Leads)

Now to the exercise:

On your paper, write down the name of EACH different instrument you see and hear.  Don’t worry if you don’t get the technical name exact – just write down ‘drum thingy’ or equivalent.

Hint – there are a lot.

Before we get to the answer, think back on the huge spectrum of visual effects, physical intensity and emotional feelings portrayed in the video.




Love and Passion.

Just as John Williams used a wide range of instruments to portray various themes and scenes in Star Wars, so does a Telecom IT Organization have a wide range of technologies to bring to bear in a service provider.

And now for the answer: at least 19 different and unique instruments were used (by my count).

1. Tympani
2. Flute
3. clarinet
4. xylophones
5. trombones
6. harp
7. violins
8. violas
9. cellos
10. string bass
11. marimba
12. french horns
13. trumpets
14. snare drums
15. ring tree
16. cymbals
17. piccolo
18. triangle
19. bassoons

A Telecom IT organization has tenfold different types of technology to choose from … and tenfold again choices within each type… from servers to storage (whew, finally worked in something I can link to EMC Storage) to software to … the list goes on.

But, success is not just implementing the latest technology. It is how the technology is applied that makes it successful. As you saw in the video clip, every instrument had a specific role, and enhanced the overall effect. Telecom IT organizations are only successful if they understand the purpose of a technology as well as what role it is best suited for. It is the responsibility of the composer/conductor (for Star Wars, John Williams had both responsibilities) to align instruments with musical themes and then musical themes with the film – and the result is magnificent!

Next week: IT Process Re-engineering: Mozart Was the Earliest Recorded IT Business Process Engineer

Today’s International Travel Tip – a Special Continuing Feature of this Blog

Since many of you (like myself) have logged 1 million air miles or more, each of my blogs will have a bite-sized nugget to help reduce the stress of International Travel. Trust me, these will be very different than those found in the typical travel magazines … they actually will save you time and reduce stress.

First up: for US citizens or Permanent Residents that are frequent international business travelers – you MUST register as a Global Trusted Traveler. You can also find more information on the Global Entry Program (“from application to airport”) here.

Yes, it takes time (14 page online form requires your home addresses and countries visited over the past 10 years) and USD $100, but after your application is approved, fingerprints taken and you schedule and complete an in-person interview with the Customs and Border Patrol, your life just became a lot easier!!

Talk about IT automation: you will NEVER need to wait in a line again when entering the USA. Seriously!  All major US international airports have kiosks where you will insert your passport or Permanent Resident card, have your smiling face analyzed with facial recognition software, fingerprints analyzed and answer a few simple questions.  In less than 60 seconds, the machine spits out a receipt. Wave this at the Border patrol and proceed past the crowds queuing up to meet with the Immigration agent.

But wait – there’s more. Since you (like me) are unlikely to check luggage, how do you bypass the endless line of travelers pushing overflowing cards of luggage towards Customs? Easy. Just step around this endless line to the very front… again wave your Kiosk-issued receipt … and the CBP agent will take you ahead of all the others.

Time Saved: 30-45 minutes on average for each return to the USA.


Hopefully you’ll find this blog interesting 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!

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.