This week I'm at our IT Business Edge Midmarket CIO Forum and, as we start off the event, three topics seem to be floating to the top. The first is that there appears to be a broad realization that business intelligence (BI) is the way to help IT stand out strategically and improve the performance of a company dramatically. The second is that this market is waking up to the fact that paying for two phones for every employee is kind of stupid and firms need to choose one and eliminate the redundant costs. And finally, about 90 percent of the 100 attendees are ramping up to deploy Windows 7 this year and are looking for help and advice on how to best do that.
Let's talk about each.
Midmarket CIO Forum
First, though, let's talk basic stats of this sold-out forum. We have 100 IT leaders in attendance-most of which are CIOs-and 20 industry sponsors. These IT leaders have a collective budget of $500M a year and are representatives of their class and a wide variety of industries. Their purpose at the event is to learn from each other. Many have indicated that it is a normal practice to leave the event with at least one new solution, which is why the vendor sponsors return every year. Sponsors include: CA, Cast Iron Systems, BeyondTrust, Dell, EntryPoint, Fortinet, Google, Hitachi Data Systems, HP Software, IBM, Instantis, International Institute for Analytics, Laplink, Rackspace Hosting, SAS, Sentrigo, Spotfire, Thinking Phone Networks, TriGeo and Webroot. InfoTech, which positions itself as the Gartner for the midmarket, is the large research company partner.
The event is kept small and intimate so that the focus is on making critical contacts and sharing information between like-size companies in order to make more intelligent decisions.
BI is a hot topic here, and one of the major related BI topics is Cognos' acquisition by IBM. Cognos was thought to be one of the best providers in the space. There has been a lot of concern that the IBM acquisition would ruin the company based on IBM's bad track record prior to Sam Palmisano taking over the company. However, in discussions with some of the firms using Cognos, this has not been the case, and like most recent IBM acquisitions, the firm appears stronger and more capable under IBM.
Benefits of BI include: Line executives who consistently make better solutions, more timely identification and removal of executives who weren't working out (and likely were covering up their poor performance), and a more strategic role for IT and a solutions provider in the company. Healthier companies lead to stronger IT budgets, making BI an excellent investment. However, some companies have had difficulty selling it inside because of concerns (likely from those getting credit they didn't deserve) that credit would be lost or that too much information would be known to management and peers.
Death of PBXs
What strikes me as very interesting, and I had tossed this topic into my keynote as a trend prior to arriving to the forum, is how much the idea of eliminating the increasingly redundant PBX is resonating. These shops have been looking at their expenses and increasingly asking why they need to fund two phones per employee and why they can't eliminate the redundant cost. This suggests that, at least in the midmarket, the PBX may be seeing its last days and that cell phone numbers will increasingly be the way to reach internal employees and that virtual PBX services-kind of the cloud form of telephony-will be the wave of the future. I'll report on this later as I have a chance to review successful deployments.
Windows 7 is clearly a massive hit with this audience because the majority, who I should point out are not fans of Vista, apparently are ramping up to deploy the product this year. Apparently, a number of these executives are on Microsoft's midmarket advisory board and met with the company recently. They were impressed with what they saw, and are here to seek advice on how to successfully roll out the new operating system. This appears to be dovetailing with Microsoft's push for desktop visualizations as the way to go, which is kind of interesting because one of the hottest topics in the enterprise market right now is desktop virtualization and it seems likely that the midmarket will use this solution first.
As I am every time I go to this forum, I am incredibly impressed by the business knowledge and focus on intelligent decisions that the attendees bring to the table. Unlike many executives who often seem to be more about getting credit, these folks seem far more focused on trying to learn from others to make better decisions and avoid the mistakes their peers may have made. President Harry S. Truman once said, "It is amazing how much you can accomplish when it doesn't matter who gets the credit." This event is a testament to that thought as the folks attending are all about making progress.