Executing IT Strategy - MSFT CIO Tony Scott

What key things do CIOs need to keep in mind in executing their strategy through the recession?

Scott: Collaboration skills are vitally important. Most enterprises are enormously complex these days. It's not just the employees, the organization, the complexity of the business process or the collaboration we need to have with business partners--it's all of those things. In most companies, there's no job--especially the CIO job--that can be done well if you're not a collaborative individual and don't have a collaborative organization. From a style perspective, that's an unbelievably necessary skill, and it will become even more important as time goes on.

The second thing is strategy. I compare that to when you first learn to drive a car. If you only look a few feet in front of the car, you wobble all over the road and steer around every little bump in the road. If you look down the road a bit, the car goes straighter, it's a more enjoyable ride and you become a better driver.

Strategy in an IT organization serves that same sort of purpose. Our businesses are looking for insight from a CIO who's looking down the road.

So resist getting stuck in the short term?

Scott: An example of this: There's a strong temptation to cut spending on infrastructure and to delay things another year. Then it becomes easy to delay it another year. Pretty soon, you have a crumbling infrastructure. It may be your successor who has to deal with that, but it's certainly not healthy for the company. Having a strategy that can survive strong times as well as weaker times is vitally important.

You report to Microsoft COO Kevin Turner, the former CIO at Wal-Mart. What advantages does that bring to your job?

Scott: The CIO at Microsoft works for all the employees at Microsoft. Everybody believes they have something to say or do about IT.

But yes, it's been a unique experience with Kevin. He brings a wealth of experience and a framework of thinking about IT that maybe a CFO or some other executive might not have. But he also knows that IT is a rapidly changing business, a very dynamic business. Kevin was CIO at Wal-Mart a long time ago; there's been yet another generation of technology and challenges. He's very careful to take the time to understand, listen and share his perspective.

We have a lot of opportunities to leverage our own technology in new and exciting ways and demonstrate for customers what can be done. That's one of the things I really like about this job. It's an opportunity to work with our customer groups in a very influential way. There's the mainline role you would expect the CIO to have. There's the customer interaction. I spend a fair amount of time with our large institutional customers. That trio of activities is a fun place to be for a CIO.

There's a bit of a CTO role involved in your job. Does it distract from your CIO duties?

Scott: Any manager of a large organization has to figure out an organizational scheme that works for him or her and the company. Our organization was already very well-established; I did not have to do any large reorganization.

Microsoft's IT organization has long had a role within the company of being what we call the "first and best" customers of Microsoft products. So it was a well-established routine for taking in various waves of technologies that get introduced, rolling them out in scale and so on. We build most of our applications using Microsoft products, and we have a well-established application development organization. And our IT operations group has had a long history of supporting Microsoft IT at scale. It's a pretty mature organization in that sense. It helps me do what I need to do.

In the past, I was CTO for information systems at General Motors. In that role I was always trying to spark a new generation of technologies. At Microsoft I don't have to play that role, which is nice.

This article was originally published on 04-13-2009
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