3 Guiding Principles to Technology Acceptance

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 10-01-2007

3 Guiding Principles to Technology Acceptance

Bob Otto knows something about IT that delivers, having served as a programmer, security specialist and portfolio manager with the United States Postal Service before becoming CIO and CTO in January 2001. Prior to his Oct. 1 retirement, he spoke with senior writer Brian P. Watson about his experiences in IT management and what he sees in the future for CIOs. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

CIO INSIGHT: What are the biggest changes you've seen over the course of your career?
OTTO: It's just so complex now. Lots of changes--things like wireless technologies, security, data breaches. All of this stuff factors in. If you think about in the 1960s and 1970s, most of us in IT had business problems, and people made decisions on technologies and tools from them. Nowadays you have to think about those same solutions with access from a Web page or handheld device, and it has to have load balancing that allows tens of thousands of users to access it, and it has to encrypt sensitive data like Social Security numbers.

How have you gotten your people to accept new technologies?
OTTO: I have three guiding principles--principles I've used since I was young. First, standardize everything. If you find a process you like, standardize it. Second, centralize everything you can. If you have services in five different places and you can centralize them, you will have reliability, predictability. Third, simplify. The computer has taken over your life, so I want it to be intuitive [for people to operate and manage]. I also test my own dog food. Everything we build has to pass the "Bob" factor. I put myself in the place of the lowest common denominator, of someone who might not have a high school degree. I look at how people could be intimidated by technology, and I don't want them to have a hard time.

Evolution of a Management

Style"> How has your management style evolved over the years?
OTTO: I'm not revolutionary. I'm just basically going back to how things were when I was a kid. I wanted things to be easier. We--people--make things more difficult. So now we set the goals for the team first, both short- and long-term. Then have the managers set their goals. Then you look at them every quarter and critique them. We as a team start initially by saying, for instance, Bill might be off track. But after the first quarter, we survive or win as a team. You start working together on your goals, objectives and improvements. And you start working together as a team, not just as stars. If Bill fails, the team fails.

There's always a high demand for talented IT workers. Are there lessons learned at USPS in terms of attracting and retaining IT staff?
OTTO: We like to look at it from the perspective that you didn't come here to work for two to three years--you came here for a career. We make it challenging. Today you could be working on a wireless application, tomorrow you could be working on a PDA device. We're on the leading edge of letting people work on things that help improve our business.

What do you see for the future of IT management? What do aspiring CIOs need to keep in mind as they move up the ranks?
OTTO: I see all my peers continuing to consolidate functions like computer centers and helpdesks. Everybody's going green--focusing on IT power. Eighteen months ago no one was talking about this--now everyone is. I also see my peers focusing on IT lines of business--all programming in a functional line of business; all security in a functional line of business. If they build in lines of business and later you want to outsource, it makes it easier.

How did you become a manager?
OTTO: I was a type-A person and driven to perfection. I was a technician who wanted to be the best at whatever I did. But I also wanted to be in management because I knew I had skills and abilities. I got to a point where one of my mentors said to me, 'You can let this go or you can move on.' I came to realize it was time to let go of some of the things holding me back as a person. When I started to see I could get things done through people and that some had skills that I didn't in certain areas, I started to see the makings of a successful team.