If you really want to know if a technology or business system works, don’t ask anybody, ask a CIO. Your peers know all too well the pain of failure, but also the joy of success. Mykolas Rambus, CIO at publishing group Forbes is one CIO who is a keen advocate of Project Portfolio Management (PPM). Rambus and a growing number of CIOs are discovering that PPM ticks business boxes, technology boxes and financial boxes as a software as a service offering.
Forbes is a household name in the US and is increasingly becoming a global brand as it expands in the UK, Europe and the Far East. Rambus has been CIO at the media company for a year and a half now and like all CIOs he knows that the current economic climate places him under increased scrutiny. But at the same time, he is relaxed and confident, because he knows that the clients of the Forbes company, no matter the state of the economy, need to reach the customers that Forbes can deliver. “Our advertisers are keen to reach influencers in the USA, C suite management, hedge fund managers and up and comers,” he explains.
Forbes is 90 years old and is today a mixed business from its magazine beginnings, with major events and web based information services its primary growth areas. Its events for CEOs in Asia are proving particularly successful. “We are a digital business,” he says of how the business has moved away from being purely a publishing house. “The challenge we face is how to create more value from the agencies and customers at the same time as delivering content to readers,” Rambus says of the commercial model at Forbes. He displays that comfort with profits, customers and revenue that is a central part of American culture, even in creative sector like publishing.
Forbes is Rambus’ first role in the publishing industry, having moved over from a career in management consultancy, IT and venture capitalists. “Publishing is less regulated, which is nice,” he says of the most noticeable difference in sectors. On arriving at Forbes Rambus instantly wanted to look at how the IT department “was deployed as a unit”.
“My first question was how are we deploying?” He said the budget he has is “not exploding”, and having tried to discover how his department is benefiting the business he found he “couldn’t get an insight in the projects that we were doing.” This left blurred image in front of Rambus at his new desk and you don’t have to spend long with the young CIO to know that he likes things to be crystal clear.
To clarify the situation, Rambus looked back into his career and decided to follow the same path as he had at W P Carey, a lease funds financing organisation, where he had been CIO from 2002 to 2006. “We had a similar challenge at W P Carey.” In 2002 the New York based Carey had been keeping track of its various IT projects using Excel spreadsheets. “We were building very complex Excel spreadsheets,” he says.
Having successfully introduced PPM tools to WP Carey, Rambus knew how to plot a course forward for Forbes. He formed a partnership with Innotas, which supplied him with PPM tools using the software as a service (SaaS) model that was gaining traction in a number of markets at the time. He soon discovered that 75 per cent of the initiatives that his newly inherited team were working on were of “limited value”. The IT team was mired in “infrastructure projects that were nice to have, but they were so technical that they were difficult to make management decisions on,” he says. Just 25 per cent of the projects were of high value and he admits there was a technology driven ethos running throughout the department, not a business focus.
“Now 75 per cent of the projects are high value,” he says. PPM is not a silver bullet. Having installed PPM, he and his team had to work out how the organisation made decisions and then put together an evaluation process. “PPM is an essential function in how you make value for the organisation. The real value comes from the projects you (the IT department) can deliver.” With two successful PPM adoptions under his wing, Rambus says it is now the first act of his tenure as a CIO at any organisation and it clearly frames his entire decision making process, as it’s meant to.
“At Forbes we believe in crawl, walk and then run. PPM got us crawling, so then the tool comes along with us and enables us to walk and then run.
“CIOs don’t have true visibility of what is going on in their portfolio,” says Keith Carlson CEO at Innotas, which supplies Forbes. “Like a sales person, you should be working on the high value wins,” he says. PPM is rapidly gaining interest from CIOs and market watchers. The same can be said of SaaS. Carlson is, of course, a keen advocate of PPM as a SaaS model. Having worked for some of the incumbent vendors, Carlson believes PPM is set for a reinvigoration using SaaS, because PPM has, like many applications, been dogged by software licence models, installation problems and failure to deliver.
PPM is at heart a measurement and collaboration tool, which Carlson believes makes it ideal for SaaS, as it plays to the distributed strengths of SaaS. “SaaS will benefit CIOs as it goes on the expenses line, rather than the capital expenditure budget,” Carlson adds with an eye to the current economic climate.
Before joining Forbes, Rambus was at KAHLE Partners a management consultancy targeting CIOs, where he was a partner. He joined it following a three month stint at Greylock Partners, a venture capital and private equity group. These two positions were a break from being a CIO. Rambus had been CIO at WP Carey for over four years.
Rambus’ career began in the ultimate technology green-house, MIT, which then led to him being a founding president of Lobby7, the wireless technology company that was later sold to imaging systems company Scansoft. Lobby7 was named in recognition of MIT, the lobby of the same name at MIT is where many MITY students find themselves in their first days at the illustrious institute, surrounded by peers who are bursting at the seams with technical creative energy. The Lobby 7 business developed voice and data interfaces for clients including DARPA, the defence body at the heart of the internet’s inception.
Outside of the office, Rambus is a keen fencer, but like many CIOs, he doesn’t get enough time to wield his foil as much as he’d like. Discussing why CIOs seem to enjoy fast and furious activities such as fencing, flying and motorsport Rambus believes he and his peers enjoy “activities that keep the mind sharp,” but adds that in the US, golf is popular and that flying is equally popular among CEOs, so CIOs could be taking up flying to “get into the CEO club”.