[caption id="attachment_960" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith"][/caption] For the second consecutive year, I attended the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. Unfortunately this year did not meet last year’s level of engagement. By an informal show of hands, only 1/3 of attendees were CIOs – the majority were vendors, consultants and press. Also, since lunch was split into three sessions, there wasn’t as much opportunity to network informally (in contrast with last year, where I was able to have an extended conversation with the CIO of a major French bank.)
The morning sessions, at least, were productive. Some highlights:
- Moderator: Gary Beach, CIO Magazine
- Panel: Shouvik Bhattacharyya, CEO Valtech, Scott Griffith, CEO Zipcar, Jeffrey Markley, CEO Markley Group, Dr. Richard Soley, CEO, Object Management Group
- Beach: “Gmail was built in a day. Now I know why the user interface is so bad.”
- Soley: “Cloud is the fastest growing technology in 23 years, more than mobile.”
- Griffith: “95% of Zipcar users have smartphones. 60% interact with the site by smartphone.”
- Bhattacharyya: “Women are 31% more productive than men on days of cricket matches.” This makes me especially proud that we’ve finally achieved gender parity when Riparian Data and SoftArtisans employees are counted together. (That only took 15 years.)
- Moderator: Jason Pontin, Editor MIT Technology Review
- Panel: Prof. Anant Agarwal (major driver of edX), Prof. Erik Brynjolfsson (whose Big Data class I attended last month), and Joichi Ito, Director of MIT Media Lab and venture investor.
- Ito had the most memorable advice: Don’t waste $100k fixing an existing $100k investment. Start over.
- Ito and most modern VCs spread their portfolio across a multitude of smaller investments, not knowing which will bloom into a Twitter or Kickstarter. The panel considered this the “letting 1,000 flowers bloom” approach. I didn’t see it that way – instead plant 1,000 seeds, only a few of which will actually germinate. Of the few that germinate perhaps only one will turn into a billion dollar company. That one success (“home run”) will more than make up for all the other investments. Ito claims to currently have over 200 investments so clearly he is putting his money where his mouth is.
- One my favorite lines for the age of Lean Startups: “If you don’t release something you are embarrassed of, you waited too long.” Doing experiments to test idea viability is cheap, on the order of $30k, or less than the travel expenses of many executives in the room for just this symposium. Since it is so inexpensive these days, don’t raise money until your idea has traction.
- “It’s all about gaining users quickly and iterating, without central planning.” Evolve and evolve again.
- Agarwal is now a huge fan of the cloud, galvanized by his experience with an MIT edX course. In their wildest dreams, they hoped for 5,000 signups. Instead, they had 120,000, which is more than the total number of degrees awarded by MIT since the university’s inception 150 years ago. For Agarwal, education is “the ultimate tethered enterprise” as students and faculty are planted in classrooms that haven’t changed since the first university lectures in Bologna. edX is attempting to change that by educating up to one billion people online.
- As always, Jason Pontin runs a great panel.
- Moderator: Michael Hickins, CIO Journal, Wall St. Journal
- Panel: Christian Anschuetz, CIO, Underwriter Labs, Steven John, CIO Workday, Bill Krivoshik, CIO Time Warner, Frank Modruson, CIO Accenture, Thomas Sanzone, SVP Booz Allen Hamilton
By 11:15, it was a relief to finally hear from CIOs directly. Unlike the academic previous panel that tried to push change forward, this group was far more pragmatic and business focused. It was a healthy contrast.
- “The problem is not legacy, it’s the memory of the pain it took to get there.”
- “Economics of migration to a new toy is tough when legacy costs decrease [and depreciate] every year.” Accenture has apparently moved all email and SharePoint to the cloud, which is the biggest migration to date. This is not that surprising given how geographically disperse they are and their close relationship with platform vendors such as Microsoft. They provide access to over 90,000 mobile devices of which 70% were employee purchased. All 11,000 iPads were employee purchased. “IT budgets have freed up as business lines and individuals buy IT themselves,” said Sanzone. “Employees have two mobile devices. One we bought them, and one they use,” said John.
- Best line of the panel was by Anschuetz: “I never feel alone in the cloud.”
- He had a close second: “Email is one of the biggest productivity sinks and distances us from our customers.” At Riparian Data, we share his sentiment, which is why we are working hard to fix email.
At the end of the day, the measure of a technology is how it improves our relationships. Email is painful, yet it is not going away any time soon due to its strengths of ubiquity and asynchronous nature. If email could be made dramatically better, the world will be a better place.
Lastly, a quick buzzword alert: "opex" vs. "capex." Most organizations prefer a variable operational expenditure as facilitated by cloud technologies, instead of a high initial capital expenditure on rapidly depreciating assets.