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The New CIO: Leading IT the Mark Schwartz Way

| by Helen Beal Follow 5 Followers on Jul 05, 2018. Estimated reading time: 4 minutes |

Mark Schwartz, formerly CIO at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services and now enterprise strategist at AWS, spoke at the DevOps Enterprise Summit in London about what it means to lead IT.

Schwartz explained how the old, conventional model separates the business and IT, and described a new model where the CIO acts and is treated like any other CXO. He said that leading IT shouldn't mean running an organisation that is something separate to the business, and that it's not about simply taking requirements from the business or running IT like a business.

In Schwartz's old model, IT typically stands at arm's length while the business comes up with requirements, tosses them over the wall at IT who makes a plan, commits to it, produces some Gantt charts, goes away and does the work and then throws something back over the wall. The conventional model is for IT to provide customer service and keep everyone happy; IT operates as a contractor within the company. In this model, he said, it's therefore very logical to outsource the IT function.

He described this as a "pretty terrible status quo" highlighting the waste and overhead in the idea of negotiating with IT.

Mark Schwartz: You can't run IT as a business - even if you wanted to - because you don't have control over all the things you need to. You would be able to hire and fire at will and scale up and down and decide what products you are going to produce.

Schwartz described a "vomit of user stories" that occurs when customers across the business all come to IT with demands and how this situation becomes a process of demand management and pleasing some people and not others. In this scenario, he said, decisions may or may not be tied to the business strategy.

Schwartz: Nothing changed when we introduced agile approaches into IT. With Scrum, the default agile, methodology, the product owner represents the business and tells the technical team what is valuable to the business and makes sure it gets done. This is the same as the waterfall model. Just on a smaller scale. All we've done is shrunk the model. There's still the sense of we decide what's valuable and you do it.

This situation continued for decades, according to Schwartz, who said it may have carried on if a few things hadn't changed more recently that made it unpalatable. Firstly, the digital era happened and people began to question why the business was giving the technology teams technology requirements. His logic is that these should be flowing in the other direction, from technology to the business. He also cited the emergence of cloud capabilities that enabled people to move at a much higher velocity and gain access to high-level services like machine learning. DevOps has also contributed to the evolution of this model in the way that it is shrinking cycle times, one again, changing the speed at which we operate. All of this, he said, has taught us that the best approach is based on lean startup, experimentation and feedback.

Schwartz: Even then, it's easy for companies to resist these changes, but the real reason you shouldn't is that these things give your competitors the ability to move faster than you.

The new model that Schwartz describes has a CIO in parallel with the other CXO bringing functional expertise to the business strategy. Like the other CXOs, the new CIO does not talk about the business being their customer; they are equally an integral part of the overall business.

Schwartz: We agree nobody knows what the ideal requirements are. Together they experiment. They put together a hypothesis and they test it.

Schwartz described his experiences during a project around eVerify and how impact mapping was conducted as a mixed team and the project team were told to ignore the output at this stage. They asked questions like: how many cases are we now doing? How much have we spent? What are we planning to do? What are we planning to spend? What are the impediments? This, he said, provided all the information they needed to decide whether to continue funding; at one time something had plateaued and they ran out of ideas for experiments so the funding was redirected to a new goal.

Schwartz's new CIO has technical expertise to contribute to the company for strategy setting (just like the other CXO). He was clear that the CIO needs to be a technical person, contrary, he said, to popular wisdom.

Schwartz: As the company decides on its objectives and turns them into a definition of business value, the CIO takes this vision and works with the teams to implement these objectives thereby connecting the team to the goal and giving constant feedback on progress. The CIO is the enterprise architect and arbitrates the quality of the IT systems in the sense that they promote agility in the future. The systems could be filled with technical debt but, at any given moment, the sum of all the IT systems is an asset and has value in what it enables the company to do in the future. The value is not just in the architecture but also in the people and the processes. It's an intangible asset that determines the company's future revenues and costs and the CIO is responsible for ensuring the performance of that asset in the future.

The new CIO is also responsible for impediment removal and constant tweaking of the goals to make continuous improvement happen.

He concluded that we must think of the CIO's role in the context of their impact to the business as a whole - not simply as someone running a contracted unit.

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