Last month I was fortunate enough to host a CIO panel at our inaugural #EMPOWER2015 user conference in Chicago. The panel was designed to understand the major trends that CIOs are seeing and proactively try to tackle and improve the way IT works with their business counterpart.
To level set here was the panel abstract:
As demand for custom and mobile applications grows, smart CIOs are leveraging platforms for fast app delivery. In this session, a panel of high-level executives will discuss how they develop their app strategy, how business leaders contribute to the process, and what modern tools and techniques are required to thrive. We'll also discuss the growing importance of customer facing business processes. You will gain a thorough understanding of the challenges of delivering under high pressure and the strategic framework to succeed.
It was fun to host a trio of accomplished and forward-thinking CIOs who are driving digital transformation inside their own organizations with the help of QuickBase and other technologies that help embrace the democratization of IT, citizen development, and other trends. Joining me were Will Weider: the CIO of Ministry Health Care, a 15 hospital health system, with 50 clinics, and about 150,000-member health plan across the country, and serving Northeast and Central Wisconsin. Secondly, Francois Tricot, the CIO of Ceva Sante Animale, a fast growing pharmaceutical lab. And finally Isaac Sacolick, CIO, Greenwich Associates, the global CIO and managing director for Greenwich, a leading provider of global market intelligence and advisory services to the financial services industry.
We initially discussed the changing role of the CIO. Will Weider kicked of the session saying, “More and more people understand how to leverage technology today, and that’s not entirely left up to me. I share that role with everyone in my organization. It’s more inward-looking, and understanding how can I deliver everything we deliver more reliably, more quickly.”
Francois Tricot added, “I look at ways to improve revenue, and also operations, through the usage of technology. How can we build things that are more customer facing? How can we make the organization more data-driven? Very often, how do we take the infrastructure out of the picture? 15 years ago, half of my world was storage devices and networks. Now I have cloud and SaaS apps to replace those. A lot of empowerment goes into individual organizations to use these technologies to be both more data-driven and productive.”
Isaac added, “I’m the technology steward for the business, and I spend most of my time looking at ways to improve the business, usually revenue, starting with, and then also operational improvements through the uses of new technologies. It's about sharing data with our suppliers and with our customers. And I don't know what department of IT has enough budget and skill to do all those things. So, another place that's changed over the last four or five years in particular is how do we get technologists that are not in the IT department to actually help their departments grow. And so, I've done that through self-service business intelligence technologies. I've done it through Intuit QuickBase. And a lot of empowerment goes into helping individual organizations use these technologies to be more data driven, but also more productive.
Why Progressive CIOs choose Low Code platforms like QuickBase
Next, I wanted to understand specifically, why as strategic leaders of IT for their business, they chose and focused their efforts on a low-code platform like QuickBase.
Francois offered an interesting view of the market and how he looks at success a bit differently than some of his peers, “So what's important for me is having a good return on investment, and to have a good return on investment in IT is NOT to have the biggest projects, it's NOT to have the biggest team, and to go to my next job saying, I run an SAP project, or I’ve spent 100 million Euros on this project, and my users are not happy, but I don't care, because I've got one of the biggest SAP projects in the world.”
I then began to drill into the cost of delivery and maintenance around application development as a core advantage of QuickBase for IT and Isaac agreed saying, “So lower skill labor to work on things, faster delivery. Let's face it, most application development is under-invested in. If you're building a .NET app, a Java app and putting SQL or MySQL in the backend, how many people are automating their builds? And the answer is you're going to do it in certain places where it's truly strategic, where it's revenue driving, where you truly need something proprietary. And even those places it's hard to invest in app dev to have the right way. So what do you do with everything else? What do you do with the things that you can really not afford to service with all that skill, with all that investment, and do it well, and do it efficiently, and create user experiences people like and make it mobile and make it scalable over time? That's where I've used QuickBase. There's an entire chart of places where that low-code, even zero-code app dev can make enormous improvements in productivity and user satisfaction, and quite frankly, has been a secret to my success for the last 10 years, is deploying that out and seeing it work.”
Francois focused on ease of use for the citizen developer, but also highlighted the benefits of the democratization of IT using low-code platforms like QuickBase “like democratization of IT, self-service wins. Why do we have big teams of people in IT receiving a call from business users saying, "Please can you change the permissions for this user because he just moved from this department to this other department?" "Yes, I'm going do it." So, plenty of service requests where... "Please create a new report for that," "Please create a new form for that," when they can do it themselves. So self-service is very important. It saves a lot of money. It makes it quickly available in the field for users.”
Will highlighted the fact that QuickBase is a true platform for Citizen Development. We’ve seen sponsors of strategic deployments of QuickBase come from both the business side (Typically Business Process Leaders) and the IT side (VP of Applications). But the power of Citizen Developers can be harnessed and empowered from either side or as a partnership. Will highlighted in Ministry Health, “What we've tried to do is stratify that in a way that the stuff that is low-risk and that is high in terms of the demand placed upon us for needs, we can take and then give this platform to folks and say, "Go ahead and solve your own problems. And even if you make a mistake it's probably okay. And here's one or two people that will help you with that, but go ahead and do that and we'll get IT out of the way."
Isaac described the power of the combination of the democratization of IT and citizen development as the following, “IT owns the decisions on what platforms it's picking. I'm pretty regimental around that because I don't want one QuickBase app and one Dynamics App and another Salesforce app. I want three QuickBase apps or five QuickBase apps or 3,500 of them. Sounds like a lot to manage. But that's what a strategic platform is and the way to get there is you listen. And you teach a combination of IT folks and self-servicing technology people in the business to learn how to service those against the platforms that you have available. And so now you've taken the one or two apps you've built and you've found a steward who's building an app. Then you start showing them how to take that app and roll it out to 10, 20 different people so they're using it.”
Next we started to discuss adoption. Adoption is key to the ROI and success of any platform, so I wanted to know how QuickBase stacked up in their experience. Will of Ministry Health felt like that was one of the strengths of the platform, noting “It's spread like wildfire from day one and continues to. So, I was in a session earlier and people were saying "Well, how do you solve adoption problems?" And I’m like pssshh. We don't have adoption problems. We have adoption problems with physicians trying to use multi-million dollar electronic health records, but don't really seem to have that same level of problem with QuickBase.”
Why Choose a Low Code Platform vs a String of Pearls of Point Solutions?
A few interesting questions came in from the audience of EMPOWER2015 attendees. Some wanted to know, why these platforms haven’t become more ubiquitous. Will gave an interesting response saying, “I was a CIO at a 700-person company that was part of 17,000-employee enterprise and I came in and I brought QuickBase in there. And at first, we had to go through and get security to sign off on a SaaS platform and we went through those motions to make that happen. And then very soon, we were putting solutions together that we're competing with the $500,000 to $200 million solutions in place and getting more adoption and getting better data out of it. And so part of the reason that it's hard is you've got another CIO in there who'd sold an original investment, who sold everybody to go and start using a particular tool, has been doing it for three or four years and the last thing that person wants is another solution coming in and saying, "You know, there's a better way of doing this. Cheaper and better, right?’”
Francois added his own insights saying “Yeah, I think you have to be smart about having the conversation about adding that next SaaS platform, because that's the decision point where you're getting another point solution in there and it needs to provide its value. So, it is a balanced equation. I'll use lots of SaaS platforms for different things. But more often than not, if there's something about proprietary around the data that we're trying to collect, and something proprietary around the workflow, I'm going to try to build it out of something that we have a little bit more control over. I've worked probably 15 solutions, SaaS solutions, cloud solutions, for different things. Maybe one day, I move from my QuickBase CRM to another CRM, I don't know. But over time it has given me a lot of answers, and it helps business users to understand better what they want to do with the solutions. The bad thing is when you buy a big thing, you put it in, and then you discover that they are using only 5% of it.”
I believe the session attendees learned a lot about why QuickBase and other low-code platforms have started to emerge in popularity with strategic IT leaders. CIOs truly value the ability to harness the power of citizen developers to solve their own problems at the right ROI. They also don’t want to be burdened with too many point solutions that require RFP processes, vendor evaluations, installation, maintenance and training across many systems that get only limited use. They are also used to filling in the gaps in areas where their large ERP or BPM platform investments aren’t able to roll out or customize new applications, or the applications’ lifespan is perishable, so the ROI in standing up a new app on the platform doesn’t make sense from an ROI perspective. These systems also gain fast adoption due to their ease of use and self service benefits for citizen developers. They ultimately help unite IT with the line of business by letting the business run fast creating their own apps, while keeping the keys and control with IT to ensure governance, security, and compliance.
For these progressive CIOs, it seems you can have your cake and eat it too.