Dell CIO: Stop asking the business what it wants and start 'futuring'

Dell CIO: Stop asking the business what it wants and start 'futuring'

Date: Jul 18, 2014

Dell CIO Adriana "Andi" Karaboutis is channeling Steve Jobs these days, in a manner of speaking. "As a CIO, I've stopped asking people what they want," Karaboutis told an audience of her peers during an MIT Sloan CIO Symposium panel discussion. In Jobs' famous quote, the rationale for not asking customers what they want was that by the time a company builds the product, customers will want something new.

For Dell IT, anticipating what internal employees want next, rather than giving them what they ask for now, has led to a new way of working. Instead of asking business folks for requirements, Karaboutis insists her staff observe, observe, observe. Their job is to actually spend time with internal business people to see how they work, where they run into roadblocks, and how IT can help. "We stop asking and start thinking -- and [start] 'futuring,'" Karaboutis said, defining furturing by quoting another entrepreneur with a golden touch, Henry Ford: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

In addition to being close observers, Karaboutis wants her IT team to imagine the future -- and, "surprise and delight" the business. That means surprising both internal customers and external customers. And it is happening. By working closely with the business, IT helped develop Dell's Quick Resource Locator application, which turns smartphones into QR code scanners and will also be useful to Dell's external customers.

Developing a workforce that observes and invents doesn't happen overnight, and, as she explained to SearchCIO's Nicole Laskowski in this post-MIT panel video interview, it's something Karaboutis works on every day.

I want to go back to the QR Code example just briefly. How did you make the connection that the external customer would be interested in the same product that you've developed for internal use?

Adriana "Andi" Karaboutis: We do a lot of 'day in the life' exercises. We ask, but then we just also observe how our customers are doing work. And we think, 'Okay, that shouldn't take that long.' Or, 'This process -- we've got a better way to do it. Why are they doing it that way?' We come back with a better solution our customers didn't know that they needed. And we do that internally for our Dell employees as well as externally for our customers.

During your panel discussion, I think you referred to that as 'futuring' -- or wondering what the world would look like if ….

Karaboutis: Exactly. Yes. Benchmarking is looking at what everybody else is doing. Futuring isn't trying to predict the future; futuring is trying to develop a, 'What if, you know, there was a world, where…' And you sort of shape that. That's what we call futuring.

Was that a difficult thing to institute with IT?

Karaboutis: We're still instituting, Nicole. So the answer to that would be yes, it is, because, again, traditional IT was a mindset of, 'Let's go to the business and find out what they need.' We asked them to prioritize. Then we asked them for a requirements document. What do you need, et cetera? We did away with the IT steering committee, as I said on stage, and we built the business architecture team.

Now we talk about how the input is the strategy of the company, where we want to go, and we talk about how to get there. And so we're prioritizing and doing tools of engagement, as they say in the industry, and also the applications needed for the capability of the company. But the mindset of, 'Don't keep asking, we have an opinion; we know technology better; we stay on top; put some ideas out there; imagine a world where…; do incubations and put them out there.' Those are the things that have turned into surprises and delights for our customers.

Who sits on the business architecture team?

Karaboutis: It's co-chaired by myself and another representative out of the vice chairman's office. And we have a representative from each of our four business units, our enterprise, our clients, service and software business units, as well as our functional areas -- finance, HR, legal, marketing, sales, et cetera. So you've got representation, but it's the entire company, per se, through that constituent team coming together and developing the blueprint to drive the strategy.

And who pushed for that business architecture group versus an IT steering committee?

Karaboutis: Michael Dell; our vice chairman, Jeff Clarke; our then CFO; and myself.

More on Leadership and strategic planning

  • canderson

    Digital transformation 'masters' fuse IT with business

    VIDEO - Keynoter Didier Bonnet of Capgemini Consulting shares findings from his new book on digital transformation in a video interview from Oracle OpenWorld 2014.
  • canderson

    Inside the PayPal Start Tank incubator

    VIDEO - In this Startup Spotlight video, PayPal COO David Chang talks to Features Writer and videographer Kristen Lee about how a new incubation program -- Start Tank -- benefits startups and benefits PayPal as well.
  • canderson

    Dell IT finds overlap between internal and external customer demands

    VIDEO - In this video interview, Dell CIO Adriana Karaboutis describes how her team is responding to the increasingly blurred line between internal and external customers.
  • The shift to technology-driven business strategies is happening

    News - For years, CIOs have talked about aligning technology with business strategies. That is still happening, but more often now; business strategies are formed based on technology trends.

    ( Oct 30, 2014 )

  • critical success factors

    Definition - Critical success factors are a limited number of key variables or conditions that have a tremendous impact on how successfully and effectively an organization meets its mission or the strategic goals or objectives of a program or project.
  • Security, cloud tied as top priorities for 2015 in CIO salary survey

    News - IT executives said 2015 will be the year of security, cloud computing and business intelligence/big data projects, according to TechTarget's IT Salary and Careers Survey. A lesser priority? Mobile technology.

    ( Oct 22, 2014 )

  • HP waves goodbye to the age of the IT generalist

    News - Analysts and CIOs laud HP's split into two businesses as the market tips toward the nimble IT specialist. Also in Searchlight: Samsung's smartphone business plummets; Mozilla's bug tracker catches a bug.

    ( Oct 10, 2014 )

  • Eight big data myths that need busting

    News - Can CIOs make big data the new normal by 2020? It starts with helping their companies distinguish big data facts from big data fiction, says Gartner analyst Mark Beyer.

    ( Oct 08, 2014 )

There are Comments. Add yours.

 
TIP: Want to include a code block in your comment? Use <pre> or <code> tags around the desired text. Ex: <code>insert code</code>

REGISTER or login:

Forgot Password?
By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy
Sort by: OldestNewest

Forgot Password?

No problem! Submit your e-mail address below. We'll send you an email containing your password.

Your password has been sent to:

Expert Discussion

TIP: Want to include a code block in your comment? Use <pre> or <code> tags around the desired text. Ex: <code>insert code</code>

REGISTER or login:

Forgot Password?
By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy
Sort by: OldestNewest