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Sun 28 Mar 2010 12:00 AM

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The uncommon man

Sanjay Mirchandani, CIO of information management specialist EMC sat down with Imthishan Giado on the sidelines of the recent IDC CIO summit in Dubai to discuss how his non-IT background has assisted in managing the vendor.

The uncommon man
MIRCHANDANI: The role the CIO now plays is bridging business with the overall technology roadmap.

Sanjay Mirchandani, CIO of information management specialist EMC sat down with Imthishan Giado on the sidelines of the recent IDC CIO summit in Dubai to discuss how his non-IT background has assisted in managing the vendor.

How would you describe customer interest in currently hot technologies like cloud computing?

I think customers globally are interested in cloud computing. It's really the computing model that brings the most benefits. So it's not a region-specific interest.

Are enterprises looking at cloud computing in conjunction with elements like virtualisation?

Both those pieces are being looked at. My definition of the private cloud includes both the internal cloud as well as the service provider piece. As technologies like ours gets more pervasive, it just allows customers to be able to move their loads across their private cloud, whether it be internal or external.

Is there a lot of confusion still about the difference between the private and the external cloud?

There is a lot of definitions. What I've tried to share is my definition within our company - I'm not different from EMC's definition. It's about having a private cloud that's two parts. You have your internal and external part and you federate between the two.

Then you have the public cloud services that deal with applications, storage and whatever it is. That's the definition - you could have variants of all that but it's all still the same.

How does being a CIO of a technology vendor differ from being a CIO of a private enterprise?

For one thing, everyone in the company has a technical opinion so I have close to 30,000 armchair CIOs! The challenge is to harness them because I'm surrounded by very smart technical people.

Second, I don't often have to sell the benefits of the technology to anybody. It's more about the classic IT benefits - what's your cost-of-ownership model, what's your ROI model and so on. Third, I'm in a unique position where I am usually our first customer on products that aren't released yet. We work closely with our product engineering groups to invite the products in a user scenario into production. For example with SourceOne, we had tens of thousands of users onboard before the product even shipped.

What I love about it is that my team and I get to play a role in the actual corporate strategy of technology.

How much time do you put in at the boardroom level?

A good amount - I'd say a fair amount. There's a lot of analyst reports on what we call ‘dogfooding' - it's an interesting expression which really means testing and using your own technology before anyone else. For 20-odd years, I've been playing similar roles to Mohammed Amin (EMC regional manager) in different parts of the world.

Customers would often say: "That's great - but are you doing it?" Within IT, we've made that our mantra. We want to be able to say that if it's a pivotal technology that our customers are using, we'd better have an answer to how we're doing it within IT.

So you have these three or four things and it makes this job pretty unique. It's a good position, I like it.

Have you previously acted in the role of CIO for an organisation?

No. I'm not a classic CIO. I've sold around CIOs, I've sold to CIOs, my best friends are CIOs but no, I've never been a CIO previously. I'm a career sales and services guy. I'm a fox in a hencoop.

For us, IT is the business. I don't see any separation between what IT does and what the business does. We are a technology company. We produce technology that IT departments use. We have to be front and centre to that aspect. I'm surrounded by some very smart technical people, plus we're a tech company so really, I have a lot of talent that I can tap into. It's really about applying it to business needs.

The classic business problem is aligning IT with business. I don't think there's a formula - it depends on the nature of your industry, the business you're from. In our case, everything we do is technology.

I might not be a technologist in the classic sense, but it's about applied technology. You have to come at it with a business perspective; it doesn't matter what your background is, honestly. That's what I believe.

Has interest in green IT issues flagged over the past year?

I can't speak for everybody else but from our point of view, it's very important. We've published a white paper on the number of potential trees we've saved and what carbon emissions we cut down, how much less power we use - it's a very important thing for us.

I'll share with you that by and large, my peer group cares a lot about it. I don't think it's marketing for the most part. We at EMC IT and EMC as a company are dead serious.

Are companies thinking in terms of long-term planning any more or has the mindterm shifted towards short-term gain?

You have to rethink your timelines and your investments based on those timelines. I affectionately call it ‘good-to-have' versus ‘must-have'. In good terms, you have a lot of ‘good-to-have' which makes sense at the time. In tougher times you have ‘must-have' and that's a balance.

At some point, when things turn around, you'd better be ready for that recoil. There's no magic bullet to it. It's about scalable infrastructure, low cost-of-ownership, it's about a future-proof set of technologies that you're investing in and now we're talking about taking to the private cloud. All of these are investments that you make in good times or bad because they're the right investments to make if your business is ready to invest for the future.

You may not do the huge capital-heavy expenditures in times like this and you may reconsider your approach. For example, take CRM - in a cloud provider, you pay by the drip. You pay by the user and you get world-class deployments in record time, instead of waiting.

How do you balance your CIO workload with the need to keep abreast of current technologies?

I spend about 40% of my time with our end-customers for two reasons. One is to share what we're doing but also to learn from them. I pick up a lot of good ideas on how they organise, their support models, their quality metrics - I get a lot of benefit from my peer group. I spend a good amount of time with EMC customers and the rest on internal IT/business initiatives.

What is the average lifespan of the CIO?

It's a good question, but I couldn't give you a good answer on tenure. You've got to be relevant to the business and you have to add value around what the business needs. It's not about having your own agenda.

IT cannot be an afterthought. You can't transform the business if you're at the receiving end of a set of orders. You have to be part of the group and leading with ideas that helps the business transform.

Very often, the business turns to IT and says: "Here's what we think we want to do. How do we get there?"

It may be a customer service problem, may be a opportunity to cut costs in logistics. You need to apply technology to enable that and you can't be at the receiving end when the decision has been made.

What kinds of job opportunities exist in the marketplace for a technology CIO after their current term of office?

The role the CIO now plays is bridging business with the technology roadmap. You see the business left to right, from a strategic element as well as operationalising it. You're in the heart of the business decision making. It really tees you up as a place where great general managers are born. You're technical by definition, you have to be in a technology mindset to get it.

It opens up a plethora of opportunities in general management. I think being a CIO is good fun.

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