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An expert among experts: Gartner CIO and senior vice-president

Darko Hrelic has no shortage of IT analysts and experts to draw upon for free advice.
Garter senior vice-president and CIO, Darko Hrelic

Garter senior vice-president and CIO, Darko Hrelic

CIO: What IT initiatives are you working on?

Hrelic: We are in the process of refurbishing pretty much everything. For a long time, IT was neglected in terms of funding, but when Gene Hall [Gartner’s CEO] came on board, he wanted to change that.

We’re modernising data centres, virtualising things, revamping product lines and upgrading back office systems, including our ERP. There are things we develop in-house, but we try to procure off-the-shelf with little customisation. Strategic things we look at carefully are whether to outsource, develop code, or use Cloud services. Those are the factors that drive decision making. If it’s not mission-critical, we will try to buy it off-the-shelf.

Analyst firms often research and comment on reporting lines for the CIO. What are your thoughts?

I hope I’m not going against Gartner research — I do believe the CIO should report to the CEO in most cases. I’m sure there are cases where perhaps it should be different, but I believe the role of the CIO is becoming significantly more important and it will continue to be the case where the CIO needs to be integral to business decision making.

If the CIO is not there, it will hurt some companies. The CIO should be at the highest level discussions and have a significant voice. The CIO is probably the most informed as to what’s happening right across the company. When it comes down to where the rubber meets the road, I don’t believe any executive has the visibility the CIO has.

You come from an advanced technology background, but many CIOs come from the non-IT side of business. Is the organisation put at a disadvantage if the CIO is not technically literate?

It can work equally both ways. It is paramount CIOs participate in business aspects of the company and make sure that is driving technology decisions. I also feel — as the CIO is responsible for critical technology decisions — that aspect of the job is done well. If the CIO comes from a business background, as long as he or she can augment that ‘weakness’ with staff who can do technical things, it can work.

You have more than 750 analysts at Gartner who are your ‘customers’. How do you manage that relationship where you may need to make decisions they disagree with?

It has its moments. Any CIO role is very difficult so I don’t think mine is any more difficult. And in some ways it might be easier. If I mess up and we make a bad decision, clearly I have no place to hide. I can’t make excuses as my boss is a former CIO too and customers will see through it.

One of the key things a CIO needs to do is communicate with people and that’s where I have an advantage as I have the understanding of my audience. I also value the advice I receive.

What is the IT landscape like at Gartner?

We have about 370 staff. The main centre is in Stamford, but we also have support centres in Florida, the UK, Sydney and Tokyo. We have traditional IT business systems and we are a global company. We have one ERP system and I think we’ve done a good job with that.

Contractually, we cannot be referenced by vendors
Another thing is personal communications, and social technology is a doing a good job of that with voice, video, social media, wikis and blogs. Social media is inevitable. The next generation expects that to be an option for communication, but it won’t replace everything else. It won’t kill e-mail.

Social media, for me, is still in its infancy — especially in the corporate space. It can be applied very usefully and be valuable to business processes and change how business processes work. If you apply it to proper moderation and facilitation, it works in pockets, but if it lacks focus and has no real purpose, nothing is accomplished.

I think there will be a transformation in social media where we will reengineer support and sales. Mission-critical business processes will change because we will communicate in a different way.

How much freedom do you have to use different types of technology and services?

My boss gives me the freedom to do what is best for the company. He agrees that we should be on the leading edge and understands how IT can help a business do better. We experiment and try new things, but try to do it in a reasonable and responsible way. My budget is probably too small and it should be larger, but we do what we can in the real world. And we don’t take unnecessary risks.

The vendors would love to do business with Gartner and we have policies and procedures in place, but it’s not so much of a problem with the established, best-of-breed players.

It’s more of an issue with vendors trying to move into the space. Contractually, we cannot be referenced by vendors. We evaluate to determine the best solution.

At the end of the day, you might save money, but if it is the wrong product it will cost you dearly. Our IT costs are in line with other companies.

You have worked at vendors such as IBM. Do you think large IT suppliers will continue to remain relevant in the face of the new generation of providers like Google, Salesforce.com, and social media services?

The advantages of larger vendors is they hopefully integrate more pieces for you and that’s positive. On the other hand, there can be a lack of agility and that’s a problem. And potentially being locked in, which is not good from a CIO’s perspective. It’s the vertical model I struggle with; I don’t have to worry about gluing pieces together, but we need agility as a business so I believe in using best-of-breed components and Cloud.

What are your predictions for 2011?

In 2011, Cloud will gain momentum as the technology starts to become interesting. There are some apps that are fine in the Cloud, but there is a way to go in terms of security. But it will gain momentum and be a real help to CIOs so they can focus on more important things. The amount of things in the Cloud will become tedious. Social media will start making a big difference to business and start to accelerate. Pattern-based computing is the next step in BI and that could be very interesting. Today, we are just dealing with BI and it will start to become more sophisticated.

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More about: Gartner, Google, IBM, IBM Australia, Salesforce.com
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