Dell CIO: Don’t Ask Employees What They Want

By Jack Rosenberger

Adriana Karaboutis has quit asking Dell employees what they want. Karaboutis made her “I have stopped asking people, as a CIO, what they want” pronouncement during a keynote panel discussion at the 2014 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium earlier this month. To help explain her “Do, Don’t Ask” strategy, Karaboutis cited auto manufacturer Henry Ford’s adage “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

As opposed to asking (and being reactive), Karaboutis has created a proactive IT department that observes Dell customers and employees at work with the goal of finding new ways to improve how they do their job.

“We do a lot of ‘day in the life’ exercises,” Karaboutis said in a recent TechTarget interview. “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.”

In addition to observing Dell customers and employees at work, Karaboutis is pioneering a concept she calls “futuring.” Futuring involves approaching a work problem or situation with an open-minded “Imagine a world where…” scenario, says Karaboutis, or examining other industries and, if appropriate, adopting their best practices.

Karaboutis’ 5,000-person department’s dynamic mindset is typified in its recent launch, with the marketing department, of a predictive analytics environment, which gives marketing employees ready access to reams of data in the company’s data warehouse. Now, a modeling process that used to take months or weeks can be accomplished in days or hours, says Karaboutis.

“What we’ve done is provide a self-service capability so that our marketers who are tech-savvy can do and develop their own propensity models—the propensity of people who come visit our sites to turn into real sales,” according to Karaboutis.

You Have to Embrace Change

For many IT departments, implementing Karaboutis’ “Do, Don’t Ask” strategy will involve some growing pains. But working in IT means you “embrace change and you also make change happen,” Karaboutis said during the MIT panel discussion. “The title of one of my favorite books is What Got You Here May Not Get You There. You can either get stuck in your paradigms of this is how technology has always worked and this is how security have always worked… or you can open your eyes and realize what is going on in the consumer space—which is driving a lot of the digital disruption in what we are doing—and embrace it.”

About the Author

Jack Rosenberger is the managing editor of CIO Insight. You can follow him on Twitter via @CIOInsight. To read his previous CIO Insight blog post, “Never Walk Past a Mistake,” click here.

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