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IBM CIO's Great Refresh: No, Sales Guy, you can't JUST use DropBox

Rip XP from 500k boxes, bung software in cloud, install Ffox. Coffee

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High-risk Mozilla bet

“I’m not going to say it has not caused a problem,” Horan says of the move to Firefox, “but it has caused us to think about how we deal with it. We now have a way whereby we can push updates to everybody’s laptops using IBM End Point Manager, so we just regularly push the updates to people to keep the whole thing as current as we can.”

From her experience on enterprise transformation, Horan reckons it's the desktop migration that has helped teach her something new. The problem with PCs is, everybody in the company uses them, so you really can't afford to take anybody offline to install a new operating system.

Horan says: “Running IT for an organisation as large as IBM is challenging because we have over 430,000 people in 170 counties and half never come into an IBM office, so how do you do something as simple as upgrading our desktop to Windows 7? You have got do half of it over the air.

“One of the things I learned as a CIO is: doing one thing, like upgrading your laptop, is easy. But if you have to do it 430,00 times – and half of those without seeing or touching the laptop, especially within a defined time – you have to do it in a very automated way, running in the background so people don’t lose productivity.”

The fact that IBM is a technology company means the progress the CIO makes on the Windows XP upgrade – like the rest of the actions, decisions and policies she takes or pushes through – comes under close scrutiny.

Who ate all our dog food?

Another thing which people in the company keep a close eye on: whether or not IBM is using its own products, especially the new versions. There is a built-in expectation for IBM to be using IBM, both among customers looking for reference sites and from IBM's product development people – who are understandably, shall we say, a bit biased.

How does that feel?

“Some days that’s really great and some days that’s really challenging,” she laughs. “These days it’s really great. I have access to some of the best technology people in the world with IBM research and the people working in the product groups.”

And on the not-so-good days? “I have a lots of people who like to give me advice - but the one thing about IBM is they are all well-intentioned,” Horan laughs.

As a card-carrying IBMer, Horan wants to run the latest IBM kit but at the same time she says she must be practical, and conservative.

“One of my core strategies is to be a premier reference for IBM. I want to be running the most current technologies,” she said. “We have a huge portfolio of products... you can only change so many things at once. So we try to make sure we have a very planned approach.

"We want to maintain currency as much as we can but sometimes you end up being constrained by the application because it’s not yet supported by the new version of the operating system.”

I feel like there are times when the business is out in front of us and we are scrambling to catch up and there are times when we have a lot of capability and we can be out ahead of the business – IBM CIO Jeanette Horan says.

But IBM products don't get a shoe-in just because they come from IBM. Horan uses the CIO's position to provide product feedback, feature requests and help by acting as a beta test site to make sure what finally comes out of the product groups is fit for purpose.

That's where Horan's past positions inside and outside IBM have helped her: the CIO held leadership positions on Lotus and in information management before ascending to strategy inside IBM's overarching software group - also home to WebSphere, Rational, Tivoli and DB2. Before IBM, Horan was a vice president in DEC’s AltaVista search business – Google, before Google.

“Would they [product groups] like us to move deploy faster? Sure, that’s natural, but we try to strive between the right balance of keeping the business running and managing business risk.”

What is Horan's criteria on 'fit for purpose'?

New software must work globally, without different apps for different regions, says the CIO. Middleware will be examined for scalability and reliability, and increasingly there are discussions about whether the software can run on IBM’s Smart Cloud and – also - whether apps can be go mobile, which means looking at handsets and the back-end server capabilities.

Horan reckons mobile is proving a challenge to understand. She contends it's like the early days of the browser: a piece of technology that has great potential to change the business but needs to be properly understood first. "When we first introduced [the browser], you asked the business how it would like to use a browser and they’d say: 'Why would I ever need one of those?'," Horan recalls.

The tech boss says this typifies the dynamic that exists between the technology department running IBM and the business side of IBM.

"I feel like there are times when the business is out in front of us and we are scrambling to catch up and there are times when we have a lot of capability and we can be out ahead of the business," she says.

"We have to focus on how to get that alignment, so there will always bet this pendulum swing. To me the big thing is: 'do you have open lines of communication with your business stakeholders so you are really a trusted partner?... I really think [that] is the goal at the end of the day."

Sounds like every other company with an IT department. ®

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