Dear Tim,

Welcome back to the private sector! Too good an opportunity to turn down, even as you flourished as a public sector CIO. The headhunters can be quite determined at times.

At last week’s dinner we debated the issue of transformation — my January column had caught your eye. I mentioned a January 19th report from Morgan Stanley Research Europe on the pharma major GlaxoSmithKline — ‘Outdated IT could hinder efforts by the new GSK CFO to boost operating performance, cash conversion and bolt-on acquisitions, and will take five years to fully update’.

As the Financial Times reported the next day: ‘GSK under pressure following IT analysis’. In these highly competitive days a global major cannot afford to allow its IT capabilities to fall behind the times.

The other piece I mentioned was by Richard Waters in the same edition of the FT: ‘Wall Street sees the light clearing on cloud computing’.’s share price jumped 70 per cent during 2010 — Richard noted that “Stock market investors have finally been warming up to a software trend that has been more that 10 years in the making”. I remain critical of IT marketers mindlessly labelling almost anything that moves as The Cloud, yet behind the hype there is a major transformation in play.

You also quizzed me about the column I wrote on ‘The CIO as Master Operational Strategist’. It was based on a presentation made by HP’s Jamie Erbes at the 2nd Cloud Computing Forum in London last July.

Ms Erbes repositioned the role of the CIO as service broker for the enterprise, and recognised a parallel transformational imperative: leading the enterprise to escape the restraints of its legacy inheritances, so as to have an enabling IT infrastructure oriented to underwriting its supply and business value chains with the most competitively sourced business services possible.

View CIO Richard Sykes video on application sprawl

Since our dinner I have visited another arm of HP — the Apps Transformation and Integration business. They sent me a study by Coleman-Parkes Research based on a survey of 500 IT chiefs from larger European firms.

The picture that emerges is of major legacy application sprawl which absorbs resources, adds to cost and distracts from focus on current priorities.

The twin barriers to constructively tackling the potential for transformational change are undoubtedly sprawling legacy systems and defensive IT departments. What I found at HP is an innovative workshop process that seeks to effectively engage the latter with the business to jointly create the practical means to transform and rework the former.

We are well into the era of virtualisation and its major technology and business impacts. HP has accumulated significant practical experience by working on transformational agendas with major enterprise clients, and there is a small band of expert HP practitioners intimate with particular industry verticals.

The workshop focus is on the enterprise’s applications, and issues such as underlying infrastructural capabilities (data storage, processing, networks) are addressed from that vantage point.

A clear analytical framework is used to review the enterprise’s applications – the Seven Rs!

 - Re-learn (do the business rules need re-addressing?)
 - Re-factor (clean up the code)
 - Re-host (improve security, move off the mainframe, modernise hardware, create new user interfaces)
 - Re-architect and Re-interface (bring the SOA revolution into play, new service and data interfaces)
 - Replace (will standard COTS suffice?) or Retire (no longer required or delivering real value)

The real challenge is to bring together the enterprise’s business and IT players. A questionnaire brings an initial focus onto what should be common business agendas and, given that the lack of such common agendas is a frequent reality, allows the HP team enabling the workshop to set an approach encouraging the participants to create what that shared business-shaped transformational agenda should be!

A series of full-height wallcharts lines the workshop space, providing access to a range of carefully mapped analytical frameworks that promote debate.

The frameworks articulate the HP experience, but the workshop process is designed to enable participants to hold the upper hand in crafting a way forward that is both owned by the participants and expressed in commitment to concrete actions.

The sceptic in me senses an innovative marketing initiative by HP. Yet while the experience that informs the guts of the workshop is heavily HP-influenced, the process itself does not appear to tie the participants to HP.

The one wallchart I would add would focus on the current competitive transformations in the vendor landscape. But, as my HP hosts pointed out, the participating enterprise remains free to do its commercial homework outside the workshop.

So, Tim, given your inherited challenge to transform your company’s IT capabilities — perhaps it’s worth taking a closer look at?

Richard Sykes was vice president of IT at ICI in the 1990s and is now a consultant