CIOs should do more on business transformation, says Dell exec

Dell Software's John Swainson

Business process transformation is on the minds of Canadian CIOs but not enough of them are doing something about it, says the head of Dell Inc.’s software division .

“Some (CIOs) have accepted the mantle and some clearly have not,” John Swainson said in an interview Thursday in Toronto.

“Technology is at the root of most business transformation, and therefore the technology organization in the business needs to be the catalyst for change because they are the only ones who understand what the technology can potentially do. However, they can’t do it themselves, they have to work with the business — and a catalyst is just that: It facilitates other things, it doesn’t necessarily do them itself.”

There are examples all around of organizations that have created new new business models transformed by technology that are highly disruptive to those who haven’t made the transformation, he added. “So I tend to believe that you are either at the leading edge of this or you’re going to get swallowed up by it.”

One reason why IT departments aren’t delivering transformation is they are too focused on keeping systems running, he believes, which, he said speaks to the mandate given to the CIO/CTO. He also believes many organizations don’t see IT as a source of transformational change, so there hasn’t been enough investment in innovation in thinking about it.

What it will take to change this is “very disruptive new entrant who is doing technology- based business process change to come into a market to really shake up a particular segment — like Amazon  is doing in retail,” he said.

A native of Victoria, B.C., Swainson was in Toronto to meet customers before heading to his cottage north of the city for a few weeks vacation. His goal there will be to read “and not do any programming.”

Originally trained as a mineral engineer, he slid into IT after working for General Electric, IBM (where he became general manager of the application integration middleware division and later head of worldwide software sales). He’s been CEO of CA Tech nologies. After sitting on several boards he joined Dell in 2012 to become president of the fledgling software division.

It’s grown since mainly by acquisition to offering data centre management, security, mobile management and desktop virtualization solutions, including Quest Software for US$2.4 billion. Its latest deal was the March purchase of analytics software maker StatSoft.

But Swainson admits that the division still has a lot to do to get enterprises to recognize the company is in software.

Meanwhile, eight months ago the company went private, which, while it hasn’t changed Swainson’s strategy has had at least one advantage: Making decision-making faster.

“When we bought StatSoft we had two meetings with Michael (Dell). In the first meeting we went through a detailed business case. In the second meeting we confirmed the questions he asked us and 15 minutes later he delegated to me and the CFO responsibility to go and do or not do the deal.”

The biggest mistake CIOs make, he said, is “failure to act as the technical transformational conscience of the business I think most CIOS do a very good job of keeping the railway running … but I think that many of them either don’t have a mandate for or don’t have the experience for or don’t feel comfortable with being the agent for technology innovation in their business. And I think that’s a big problem.

“It changes when someone else disrupts the busienss for you and now you are under the gun and have to do.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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