CIO Europe 2012 by Tate Cantrell
Frankfurt Germany was established with a mind for independence and a stage for innovation. As one of the most important cities of the Holy Roman Empire, it was declared in 1372 as an independent city-state, a Reichsstadt, respected by the monarchy and left on the banks of the Main River to blossom. And just to the north of Frankfurt at the resort town of Bad Nauheim, another King brought a different style of flair and independence. And on the street named for Mr. Elvis Presley himself, we found a perfect setting for a European CIO conference to challenge convention.
It might be said that the Chief Information Officer is a position better known many kilometres across the Atlantic in the United States. The prevalence of both adventurous investment platforms and technologically focused universities has pushed many American companies quickly into the realization that information drives revenues for growing companies and like finance and operations, information warrants a Chief. Yet what I witnessed in Frankfurt was a tour de force of business minded individuals that understand the challenges of modern European business and they have developed impressive plans to tackle these matters, all while making significant gains for their organizations.
What I enjoyed most about a European CIO conference was the international nature of the business challenges faced by European companies. US companies are often able to thrive with a focus on problems that are solved domestically and only applied internationally when convenient. This methodology works for the largest economy in the world and it is a sound approach since targeting the business platform toward a specific culture improves the overall efficiency of development and delivery. However, a European CIO cannot be so simplistic in approach and support a European business that needs to reach across countries and cultures to find a similar audience for services as one might in a North American company. The complexities of the challenge are increased and for a CIO to be successful, the solutions have to be simple.
Thanks to the organizers of CIO Europe, Verne Global had a unique opportunity to sit one on one with CIO's and discuss their problems and in some cases work together on potential solutions. Many companies from a variety of verticals met with us and across the board we found consistencies in the challenges facing today's European focused CIO's.
Data Mobility. Confirming the importance of conference topics in 2012, data and data growth were agenda items for many of the discussions and many of the keynotes. Our unscientific polling found that B2C focused companies are seeing growth in data that is asymmetric with the growth of turnover (revenues) for their organizations. With new options for data gathering - social, web analytics, etc. - at the consumer level, these organizations are seeing astronomical data growth. For B2B companies, this was not necessarily true and growth seemed to push steadily along with the rise in business gains, especially for companies with well-defined processes. But regardless of growth in data, nearly every European companies are spread across country boundaries in such a way that data mobility is a concern. CIO's are interested in the cloud as a method to improve data storage and streamline operational requirements for growing data stores, but in some cases the prospect of data auditing for privacy concerns outweighed the benefits that could be achieved by pooling data into the cloud. Despite the consistencies in approach for the European Economic Area, CIO's are still learning how the cloud can be applied across country borders.
Business Analytics. Regardless of how quickly data is growing, most companies are sharpening their skills in carving through their data stores to gain business knowledge that will convert structured and unstructured data into real revenue opportunities. In fact the conference was partially sponsored by companies that specifically target business analytics tools toward companies to reduce the complexity of pulling real information from a company's data. There are challenges, however. Some companies have decentralized IT solutions that are driven by the geographic diversity of the company focus. For example, one large European company finds itself with independent ERP systems spread across dozens of countries and supported by a range of vendors. This variety of solutions inhibits the benefits of off the shelf BI tools and drives up the cost of Business Analytic solutions. In this multi-vendor environment, it is not uncommon for a CIO to be told that until his solutions are integrated, it will be difficult to maximize the benefits of Business Information Tools. But in an environment that was repeatedly described as "do more with less", adding custom development to enable standard solutions may not win the day.
Integration. While the #cioeu twitter stream wasn't as robust as I've seen in other conferences (Structure Europe for example), I did enjoy one nugget from the twittersphere. There was a public debate about the 'I' in the Chief Information Officer's title and whether it will move toward the driver of Innovation or perhaps the supporter of Integration. The entrepreneur in all of us wants to shine a spotlight on the CIO's role to innovate new solutions, but I agree with the dissenting argument that the true need in a growing European organization that is spread across many time zones and countries is to support integration through planning and execution. Luckily for the CIO's there are a variety of commodities at their disposal and what we found was that the innovators that were rewarded at the conference were those CIO's that were integrating off the shelf solutions in out of the box ways. Marie-Helene Fagard, CIO of Europcar, for example was lauded with a well-earned award for her efforts to point Europcar toward publicly available cloud solutions at every step. The integration in Ms. Fagard's strategy is happening on the front end and not with cumbersome middleware. In this way, the task of Integration comes with business vision and not via a tail chasing exercise for the long term.
Mergers & Acquisitions. The most important driver for integration was also one of the most discussed topics of the conference. Mergers and acquisitions are the way that many European companies are growing. More than one company is creating centralized platforms for ERP, development, web services, and operations with the intent to be flexible enough to eliminate the IT systems of acquired assets and rapidly roll them into efficient solutions. Robert Blackburn of BASF brought this topic into the summit with his keynote address on Day One. The market has seen this with many highly technical and highly agile companies in the US, and I am excited to see this approach in large multi-national, European focused organizations that don't immediately scream out technical. But this consolidated approach to efficient M&A requires a lot of upfront planning and it requires the vision of the CEO executed into the information space. We had a great conversation with a Dutch company that is improving its approach to centralizing its self-managed data centre platform and rightly wants to take control of this solution up front in order to really solidifying its own processes and standards. By developing their procedures carefully, they will create flexible processes that will allow them to grow in the M&A arena while consolidating and reducing IT costs. Their 24-month plan is to turn those processes out and then apply them to outsourced, commodity colocation and IAAS solutions to reduce overall costs and complexities. That is true vision for streamlined growth and it starts with an understanding of the business needs.
Mobile. As with data, what would an information conference be without discussions about iPhones, Androids, and even the woes of RIM over cocktails? Bring Your Own Device strategies are buzzing in the conversations, but there is still a drive to standardize and improve efficiencies. Wherever I heard mobile brought up, I also immediately heard that the first cost was absolutely not the driver in selecting a platform. But the recurring costs of device support was a definite concern that will continue to limit the wide roll-out of BYOD solutions, especially in more conventional businesses that don't teem with device-savvy twenty-somethings. Several folks lamented RIM's fall out and the loss of a BES-type approach to centralized management. In terms of product innovation that will resonate with CIO's, platform development companies should consider developing cross platform executive management solutions that are simple to maintain, can be managed from the cloud and ensure security from a variety of mobile platforms into the enterprise. Regardless, mobile is improving efficiency in the workplace and CIO's are looking diligently for solutions that will allow them to give the company rain makers and operational sergeants the agility to work and collaborate wherever they are. And collaboration is a key to the innovation that a CIO can bring to the table. The implementation of social enterprise solutions to connect hundreds of thousands of workers across six continents to solidify branding across diverse cultures won CIO20 accolades for Sune Nanberg, CIO of Securitas.
Optimization. For all of the topics covered at the CIO Europe conference, the bottom line was optimization. Do more with less and do it better. Luckily for Verne Global our message to the European CIO's is steeped in optimization. Innovations in the development of mobile resilient applications along with the continued advent of content delivery solutions has created a new era of mobility. Data centre mobility. No longer are data centres tethered to the historic switching centres. Data centres can be optimally located to ensure security of energy supply and ultimately security of costing for the commodity solutions that the European CIO community wants to target in 2013 budgets and beyond. We opened our presentation at the summit with an analogy to the electric car. We all expect to own one within our lifetime because the image of zero carbon transport within the cities that support us is one that makes sense. But we hold out because of concerns of infrastructure availability, quality, and total costs. In the same way, CIO's know that there are applications on their docket that one day will churn away in a carbon neutral data centre facility. But unlike the questions surrounding the electric car, in 2012, our high quality platform in Iceland is available today and the total costs are such that the CIO's the world over can truly do a lot more with even more tools at their disposal. Our message of more opportunities for innovation with considerably less cost was well received.