5 reasons to hire an old guy (or gal) to lead your IT

Okay, I live in a “tech town” and I completely understand the fascination with young tech heads.  The whole area seems to have appropriated the youth culture.  I see 40-year old’s sporting porkpie hats and “soul patches”.  I find 30-year old’s “commuting” downtown on their skateboards.  Really, in my city “literally” (as the kids like to say) everyone has a tattoo.

I mean, who does not love the fresh, young, traveled, highly educated, and socially engaged techie?  They consume information like water and come to meetings with a starry-eyed optimism that is easy to get on board with.  Clearly everyone that imitates them and those who are hiring for IT are fans.  Every mature IT worker that I know has been advised to take dates off their CV.  We cannot intimate that we are over 40 or the algorithm won’t even let us past the first cut.

But, for business owners and senior execs whose business is a traditional product or service and not technology; you may want to think more carefully about who you have leading the IT staff and NOT follow the crowd.  Here are some reasons why:

1.    Old guys/gals are not easily impressed

With everyone talking about the “killer app”, you need to have a cynic making the decisions on where you spend your money.  There is a fine line between cutting edge and bleeding edge in technology and you want to be on the right side of that.  Someone with a clear head needs to think in terms of security, reliability, and maintenance rather than “it is so cool!”

2.    It’s about the business (sic. economy) stupid

I know I am stealing this from George Stephanopoulos but it’s true.  It has always been true.  If you don’t have an IT leader that has been through the battles and understands this, you will get a jumble of engineering solutions that burn resources and are not moving the business forward. 

Most of my peers started when we were making business solutions from scratch.  Our focus is and always has been the business.  Technology is just a tool.

3.    Experience counts

In a tech culture where we collect degrees and certifications like merit badges, real experience solving business problems with technology will get you further than the skills for passing a test.  Let’s face it, business problems rarely model exactly like test problems for a certification – not to mention the reality gap between college and “the real world”. 

And broad experience helps.  I have seen where my experience in the finance industry saved a communications company from making a very expensive mistake.

4.    We can translate

It is so common that I hate to bring it up but I hear this story over and over again.  There is a major failure in IT (this occurs to around 60% of businesses each month so you are not alone) and the business owner or CEO goes down to talk to IT. This is what he hears:

“We had a blah blah blah.  We need to buy blah blah blah.  We need more staff for blah blah blah”

Now, every industry has its own lingo and anachronisms and as a tech consultant for 30 years, I will admit this is where we shine.  We even use the exact same terms to mean completely different things, and we like to change it up every couple of years.  If you are not in the industry it is difficult at best to keep up.

Since most mature IT folks have had to do this translation from the time we were building and testing applications by counting 1’s and 0’s, it is part of their nature to translate the key ideas into plain language that the business can understand. 

Oh, and BTW, rarely is spending more money the solution.

5.    We have seen the enemy and it is us

Here I go stealing quotes again but Pogo must have worked in IT.  (Right there I have committed the sin of revealing my age! The young‘uns have no idea who Pogo is.)

Over the years, in their sincere wish to keep our IT ecosystems updated and relevant, IT departments have spent millions of dollars on the latest solutions and patched them together without a cogent plan.  Engineers generally run into a problem and go look for an engineering solution then graft it in or layer it onto the existing ecosystem.

Boy has this bit us in the butt!  It has led to a morass of vertical applications and outdated or application dependent hardware, which creates an environment with unidentified points of failure and unaccounted for risk.

Us old dogs have learned that trick the hard way so we ask the right questions before we add a “cool, new” application or infrastructure element.  We want to make sure it is on the road map and that integration, support and total cost of ownership is accounted for.


It is great to have a stable of highly educated and energetic young techies in your IT department.  But when you need someone to lead them in the discipline of supporting your business objectives with technology, look for someone that has been delivering business solutions with IT across a broad spectrum of industries; even if he/she does wear a porkpie hat and soul patch.  It will often save you money and time you can spend on growing your business rather than your IT.  It should also give you a few more solid nights’ sleep.

The Good CIO

The question

The other day my friend who has been in IT recruiting for a million years (her words), asked me what makes a good CIO.  I suppose because she knows that I have been an IT consultant since “mini” computers were the size of your Hobart fridge, with Fortran and Cobal as the dominant languages, and that I have done work for quite a few Fortune 50 companies. She assumed I would have worked with several in my time and she was right. I have worked with/for a bunch of CIO’s, mostly good ones, ranging from the CIO of a national business publishing company to the one for a small tech company in the legal information space, with finance, healthcare and biotech companies in between.

I gave her my off the cuff answer, which I thought was pretty good but the question haunted me.  That’s because that roll, new when I was first engaging with clients, has changed, morphing over the years into something different from its genesis.  Like “The Good Wife” Julianna Margulies portrayed, it meant different things based on the need and perspective of that role.  And more importantly, like the character, it has grown to be a much more prominent role in the company executive team. Complicating this is the differentiation and role of the CTO but, let’s leave that alone.

But to the question

So, what does make a “good CIO”?  My first answer was that s/he was 3 things: 1) someone with technical vision for the business and their industry, 2) one who was a “cheerleader” for technology inside the company, and last but not least by any measure, 3) a leader for technology inside and outside the company, their business and their industry.  I thought that was pretty good for a casual conversation.

But wait!  That’s not right

But I didn’t feel good about the answer after we ended our phone call.  As I thought through the question, and considered what a CIO needed to be to help grow a large business versus a small or mid-sized business, or the needs of a traditional, non-technology company versus a company whose business is to deliver technology, I realized that I had given an overly simple and possibly trite answer.

The real answer is

It depends.  It’s fairly common for a large enterprise to have a senior executive who is responsible for the information landscape and ecosystem.  His/her focus is market/business information and financial reporting/management.  S/He is a representative of the company as a whole, works with the CFO and probably is teamed with a CTO who is responsible for the technology vision, ecosystem sustainability and risk management.

But for the small to mid-sized businesses, especially traditional, non-technology companies, if they even have a CIO, s/he resembles more the acrobat who keeps the plates spinning on poles.  S/He is everywhere and has a hand in everything associated with Information Systems within the company.

But that isn’t quite right either

As I think through the role of CIO, I think it depends on the company and is complicated but the goal is simple:  S/He is to lead the company to a place where s/he is no longer needed.

What I am saying is that a really “Good CIO” is working themselves out of a job.  If s/he is leading IT along a roadmap to simplicity, sustainability and resilience, s/he will eventually have nothing to do.  That’s unfair but, it will mean that the job will become part time, “fractional” if you will.  S/He could have other skills s/he can contribute the company but the IT work will eventually consume a smaller chunk of his/her available time.

Sorry guys

With Cloud computing, Saas, IaaS, DRaaS, Network Services Providers, and everything else “as a service”, the CIO job is finding, contracting with, and managing the relationship with these service providers.

The good news is that the company can focus on its business needs and, if the CIO has done the work, the owners/board/executives will never have to ask “can IT support that?”

333 for IT

So, it was after dinner the other evening and I was in the mood to veg.  I turned on the TV and went to Netflix for something to watch and found a little documentary called “Minimalists”.   I don’t know what caught my eye but as I watched it, I was fascinated by the application to IT.

Admittedly, most things do.  But with that caveat, the stories that these people told of being bogged down and encumbered by all the “stuff” they had was compelling and sounded familiar.   These were not hoarders but reasonable, successful folks who just came to a point in their lives where the collection of “things” was causing them stress and costing money they had better use for.

They all spoke of the incredible freedom and peace of mind that came from limiting their possessions to only the bare minimum necessary to live; nothing extraneous.  Only things they needed every day.  Gone were the extra cars, the boats, the sporting equipment they used only once or just a couple of times a year.  Their closets were clean and organized, their garages had space for a car!

Now don’t get the idea that I jumped on the bandwagon.  I did not but, it did get me thinking of the implications to what we have done in IT for that past 30 years and how it has created some serious “stress” and an accumulation of tools, applications and hardware that sometimes looks like a Rube Goldberg Machine.

My favorite story was of Courtney Carver http://bemorewithless.com , a woman with MS who decided to eliminate stress and simplify her life by simplifying her closet.  She committed herself to 33 items of clothing, shoes, and jewelry for 3 months.  After the 3 months, she could replace an item but she could never have more than 33 items at a time.

In my MANY years of IT consulting, I have seen companies with vertical application lists exceeding 1200.  Many, if not most of those were replicating functionality of one or more other applications in their ecosystem.  But the biggest issue was the amount of time and resources (read money) that were spent in maintenance AND the risk it posed on the company.  Every separate application was a point of failure.  Every interface/API was a potential point of failure.  Just keeping up the security patches and upgrades required a team and more software and tools to support.

What is needed here and what I have helped previous clients with, is 333 for the IT closet.  Maybe 33 apps and tools is a stretch, but limiting the number of applications to only those needed to support the business and eliminating duplication, is a requirement for a stable, sustainable IT.  It reduces RISK and COSTS LESS.  What does that mean for the CEO/Owner? It reduces their stress and allows them to sleep better at night.

Lower cost of IT, lower risk, and less stress for the C suite.  That has to be something everyone wants – right?