Blog

Defense contractor: IT must embrace radical transparency and culture change

Although innovation and being responsive to customers is the lifeblood of every technology organization, maintaining the spark of innovation inside a large company is hard.

To gain insight into how to drive change and innovation at a large company, I spoke with a senior executive at L3 Technologies, which is the eighth largest defense contractor in the United States. The company is doing something, to which facts attest:

  • Number 276 of the Fortune 500, with revenue over $11 billion and 38,000 employees
  • Stock price increasing since 1998
  • Top 50 employer on the Women Engineer list
  • Recognized as a top supporter of historically black college and university (HBCU) engineering programs
  • Shortlisted for HR Distinction award

Heidi Wood is L3 Technologies’ Senior Vice President for Strategy and Technology. She describes her role this way:

“My team pushes for growth, both organic as well as inorganic growth. I have the privilege of being the agent that pushes for L3 to grow going into the future. Technology is always changing, and we always want to be on the cutting edge, and so we need to peer over into the abyss of what’s possible and what is conceivable into what might be inconceivable now.”


Also


Her comments are interesting, so we created a video for CXOTalk, which features conversations on innovation and transformation with business and technology leaders.

Watch our entire conversation above and read the edited comments that follow.

What is your philosophy of innovation and transformation?

Heidi Wood: The one thing that’s permanent in life is change. Once you have a company culture that embraces it, challenges it, and says we can never rest on our laurels, we can never stick with status quo — we always have to be improving, challenge ourselves to be better, and also thinking about what’s the new thing that’s going to obsolete. Whatever our customers are relying on or that we think we’re good at, we have to be ahead of everybody.

You have to embrace innovation. You have to make that part of your corporate culture. You have to encourage risk-taking because that’s a necessary, and frequently not enough spoken about, an element of innovation, which is the willingness to take risks, the willingness to be bold, put yourself out there, and be courageous.

One of the things that I talk about from a strategy is, I tell people, “I want you to be unreasonable. Don’t give me anything reasonable. I’m totally bored with that. I want to see your daring, courageous, bold things that have never been heard of before.” Crazy: that’s what we want to hear because if you’re really on the edge, then it won’t look right in the near term but, three, five years from now, people will say, “Wow. That was prescient. Who imagined that this would be the case?”

How do you drive that approach based on data inside a large organization?

Heidi Wood: I’m a big proponent of radical transparency. To reach radical transparency, you need to see data. To get the entire group of people to move along with you, you need to move towards being a data-driven enterprise.

Featured stories

Again, what we’re talking about at L3 is being data-driven, being radically transparent, brave, [and] courageous. Again, when you do it collectively, then people can better see.

The way I like to describe it is, we took all of the different systems that we have, and we piped them together into a fused system. It helps us come back to better decisions. Together, we can move with speed because all of us are seeing it at the same time and it’s based on fact, not anecdotes.

One of the things I like to write on the board is, you take that Greek symbol for the sum. I put the sum and then, in parentheses, anecdotes, and then not equal data. In other words, sometimes when you say, “How is something working?” they say, “Fine.”

“How is this other thing?”

“Oh, good.”

I’m sitting there thinking, I don’t want an English word for the answer. I want the data.

Where do data and corporate culture intersect?

Heidi Wood: One of the things that I didn’t like when I joined, and it’s common in corporate culture but I wanted to change within L3 is, somebody would ask a perfectly reasonable question, and another person will say, “Well, we don’t know the answer. We’ll get back to you.”

Well, now the conversation is dead. But, what you want is an active, “Well, let’s see what the data says,” because it exists, right? That’s the thing that drove me crazy. Somebody has got the data. How come it all isn’t in a giant warehouse so that we can peal things back to the infinite level that we want to? Sort of like an onion. You peel back the layers and peel back the layers to get down to the answer to say, “The reason why this isn’t working or is working so well, is because of this.”

People must get used to having so much data being available. Again, it’s human nature to want to shade. You want to show your better parts. But, you kind of get to a stage where everybody gets comfortable with, look, this is the truth; this is where we’re really, really at. It enables more collective contributions because people can see the areas that are ailing and say “Well, I’ve got some guys that can help with this thing that you’re working on because now we can see that that area needs work.

Sunlight, if you go from dark to sunlight, there’s that moment where you go, “Oh, it’s blinding.” But then, as soon as your eyes adjust, everybody is going to say, “I’d rather be in the sunlight than in the dark cave,” right?

One of the exciting things about IT is changing the culture with what we’re doing with radical transparency. You have an angle where IT is helping change the culture of a company.

Disclosure: This video is part of a series in which SAP invited me to SAP Select, as a paid engagement, to conduct interviews with senior executives on topics related to Intelligent Enterprise.

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Beyond IT Failure Blog)

CIO playbook: Citizen development is your ‘most important’ tool

CIO playbook Citizen development is your 'most important' tool

A citizen developer in action. Photo by Michael Krigsman.

The topic of low-code platforms and citizen development has come up a lot lately during my discussions with Chief Information Officers. Given the mandate to innovate while spending less money, interest in this topic is not surprising.

The heart of citizen development is giving knowledgeable end-users the tools to create applications on their own, without IT involvement or intervention.

Citizen development offers several benefits:

  • Fit. No one knows what a business user needs better than that person herself. When users create apps, by definition, those apps fit the users’ business purposes.
  • Speed. Citizen developers don’t wait for IT to approve apps, specs, screens, data access, or anything else. They do the work and have the result right away.
  • Cost. IT saves money on developers when users in other departments build apps; it’s a simple cost equation.

During episode 283 of the CXOTalk series of conversations with the world’s top innovators, I asked three-time CIO and author of the book Driving Digital, Isaac Sacolick, for his thoughts on citizen development:

I think it’s probably the most important technology tool that CIOs need to look at. We do not have enough staff and our staff who are strong at AppDev really need to focus on the customer-facing pieces that are going to move the needle.

Building tools for dealing with knowledge bases, doing workflows, integrating enterprise data sources into a single utility that can be used for a one-time purpose — these are great use cases for low-code environments to get developers to be more productive and even citizen development programs.

Sacolick also addressed potential issues with citizen development, in areas such as governance, security, and data integration:

CIOs should stop using the word governance. They should implement governance in a way that people will understand it. Governance includes things like version control, locking down information but giving access to the people who need it. It means improving data quality and solving those problems when you give new technology to a business group.

We need to provide tools [that allow citizen developers] to do things in a safe way, in a controlled way, and a practiced way. That’s what governance is about. We must help end-users understand the practices they must implement.

Citizen development is a crucial topic for CIOs today. Nick Johnson of Salesforce interviewed me recently about citizen development, and the conversation sheds light on important issues.

Here is a somewhat edited and reworked version of that conversation:

SALESFORCE: In 2017, all U.S. computer science graduates would have filled less than 9% of all open developer positions. There are plenty of people out there who are suggesting there is a large and growing “skills gap” in the IT world. Do you agree with them and how did we get to this point?

MICHAEL KRIGSMAN: I agree that there’s an IT skills gap, but to answer your question, let’s look at the history of IT.

IT as a corporate function began with technology in the 1950’s. Computers were large, expensive, and complicated machines, so it made sense to create layers of protection between business users and those with the technical skills to operate that equipment. We all know the stereotype of people in white coats with punch cards.

From the dawn of corporate computing until recently, the focus of IT has been on protecting those complicated machines and providing an interface to make them available to business users.

1280px-Univac_1108_Census_Bureau

1280px-Univac_1108_Census_Bureau

UNIVAC computer, used for the 1960 U.S. census

We live in a different world now — a world of digital transformation — and two key shifts have had a major impact on the role, responsibilities, and purpose of the IT department.

First, equipment has become much less expensive and therefore pervasive. Second, we’re all computer experts now, and computing is an integral part of our daily lives.

Although these shifts have had profound implications for modern IT departments, some senior IT leaders still have the old mentality and act like the primary role of IT is protecting corporate assets and infrastructure. Although these attitudes are changing, they are still out there.

And yet, business partners and users today expect IT to support agility and speed rather than merely protect assets. Yes, protection and governance are essential, but users want IT to deliver clear business benefit – they want IT to supply technology that solves their problems fast and without hassle.

We need to distinguish between speed, efficiency, and innovation when it comes to IT.

The business wants IT to be fast (meaning agility) and efficient (meaning, get more stuff done with fewer resources), but also to support innovation (which means improvement, or doing things better).

The modern challenge for IT is changing the focus from efficiency to innovation. This the challenge number one for the CIO today.

It’s hard, because the business says, “We want you to do a lot more stuff, and we want you to innovate, but we also want to cut your budget.”

SALESFORCE: How does this history of IT relate to the skills gap today?

MICHAEL KRIGSMAN: We need to look at three main areas:

First, we know that the business expects IT to be a strategic partner. But, does the IT department have the skills needed to fulfill this demand? Can we realistically expect IT to engage with the business beyond technology solutions and infrastructure, to have expertise about marketing campaigns, financial programs, and the like? There’ a business skills gap. Actually, that’s the most important gap.

Second, we have the mindset issue. The demand that people in IT shift their thinking from efficiency as the prime directive to innovation as the essential IT mandate.

Third, the mandate of IT has changed, and people in business have strong technical skills, so they expect IT to supply resources of a certain caliber. Does IT have those resources on-board to allocate quickly to meet business demand?

Coming back to citizen developers, the tools now exist for non-technologists to take a certain level of development into their own hands. In this world, companies must decide where development and computing should take place.

With the proliferation of easy-to-configure SaaS applications, there’s a fine line between departments buying their own computing applications and doing their own development.

The ease of buying web-based applications has accelerated the rise of “shadow IT.” The concept of shadow IT means people in the business buying (and configuring or developing) applications without involving or asking IT.

The skills gap is about meeting business needs in a world where IT does not have unlimited resources, but the business has almost insatiable demand for IT support.

That’s your gap.

SALESFORCE: How can citizen development help bridge that skills gap?

MICHAEL KRIGSMAN: CIOs should provide the services, the infrastructure, get the right governance in place — and then let your employees have at it. It’s beneficial for IT and helpful for employees who want to become citizen developers.

Why not offload a lot of the work of traditional IT on to the people who need it and know what they want? If you give them the right tools and they have the right skills, and they can do it themselves. They don’t have to talk to IT; they just go do it.

It’s less work for IT and lets the CIO do more with less, as I described earlier. It’s faster for the business, which increases speed and makes them happy.

Citizen development lets the CIO focus on infrastructure, services, enterprise architecture, security, and other areas that must remain the exclusive province of corporate IT.

SALESFORCE: How should companies define the governance around this new cadre of citizen developers?

MICHAEL KRIGSMAN: Make sure that your systems don’t allow users to bypass core governance standards.

For example, don’t allow them to expose data through the firewall unless it’s governed in the usual ways that the corporation allows. Give citizen developers access to certain types of data only, whatever is within their permission role or profile. Things like that. Only expose the services that are, again, appropriate to the organizational role and profile of the citizen developer.

Build governance into the system and then let users do whatever they want. That’s the mark of an efficient and innovative IT organization!

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Beyond IT Failure Blog)

CIO playbook: Citizen development is your ‘most important’ tool

CIO playbook Citizen development is your 'most important' tool

A citizen developer in action. Photo by Michael Krigsman.

The topic of low-code platforms and citizen development has come up a lot lately during my discussions with Chief Information Officers. Given the mandate to innovate while spending less money, interest in this topic is not surprising.

The heart of citizen development is giving knowledgeable end-users the tools to create applications on their own, without IT involvement or intervention.

Citizen development offers several benefits:

  • Fit. No one knows what a business user needs better than that person herself. When users create apps, by definition, those apps fit the users’ business purposes.
  • Speed. Citizen developers don’t wait for IT to approve apps, specs, screens, data access, or anything else. They do the work and have the result right away.
  • Cost. IT saves money on developers when users in other departments build apps; it’s a simple cost equation.

During episode 283 of the CXOTalk series of conversations with the world’s top innovators, I asked three-time CIO and author of the book Driving Digital, Isaac Sacolick, for his thoughts on citizen development:

I think it’s probably the most important technology tool that CIOs need to look at. We do not have enough staff and our staff who are strong at AppDev really need to focus on the customer-facing pieces that are going to move the needle.

Building tools for dealing with knowledge bases, doing workflows, integrating enterprise data sources into a single utility that can be used for a one-time purpose — these are great use cases for low-code environments to get developers to be more productive and even citizen development programs.

Sacolick also addressed potential issues with citizen development, in areas such as governance, security, and data integration:

CIOs should stop using the word governance. They should implement governance in a way that people will understand it. Governance includes things like version control, locking down information but giving access to the people who need it. It means improving data quality and solving those problems when you give new technology to a business group.

We need to provide tools [that allow citizen developers] to do things in a safe way, in a controlled way, and a practiced way. That’s what governance is about. We must help end-users understand the practices they must implement.

Citizen development is a crucial topic for CIOs today. Nick Johnson of Salesforce interviewed me recently about citizen development, and the conversation sheds light on important issues.

Here is a somewhat edited and reworked version of that conversation:

SALESFORCE: In 2017, all U.S. computer science graduates would have filled less than 9% of all open developer positions. There are plenty of people out there who are suggesting there is a large and growing “skills gap” in the IT world. Do you agree with them and how did we get to this point?

MICHAEL KRIGSMAN: I agree that there’s an IT skills gap, but to answer your question, let’s look at the history of IT.

IT as a corporate function began with technology in the 1950’s. Computers were large, expensive, and complicated machines, so it made sense to create layers of protection between business users and those with the technical skills to operate that equipment. We all know the stereotype of people in white coats with punch cards.

From the dawn of corporate computing until recently, the focus of IT has been on protecting those complicated machines and providing an interface to make them available to business users.

1280px-Univac_1108_Census_Bureau

1280px-Univac_1108_Census_Bureau

UNIVAC computer, used for the 1960 U.S. census

We live in a different world now — a world of digital transformation — and two key shifts have had a major impact on the role, responsibilities, and purpose of the IT department.

First, equipment has become much less expensive and therefore pervasive. Second, we’re all computer experts now, and computing is an integral part of our daily lives.

Although these shifts have had profound implications for modern IT departments, some senior IT leaders still have the old mentality and act like the primary role of IT is protecting corporate assets and infrastructure. Although these attitudes are changing, they are still out there.

And yet, business partners and users today expect IT to support agility and speed rather than merely protect assets. Yes, protection and governance are essential, but users want IT to deliver clear business benefit – they want IT to supply technology that solves their problems fast and without hassle.

We need to distinguish between speed, efficiency, and innovation when it comes to IT.

The business wants IT to be fast (meaning agility) and efficient (meaning, get more stuff done with fewer resources), but also to support innovation (which means improvement, or doing things better).

The modern challenge for IT is changing the focus from efficiency to innovation. This the challenge number one for the CIO today.

It’s hard, because the business says, “We want you to do a lot more stuff, and we want you to innovate, but we also want to cut your budget.”

SALESFORCE: How does this history of IT relate to the skills gap today?

MICHAEL KRIGSMAN: We need to look at three main areas:

First, we know that the business expects IT to be a strategic partner. But, does the IT department have the skills needed to fulfill this demand? Can we realistically expect IT to engage with the business beyond technology solutions and infrastructure, to have expertise about marketing campaigns, financial programs, and the like? There’ a business skills gap. Actually, that’s the most important gap.

Second, we have the mindset issue. The demand that people in IT shift their thinking from efficiency as the prime directive to innovation as the essential IT mandate.

Third, the mandate of IT has changed, and people in business have strong technical skills, so they expect IT to supply resources of a certain caliber. Does IT have those resources on-board to allocate quickly to meet business demand?

Coming back to citizen developers, the tools now exist for non-technologists to take a certain level of development into their own hands. In this world, companies must decide where development and computing should take place.

With the proliferation of easy-to-configure SaaS applications, there’s a fine line between departments buying their own computing applications and doing their own development.

The ease of buying web-based applications has accelerated the rise of “shadow IT.” The concept of shadow IT means people in the business buying (and configuring or developing) applications without involving or asking IT.

The skills gap is about meeting business needs in a world where IT does not have unlimited resources, but the business has almost insatiable demand for IT support.

That’s your gap.

SALESFORCE: How can citizen development help bridge that skills gap?

MICHAEL KRIGSMAN: CIOs should provide the services, the infrastructure, get the right governance in place — and then let your employees have at it. It’s beneficial for IT and helpful for employees who want to become citizen developers.

Why not offload a lot of the work of traditional IT on to the people who need it and know what they want? If you give them the right tools and they have the right skills, and they can do it themselves. They don’t have to talk to IT; they just go do it.

It’s less work for IT and lets the CIO do more with less, as I described earlier. It’s faster for the business, which increases speed and makes them happy.

Citizen development lets the CIO focus on infrastructure, services, enterprise architecture, security, and other areas that must remain the exclusive province of corporate IT.

SALESFORCE: How should companies define the governance around this new cadre of citizen developers?

MICHAEL KRIGSMAN: Make sure that your systems don’t allow users to bypass core governance standards.

For example, don’t allow them to expose data through the firewall unless it’s governed in the usual ways that the corporation allows. Give citizen developers access to certain types of data only, whatever is within their permission role or profile. Things like that. Only expose the services that are, again, appropriate to the organizational role and profile of the citizen developer.

Build governance into the system and then let users do whatever they want. That’s the mark of an efficient and innovative IT organization!

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Beyond IT Failure Blog)