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Dell IT wrangles consumerization with mobile apps store

CIOs are busy solving problems for two customer bases -- internal and external alike, as Adriana "Andi" Karaboutis, global CIO at Dell, noted in part one of this two-part SearchCIO video interview. But with a little prioritization and a whole lot of creative thinking, even something as daunting as consumerization can become an IT advantage. One of Karaboutis' strategies? Form an incubation team to think outside of the box, solve hard problems and, perhaps most importantly, figure out how technology can bring IT closer to the business. Karaboutis calls her incubation team the "Ellis Island" group (she explains why in the video). Backing for this band of 30 employees comes in the form of encouragement rather than hard dollars.

Karaboutis, who will become the executive vice president of technology and business solutions at Biogen Idec effective September 24., sat down with Senior News Writer Nicole Laskowski at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium where she described some of the successes her incubation team has enjoyed and how it's influencing the business' perception of IT. The interview kicks off with a question on how Dell IT serves its two constituencies -- the company's employees and its customers.

How do you prioritize goals in order to make sure that you're meeting the needs of these two customer bases?

Adriana "Andi" Karaboutis: While there is always room for innovation in areas of technology and how to apply it, determining what you're going to work on is just a really basic thing: return on investment. Whether it's revenue generation, value creation, delivery of productivity, or driving efficiency, those are the cornerstones of any business.

So the way we prioritize is [by] looking at that -- is it efficiency, productivity, return, margin generation, value creation, customer satisfaction? There's obviously a huge dollar value to that and goodwill. So you have to deliver on one or more of those. And then we determine what gets prioritized and what we work on first, second, third. Anything that we heavily invest in and drive over to the business architecture team is very data-driven in the model I just described.

We also have an incubation team because you don't know what you don't know. We have an incubation team that does incubations around emerging technologies, new ways of doing work -- just kind of 'out there' sort of things. That group we just sort of let go. I call them my 'Ellis Island' group because I don't give them any money. I liken it to [those who] came to this country with not two wooden nickels to rub together, and [they] created a phenomenal country.

It's the same sort of thing. There are 30 people on this incubation team, and they start thinking, 'With the tools we have, how do we do things differently?' Or [they use] our new tools that the engineering groups internally and the external suppliers who partner with us give us to try out on the hopes that we come up with something. And we start building incubations. About 30% of what comes out of that team really gets delivered.


Karaboutis: I mean, that team developed a mobile apps store because … we realized our employees are downloading mobile apps and they're good mobile apps. So [the team] said, 'Let's just bring them in and make sure they're secure.' We set up a framework called the 'Dell Mobile Apps Store,' and then invited people [to use it]. So all of these people that were pulling mobile apps are now bringing them into IT and saying, 'Put them in the mobile apps store for us.'

How many mobile apps do you have in the store now?

Karaboutis: It's pretty small at this point. I think we're up to two dozen or so, and we staged rolling it out. We just last week put a note out to the broader company saying, 'Bring it in. Here's where it is.' We put Google Search out there. So Google search is now our portal when you bring up the internal site -- that site. And so people can search for information as opposed to having to go through menus to find something, like, 'where's my paycheck, let me go to HR and let me go into the IT portion, and let me go into my name,' et cetera. Now you put in 'paycheck,' and it says, 'there's a paycheck' based on your permissions, obviously, because you should only see the data that you have. That all came out of our incubation team.

Does that also give you an opportunity to approve or say no to certain mobile applications you don't want to be in the enterprise?

Karaboutis: Absolutely. Absolutely, it does.

Have you had an instance where you've had to turn an app away?

Karaboutis: To this point we have not. We have not, and I'll tell you, the surprise and delights are where you don't expect them. I've had a very senior leader who just thinks IT rocks because of the application that lets you scan a receipt when you eat dinner. And it goes straight to your travel report. It's a public app, right? But it's easy. Think about the time saved. He doesn't have to track it, you know, for those who give it to their admin. Simple things that help people be productive.

Let us know what you think of the story; email Nicole Laskowski, senior news writer, or find her on Twitter @TT_Nicole.

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Does the IT department at your company have an incubation team?