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Talking SMAC with Dell CIO Andi Karaboutis

Dell CIO Andi Karaboutis talks about the demand for SMAC -- social, mobile, analytics and cloud -- and Dell IT's progress on self-service analytics.

In part one of this SearchCIO Innovator interview, Dell CIO Adriana "Andi" Karaboutis unpacked the steps she's taken to make her 5,000-strong Dell IT group more responsive to Dell's internal customers. Here, she talks about the technologies that internal and external Dell customers are clamoring for -- think SMAC (social, mobile, analytics, cloud). She also gives a progress report on Dell IT's push for self-service analytics and its exciting new role as trusted adviser to and test bed for the company's product development. (This interview has been edited and condensed.)

What a lot of CIOs find so interesting about someone in your position is that you are providing technology to a company that provides technology.

Adriana "Andi" Karaboutis: Isn't that a hoot?

It's certainly a challenge. How does the internal demand compare with the demand from Dell's external customers?

Andi KaraboutisAndi Karaboutis

Karaboutis: Significant amount of parallels between the demand we're seeing externally and what we're seeing internally. So let me give you some examples -- the typical big disruptors: social; mobility, which includes BYOD and mobile applications; analytics; and cloud, so the SMAC. Beyond that, Internet of Things is becoming very big.

What are Dell's enterprise customers asking for most these days?

Karaboutis: In their data centers they want convergence -- converged server storage network; cloud -- on-prem cloud management and hybrid cloud solutions; and security. Security for all CIOs continues to be major. So from an enterprise perspective: faster, less expensive, converged, cloud, secure and mobile for their employees.

And consumers want?

Karaboutis: Great devices, great endpoints, BYOD.

How about your Dell business users?

Karaboutis: Internally, if you asked me if there is any one key area of focus, I would say analytics. We're seeing a lot around analytics and being able to get information.

Last time we talked you told us about IT's push to give Dell employees more access to the data in Dell's giant data warehouse. How is that going?

Karaboutis: We have launched a predictive analytics environment with our marketing team. Karen Quintos, our CMO [chief marketing officer], is extremely proactive and supportive. What we've done is provide a self-service capability so that our marketers who are tech-savvy can go and develop their own propensity models -- the propensity of people who come visit our sites to turn into real sales.

We have launched a predictive analytics environment with our marketing team. … What we've done is provide a self-service capability so that our marketers who are tech-savvy can go and develop their own propensity models.
Andi KaraboutisVice President and Global CIO, Dell

And with anything like modeling, you have to play with it to get the model right. Historically, IT would have to do a model based on requirements and then give it over and say, 'How does that look?' We'd hear, 'Nah, not quite right, take it back.' That process used to take weeks and months. Now we're down to hours and days, because we let our marketers -- that group of analytical people, data scientists -- create their models and tweak them. And by the way, they are using portions of our huge data warehouse, as well as some live feeds.

When we transitioned from an organization that said, 'Raise a project, give us your requirements and tell us what you need,' to an organization that was saying, 'Let's see how we can set you up for self-service,' the door is being banged on hard now. They are coming to us and saying, 'We've got financial analytics, we've got marketing analytics, we want people analytics.' So it's now become a much different environment and a much different partnership between IT and our internal customers.

What kind of technology are you using for analytics?

Karaboutis: We have a number of tools that we use. Fortunately and interestingly, we now have a lot of internal tools that we brought in through our Quest acquisition. Some of these are in varying phases, from proof of concept to rollout. But if you take a look at our Quest portfolio, we've got Kitenga, we've got Toad analytics for Oracle. We work very closely with Teradata for our data warehouse and then a number of other tools for the modeling. That is the fun part of being a tech company -- we try a lot of tools.

We're looking at Hadoop as a framework for helping out when we're not seeking an answer, but scanning lots of information to see what questions are out there. So we're using both -- descriptive analytics from a data warehouse perspective, but we are also looking more at the holistic, random framework, like Hadoop. That's good for us, and it's kind of a feather in our cap, because a lot of companies go more toward the big data warehouse, which is good, but you actually have to have that broader perspective.

Last year we talked about IT's role in helping Dell integrate its many acquisitions of recent years into the company. Are you testing the products?

Karaboutis: My IT organization actually is working with our engineering teams much further upfront. We're now partnering with them to be the test bed, and getting requirements to them. I'll give you an example. We just started rolling out Credant; we'll be done in three weeks on every laptop that we have -- 100,000 laptops with data encryption.

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We went into the Credant engineering team and said, 'Here's some requirements you need to think about -- around the security controls we have, around how we manage our devices and what data encryption needs we have as a large enterprise.' They worked to develop that, and we are now helping that go to market.

Another example -- Force10. We are 68% our own products in our network space. Most large companies would say, 'Oh you've got to be Cisco.' Well, 68% is what we are right now. Firewalls, we're now SuperMassive, -- we're moving out of Palo Alto and CheckPoint. Storage, over 80% of all our storage is now our own internal storage. And you say, 'Why only 80%?' Because I have the same internal renewals as any other CIO. So while the company says flip it over on a dime, I also have to manage the costs and wait for things to come off lease or be in a renewal situation because I don't want to be double-paying for things.

You have to solve many of the same problems other CIOs do -- in spades. Any useful advice? How can they be better CIOs?

Karaboutis: The biggest emphasis point is the one we talked about earlier -- about complete and utter visceral understanding of the customer. Ask yourselves how you do work and go find out how your employees do work. I still cringe when I hear IT people say, 'Well, we're here to enable the business, or we're here to partner with the business' -- and I know the spirit is there -- but until you get into the business and be part of it and take on innovations that generate revenue, you're not fulfilling the IT mission.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, executive editor, or talk to her on Twitter at @ltucci.

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