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Stories by Mary Ann Maxwell

Thanks for the memories…

Over the past five years, I have had the opportunity to share my ideas — both good and bad — with the readers of this magazine. Alas, this will be my last opportunity to do so. After nine great years of living and working in Asia Pacific, I will be relocating back to the United States early next year.
As I look back through the columns that I have written, one predominant theme is evident. The role of a CIO is fraught with challenges — technical, political, organisational and global. There’s no amount of advice that can be provided that will equip you to deal with the magnitude and diversity of these challenges. But there are some personal attributes that I think will ensure you can lead your team through the fray.

Written by Mary Ann Maxwell29 Nov. 08 22:00

Machiavellian lessons for CIOs

I’m sure that most of you recoiled when you saw the title of this piece and said quietly to yourself, “It’s not good to be seen as Machiavellian…” But is that really true?
Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was a 15th century Italian diplomat, political philosopher, musician, poet and playwright – a true Renaissance humanist. After a period of living in political favour and holding influential positions, Machiavelli was wrongly imprisoned by the ruling Medici family. His best known treatises on realist political theory (The Prince) and republicanism (Discourses on Livy) were written during his exile. Machiavelli’s philosophical views on politics were such that his surname has since passed into the common dialect, referring to any political move that is devious or cunning in nature.

Written by Mary Ann Maxwell01 Nov. 08 22:00

Note to next US President: Technology matters

As an American ex-pat writing for an IT-focused publication in Asia Pacific, I certainly did not think that I would have any reason to discuss the current US Presidential election. But then I read an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Note to the Next President: Avoid Computers”.
Over the past few months, much has been made of John McCain’s self-proclaimed “computer illiterate” status. Checking Google (or as the current President of the US calls it “The Google”) I found tens of thousands of blog references that compared the Blackberry-enabled and iPod-listening Barack Obama with the digitally-challenged and out-of-touch John McCain. The still unresolved question being asked: “Should the President of the United States use a computer?”

Written by Mary Ann Maxwell04 Oct. 08 22:00

Don’t just say ‘no’… Ask ‘why?’

Over the past few months a lot of people have stood in long queues in the cold to purchase an Apple iPhone, with a plan to make it a ubiquitous part of their everyday life. I wonder how many of them found they had to limit that plan to their every-day non-work, related life because their IT department used cost or security as reasons to say “no” to the enterprise use of this popular consumer tool. In fairness to the IT team, they can never take security issues lightly and they must always be mindful of cost. But when they use security or cost as excuses, instead of having thoughtful reasons why a consumer technology or tool is not allowed, they can do a lot of damage.
Many workers are using different consumer technologies in the enterprise because they are easier to use and solve their problems. This use will continue to grow, even if (or maybe especially if) the organisation prohibits it. Monitoring and planning for the introduction of new consumer tools and technologies will likely yield better results than a blanket ban on their use.

Written by Mary Ann Maxwell14 Sept. 08 22:00

Legacy system refresh

I’ve been reading a lot recently about organisations undertaking major IT modernisation projects; ie, replacing legacy systems. Modernising a legacy environment is technologically challenging, but also culturally difficult. The changing nature of IT has and will continue to have a dramatic psychological impact on the enterprise’s greatest historical asset — its people.
Most organisations have a wide variety of applications in their portfolios. A substantial number of legacy applications were built or acquired over many years or decades. The mix is likely to include applications licensed from software vendors, along with solutions that were custom-developed by internal staff or third parties. Somewhat reflecting the various types of applications, application professionals often cluster into five dominant personas.

Written by Mary Ann Maxwell11 Aug. 08 22:00

Are organisational charts irrelevant?

I’m often asked “What’s the right organisational chart for a high-performance IT function?” Of course there is no universally correct answer to that question — it depends on many factors, including but not limited to the industry drivers, the enterprise strategy, the maturity of the IT function and/or the IT delivery model. But I wonder if we should start thinking about the real relevance of organisational charts to superior performance.
Traditionally, the organisational chart was the primary definition of authority and accountability. It reflected organisation hierarchy and defined the boundaries and relationships between distinct functions and the ascending levels of authority within those functions. It typically defined individual job roles and responsibilities and prescribed how work would flow within and between boxes on the chart.

Written by Mary Ann Maxwell13 July 08 22:00

Talking about a new generation

I recently spent a stimulating Sunday evening with a multi-generational group of friends in a spirited discussion of generational differences. As you might expect, liberally sprinkled throughout the conversation were the terms baby boomers, Gen X and Gen Y. Simply using one of those descriptors was supposed to allow each of us to magically construct a mental profile of a person’s aspirations, motivation, and attitudes — both positive and negative.
Cataloguing is a characteristic human trait that allows us to provide structure and order amid the apparent chaos of daily human activity. Over the past few decades, as businesses have successively sought to understand and predict the behaviour of consumers, it has usually been sufficient to apply a simple, age-related generational model. The post-war period brought us the baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1960), followed by their offspring, Generation X (1961 to 1981), and then Generation Y (1982 to 2000). However, such a simplistic approach is no longer proving adequate to describe and characterise the consumer base — something more insightful is needed.

Written by Mary Ann Maxwell03 June 08 22:00

Evolving, not extinct

In April 2000, the Harvard Business Review posed the question, "Are chief information officers obsolete?"
My favourite part of the response then was: "The fundamental mistake one makes in predicting a CIO-less future is believing that the future will have many of the same components as the present. It never does."

Written by Mary Ann Maxwell01 May 08 22:00

Say what?

When IT and business deal with each other, expectations are set early in the process by how each side communicates its needs and how well both sides clarify their agreements. Conversations between IT and the business often seem straightforward enough, with both parties leaving the room nodding in agreement. So why is it that, a month later, the business is unhappy and IT is confused?
It’s possible, even probable, that your business counterparts heard something different that you thought you were saying. Is that IT’s fault, you ask? Maybe, maybe not. But it really doesn’t matter. Miscommunication is not resolved by deciding who’s at fault. I’d like to present a somewhat exaggerated version of common IT-to-business miscommunications and offer some suggestions on how to bridge the communication gap.

Written by Mary Ann Maxwell08 March 08 22:00

Make a difference

Green was definitely the colour of choice in 2007 and we can expect 2008 to be even greener, driven primarily by increased concerns about climate change as well as the clear opportunity to save money and avoid cost through increased energy efficiency. Given the media coverage of this subject, it's not surprising that some of us are beginning to feel a slight sense of "green fatigue".
A major contributing factor to this disillusionment is the "greenwashing" (selective disclosure of the positive, and often superficial, environmental aspect of the enterprise or its products and services) that is starting to dominate the industry. The marketing departments of technology and service providers are touting whatever products they have as green. Although some of this is genuine, or at least well-intended, much of the hype is a cynical attempt to jump on the bandwagon without actually addressing fundamental issues. Unfortunately, this situation will get worse before it gets better.

Written by Mary Ann Maxwell12 Feb. 08 22:00

A little bit extra in planning

With 2008 just around the corner, the annual planning cycle has concluded for most IT organisations. Everyone has carefully crafted their annual plan, diligently defended their budget allocations, and are now ready to positively produce outstanding systems and services for another year. But wait… have you forgotten something?
As technology continues to become more central to the business and understanding of it matures, IT management best practices move on — sometimes in quite subtle and unexpected ways. A practice or policy that has worked well for the past five or 10 years can become counterproductive today. But it won’t change all by itself. In addition to their traditional annual IT plan, savvy CIOs incorporate emerging IT management tactics into their strategies.

Written by Mary Ann Maxwell01 Dec. 07 22:00

Students today... employees tomorrow

Access to computing and the web in higher education settings is driving significant trends and behavioural changes that graduates will bring to the workplace. These new employees will arrive with high computing competency and greater collaborative behaviour than their predecessors, along with the expectation that their organisation’s computing environment is a work-life toolkit that will allow them to blend personal and professional activities.
Several trends foretell key behaviours and challenges that students will bring with them as they enter the workforce over the next decade.

Written by Mary Ann Maxwell11 Oct. 07 21:00

Keys to credibility

The CFO can be one of the most influential individuals in your enterprise, in terms of how IT is perceived and managed. However, at times, the two do not see eye to eye and view each other as stumbling blocks to achieving their individual and enterprise goals. This is particularly problematic when a “parent/child” relationship exists because the CIO reports to the CFO.
I hear recurring (and disturbing) themes from CIOs that many CFOs think:

Written by Mary Ann Maxwell09 Sept. 07 22:00

Sticky wikis

The implementation of wikis, blogs and other kinds of enterprise social software, can provide an excellent infrastructure for the informal interactions that underpin a high-performance workplace (discovering, innovating, collaborating, leading and learning).
Wikis and blogs offer a conversational environment that encourages unplanned contact and interaction. Both applications allow for quick and easy creation of rich, hyperlinked web content. Both encourage feedback and comments. Blogs are more appropriate for the dissemination and discussion of opinions and ideas from a personal perspective, while wikis are appropriate for the creation of content by a group of people — particularly if the content, the group and the creation process are open-ended.

Written by Mary Ann Maxwell05 Aug. 07 22:00

Avoid future shock – plan ahead

Stretched between managing their environments and delivering on new enterprise requirements, most CIOs report “not enough” time or resources as one of their key challenges.
As innovation becomes the mantra within their enterprises, CIOs are being asked to focus on the new things. This is difficult to do if you are concentrating more than half your time on what you have always done.

Written by Mary Ann Maxwell16 July 07 22:00