CIOs Discuss How They Approach Emerging Technology

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — How do enterprise CIOs decide which new technology products and services to adopt? There may not be any one answer or template for all organizations, but a panel of executive IT buyers agreed the decision is rarely simple or quick.

“I see a see a lot of pure-play vendors who assume, for example, if they have a product that works with Google Docs that’s all they need,” Ralph Loura, CIO at the Clorox Company, said during the panel discussion here at the DEMO conference Tuesday. “We are looking at using Google in some areas, but any solution has to co-exist with Office, PowerPoint and the other apps we’re going to continue to use.”

Loura and others on the panel offered advice, including a list of do’s and don’ts, to the entrepreneurs and startups in the audience who hope to sell to the enterprise. A key takeaway was that smaller and relatively unknown companies selling to the enterprise need to do their research, and shouldn’t expect big sales right away.

“You’d be surprised how many don’t do the homework to understand our business,” said Loura.

John Murray, CIO of Genworth Financial Wealth Management, agreed. “If [a salesperson] wants me to tell them about my business, the call’s basically over. We don’t have time for that,” he said.

Murray said new and emerging tech companies would be well advised to build a relationship with potential clients by letting them know about new products they might be interested in. “Talk early — not to sell. And then, over a few months, as more proof points come in, we can have a more fruitful discussion,” he said.

The CIOs said they aren’t at all averse to trying new technology, but vendors need to keep in mind that it’s the companies they are selling to that are taking a risk. They can’t afford to deploy anything that might fail, prove to be a security threat or hurt their business in some other way.

In addition to evaluating new products from enterprise-focused vendors, CIOs are also now under increased pressure to allow more consumer products and services behind the firewall, such as smartphones and social networking services.

In some cases it’s getting easier to give employees what they want, Loura said

“At first, the only smartphone we allowed was a BlackBerry, but now we offer a choice of smartphones among any that support ActiveSync” for communicating with Microsoft Exchange servers, he said. “With Exchange 2010, I can manage all of them and do things like remote wipe when it’s needed.”

Loura said it took a while to convince Clorox’s legal team that it was okay to let employees start using “random devices,” but he pointed out that there was an IT benefit to being more flexible. “Security has gone up by us knowing what’s out there, and by not preventing access we don’t have folks trying to subvert policy to get what they want,” he said.

Sheldon Wang, executive vice president and CTO of eHealth, agreed. “Before, our policy mandated more control, but we recognized we weren’t going to stop some of this consumer technology, so now our policy is to adapt,” he said.

He added that mobile is an area where his company and others might be more willing to consider new technology because they are still in an early adopter phase.

Loura said Clorox recently restructured its IT department, adding the new role of solution designer to five different staffers to work on a technology roadmap for the next three years to five years.

“They have a certain amount of hours in the day to plan and design how new technology might play out,” he said.

It’s all part of the typically long evaluation process that enterprises go through before deciding to adopt something new. Loura hinted that some time might be saved were it not for salespeople who are persistent to a fault.

“Don’t stalk CIOs with email, voicemail and messages to their admins,” he pleaded to laughs from the audience. “We’re busy. If there’s interest we’ll follow up.”

Another mistake: “Don’t make wild unsubstantiated claims like ‘I guarantee we can save you 50 percent on costs.’ How do you know that? I don’t want to waste time refuting claims,” he said.

Alternatively, Loura said he’d be open to hearing how a company’s product or service saved some other customer time or money as a proof point.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.