The Next Big Question


Episode 17
Hosted by: Drew Lazzara and Liz Ramey

Ross Ballendine

Director, Information Technology

Calfrac Well Services

Ross Ballendine is the director of Information Technology at Calfrac Well Services, where he has held various leadership roles in IT since 2012. Ross began his career in accounting and finance before moving into technology.

Does IT Have a Place in the Business of the Future?


JUNE 22, 2021

IT Leader Ross Ballendine of Calfrac Well Services joins the podcast this time to discuss the future of IT and its relationship to the business. Ross shares his views on the value of technology in business enablement, the expectations of speed and agility post-Covid, and how to create close alignment with the business.

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Drew Lazzara (00:13):

Welcome to The Next Big Question, a weekly podcast with senior business leaders, sharing their vision for tomorrow, brought to you by Evanta, a Gartner company.

Liz Ramey (00:23):

Each episode features a conversation with C-suite executives about the future of their roles, organizations, and industries.

Drew Lazzara (00:32):

My name is Drew Lazzara.

Liz Ramey (00:33):

And I'm Liz Ramey. We're your co-hosts. So, Drew, what's The Next Big Question?

Drew Lazzara (00:40):

This week we’re asking, ‘Does IT have a place in the business of the future?’ To help us to tackle this big question is Ross Ballendine, director of information technology for Calfrac Well Services in Calgary. As you’ll hear in our conversation, Ross comes from an accounting and finance background, so he approaches the utility of information technology from a unique perspective. He’s been thinking a lot recently about the ongoing shift in enterprise technology toward increasing configurations of self service, along with data ownership in business units. He’s also been thinking about how these factors – among many others – may force a re-evaluation of IT’s role. In this conversation, Ross chats with us about the course of this evolution, what it implies for the role of the CIO, and for the future of digital business. 

Before we sit down with Ross, we’d like to take a moment to thank you for listening. To make sure you don’t miss out on the next Next Big Question, subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. Please rate and review us, so we can continue to grow and improve. Thanks, and enjoy.

Drew Lazzara (01:49):

Ross Ballendine, welcome to The Next Big Question. Thank you so much for being on the show. 

Ross Ballendine (01:54):

Thanks for having me. 

Liz Ramey (01:56):

Ross, we're super excited that you're here to talk to us today about a really cool topic. But before we get really deep into that, just want to ask you to tell us a little bit about your career path. How did you become an IT leader? You know, I could maybe even ask the question of, you know, what did you do to set some bad karma to be an IT leader? Or, walk us through that journey.

Ross Ballendine (02:24):

You know, it's been quite a journey. And I'll try to do it without dating myself unnecessarily. But it has been… there's a bit of a story to it. My education is in accounting and finance. And so, I am a CPA from back in the 90s. And that was actually my career focus was accounting and finance. I held some senior roles in various companies on the West Coast. And then I came to Calgary, as well, on the accounting and controller ship plane. And that was my trajectory. But I found that in each of those roles, an element of what I did was really focused on supporting technology, whether that was from the pure technology perspective and working directly with the support services that our companies ran from time to time, or if it was more from a systems, particularly an ERP perspective, and the data that we were trying to leverage out of those systems. 

So, I found even as an accountant, you know, it was almost impossible to avoid the force of technology on the work that I was doing. And there was a very strong allegiance between the two until eventually, I realized that accounting was really not the trajectory that I wanted to stay on, despite the fact that I had achieved a great deal. And I took a position with the drilling company here in Calgary in 2006 as a project manager, BA, basically running all of their systems and all of their data and reporting. And that was really my foray into IT. That was when I first began working in an IT department. 

And the thing that I found really magical, if you will, about that time was the fact that with all of this accounting and finance background that I had, now supporting and directly maintaining those systems for the accountants within that company, there was a real sympatico in the language that we spoke, in our very quick understanding of each other. I was very empathetic to what it was they were trying to accomplish with the systems or with the reporting that they were looking for. And I think that that allowed us to really advance the position of IT within the company and, you know, into that trusted partner type of position that every IT group aspires towards. And then from there, I've never really looked back, you know, seven years at that company, handling all manner of systems in ERP work and then over to where I am today with Calfrac Well Services, in a manager role overlooking their enterprise applications portfolio and then ultimately to my current role as director of IT. So, it's definitely had some pivots and turns along the way. But there's always ways to leverage the transferable parts of it and build on top of that all the way through the journey. 

Drew Lazzara (05:25):

Ross, it makes a little sense that someone who's coming from another discipline outside of IT, at the root of their career, might have some of the perspective that you have around the future of IT. And that is the big question this week. The question is, does IT have a place in the in the business of the future? And when we were preparing for this episode, you surprised us a little bit by saying that maybe, maybe it doesn't, at least not in the way that we understand it now. I was hoping we could get started on that question by just having a little bit of context. What do you mean by that, and what's the perspective that you think is going to be influencing IT in the future? 

Ross Ballendine (06:02):

Yeah, in that conversation that you're referring to, I was really kind of poking the bear a little bit. I sort of wanted to go right over to the to the maverick side of it to make a point, which is to say, does the IT function exist in the future? And I guess, you know, in fairness, there's a part A to that subtext, I guess, which is to say, if it exists, is it in its current state? And I think that's really where the conversation belongs. And so, to me, as I look at really where the value of technology is, the IT function in particular, within any given organization, it's that enablement side. It's that, you know, they're referred to as a ‘service organization,’ but it goes way beyond that with technology. A service organization would be, you know, a finance group and HR group, some of your common shared services. I like to think that with technology, though, it goes past that into deep value creation, deep business enablement, and that requires such a close alignment to the business. One begins to wonder why we keep it separate. Why do we run IT over here purportedly in service to the business, when in fact there may be a way here to bring them together, and as we imagine what that might look like, the lines, the functional lines on the org chart really begin to blur. 

Drew Lazzara (07:35):

Ross, can I follow up there really quickly? When you're talking about this blurring, can you help us understand a couple of the key factors that are driving this blurring? I mean, I think at a very high level, we understand from our conversations with other CIOs that business and technology are intertwining because of that value creation. But what are some of the other factors that you see that are driving that intermeshing, and what do they look like in practice? 

Ross Ballendine (07:58):

Yeah, for sure. So, there's a few things really in play. And it's partly rooted in the value creation that you're talking about. But, you know, let's go back to the beginning of Covid and bring it forward, because really what I'm speaking about here today is a shift that I've seen both in the business, which is where you would expect the shift to come from. It's a shift in demand. It's a shift in expectation, but also from within IT, where I think we're seeing IT leaders and even IT teams at a technical level recognizing that something has changed. 

So, if we go back to the beginning of Covid, when we think about that sort of that brief golden age in a CIO's life where we were able to get our organizations resituated from the office to home very quickly. Many of us did it in a very secure way. And we were applauded for that. We had some recognition at very senior levels within our companies. These are things that are well written about. But we also, you know, be careful what you wish for or maybe you're a victim of your own success to some degree. 

We showed the organization that well-positioned technology can be deployed quickly in service to the business and get people set up very quickly. And what that's done, though, is it has created a very long tail of expectation from the business to say, listen, if you've done that, let's keep this going. You know, how can you also get me access to this data set that I require or these multiple data sets? How can you now do these other value creation things that are now expected from the business and expected from our customers? We are getting a lot of customer stories coming to us that translate into direct demand for technology enablement. So, what I'm actually starting to see very suddenly since the beginning of the Covid pandemic is customers who whose IT groups also enabled them very well in the Covid pandemic are now coming to us saying, ‘hey, here's our expectations for what you need to do for us as a service provider from a technology perspective.’ And it almost becomes passed through demand from the customer, through our business to my IT function. 

And so, there's this elevated expectation of what technology can do. People have seen the light, so to speak, as to what the enablement and value creation can be. But along with that comes an expectation of speed, speed and agility in the delivery. And so, it's not enough anymore to say, sure, we can do that for you. We need three months or four months to build out a solution. We need to be able to move very quickly. And oftentimes what we're finding now is the business is saying, ‘listen, how can we help you do that? We have some people here. They've come out of school with a set of skills, with deep affinity for technology. We've all seen this done before. We've seen it in other companies. We've got some folks that can help with that. How do you want to line that up?’

And so, it really becomes a conversation about, you know, ‘IT, you're not alone on this. We're willing to help you.’ And legacy IT thinking, though, is very much about no, no, let us build this within our own governance models, within our own architectural frameworks, and to our own standards. We’ll deploy it to you when we get it there. And that's just simply not working anymore. That's not lining up with anyone's expectations -- all the way up to the customer. And so that's a really key driver that's causing IT to look around for that help and say, listen, maybe there is a way that we can partner with the business, using business side resources, and that's really the key difference that we're starting to see here, using business side resources to become technology producers outside of IT, but within frameworks that are provided by IT. 

Liz Ramey (12:07):

It's such a good point that you bring up in, you know, looking at 2020 and it's moving so quickly. There was a lot of speed, a lot of agility. The business has now set expectations. So, IT needs to continuously, you know, keep up with those expectations. But what -- what do they give up then? What do we give up as IT leaders -- do you give up governance? Do you give up your standards? Do you give up, you know, the way you normally operate? And then what sort of risk does that do with the business for the business or add to the business? So, I guess my question is, have you seen any particular things? Maybe it's change management, maybe it's governance that are the biggest things that need to adapt to this new structure in order for IT to keep up with the business. 

Ross Ballendine (13:07):  

Yeah, so there's a few things, actually. And you know, your comment about change management is certainly a very interesting one. But this is all at the heart of kind of how we would do this and what it would look like at the end. So, change management, first off, is a challenging one at the best of times. I think we all in IT have ample scar tissue from when change management initiatives have not been done well or where it's been relegated to too late in a project or under-resourced, etc. So, change management is a very sensitive one. I do actually find the change management works very well already. It's kind of a natural affinity to being run by the business because in essence, if you think about it, change management positions in the business really represents the business acting in a caring and empathetic way for itself, taking care of itself. Whereas if IT assigns a change manager for, you know, a significant initiative, technology initiative, it's really going to have a clinical technology flavor to it, or at least there's a risk that it will. The business already speaks the business language. So, having changed management, there is a great area to start. I have seen that actually work very well on some large ERP projects within the last couple of years. 

Now, you pose the question, though, Liz, which was kind of a fascinating one, as IT leaders, as CIOs, what do we give up in moving towards this partnership with the business in terms of how we deliver technology? And I'd actually like to reframe that a little bit, because I think if we approach it from the perspective of what does the CIO have to give up in order to make this successful, it immediately becomes a deprecating conversation and a depreciative conversation. And that's actually not the case. I think the way that we need to think of it as IT leaders is what does our role need to change into? So, right now, we're very much focused on technology selection, architecture of technology solutions and delivery, and all of that within a business context. 

But what if, you know, when we start imagining using business resources, what if it became more about orchestration? So, rather than giving up governance, the CIO of the future, I believe, needs to be exceptional at orchestrating governance across a broader group. So now our governance models don't simply apply to the people that work within our teams within IT. There's an element of IT governance, particularly in the areas of security and coding standards that are architectural standards that will now need to be in the business. As IT leaders, we're extending governance throughout the organization for technology purposes. 

Now, imagine the impact that that could have on some of the shadow IT that some of us struggle with in our organizations. What if -- when pockets of shadow IT emerge in the future, but there's an understanding and an education of what it means to govern IT investments. I wonder if that shadow IT initiative might be done differently. And maybe in a healthier way for the organization than it would have otherwise been done. But that's going to require the IT leader to recognize that he or she actually has a technical capability far broader through the organization than just their own group that was hired for that purpose. And the challenge becomes, how do you take the good things about governance and pair it up with the good things about the capabilities that the people in other functions have, and get them to work together, so that you don't have to be in front of all of the technology decisions that are made at the organization. You can simply trust through orchestration and education that the business will act in a way that's recognizable and certifiable by IT. 

Drew Lazzara (17:37):

So, I have a quick question about this concept of orchestration, because I think it's a really interesting reframing of what governance means. But, when you're walking through it, it sounds like you were just talking about orchestration in terms of being adaptable to what the business brings to you. And so, I'm wondering if you could just help me understand a little bit what the distinction is between becoming just an adaptable intermediary as an IT organization and being actually an orchestrator of governance that facilitates these new kinds of technology adoptions. 

Ross Ballendine (18:07):

The concept of orchestration is one that extends out to, out into the business around how the business actually delivers technology solutions for itself. It could be something as simple as a data model with some dashboards on top of it, or it could be a full-blown application solution or even a low code platform, something like that. So what it really comes down to in terms of orchestration is starting at the highest levels of the organization and helping them understand the areas that IT needs to be involved in, the areas of architecture, security, and really the infrastructure of significant provisioning this platform layer for the organization. 

So, we take our focus away from the actual delivering of specific end solutions, and we focus more on the delivery of platforms that can scale and support the types of solutions that our business is expected to need to reach its strategic goals. Well, that requires a great deal of orchestration, of reach into the functional leadership across the enterprise to ensure that there is education and training provided to those who would be identified as technical resources, that there is governance processes put in place with the appropriate frameworks, the appropriate ownership at a senior level, within each function, through the enterprise, that they understand that they're the owner of something and what their role is in that. So role definition throughout the company to really bring folks on board within the governance framework. So, they're first class citizens. It's not about saying, look, if you're going to write code, you need to write it in these ways with these tools. And these need to be the predictable outcomes that we can recognize within your solution. 

It's about helping them understand that they're actually a first class citizen in ensuring that the people within their groups that would be involved in solution delivery are actually producing work that can then come back to IT to be peer reviewed and certified as a viable solution within the context that the enterprise sets its frameworks. And so, it is very much involved. It's more than just orchestrating it or being empathetic to what the business needs and providing agile delivery. It's actually given the business run books and playbooks for what these things look like and expecting them to elevate into an understanding of what it means to technology solutions for the enterprise beyond just throwing something together and lobbing it over to IT for review. So, that's kind of the -- it's a high touch relationship that really supports this orchestration. That's really what I'm talking about there. 

Liz Ramey (21:10):

That's great, Ross. To me, you know, you're talking about a very agile enterprise, right, in the future that that kind of builds agility into its own governance itself -- in the fact that you're giving autonomy to people throughout the business, right. But there takes a level of, takes a level of education, and so on your behalf, but then there also takes this kind of like what Gartner says, digital dexterity -- all the way up to leaders and then all the way down through their teams. So, you know, what sort of things do you kind of relinquish control over when you're giving that autonomy? What sort of things do you kind of, I guess, begin teaching senior leaders throughout to start adapting to? And so, you're kind of giving up that control. I mean, I could even step back and just kind of say, I guess I could just say, where do you start? Let's start with the senior leaders. Where do you start, and what do you kind of begin to teach them so you can relinquish that control? 

Ross Ballendine (21:22):

Great question. So, I mean, I think the conversation with senior leaders really needs to start with the ‘why.’ You know, what is the story for doing this? Many senior leaders all the way up to the board level are still viewing IT very much as a siloed function with a very discrete purpose. And, of course, sadly, a cost center. And so, it’s really about connecting the senior executive with the power that this can bring to the organization through speed, agility, and I'm going to steal your term and Gartner's term and say digital dexterity, because it's really that that literacy, that technological literacy, that we're really trying to get through the entire organization because technology is coming at every company, from every direction, constantly, at paces never seen before. 

Those countless entry points for technology to come in are currently ungoverned, except to the extent that IT has some mechanism within the company to ensure that those technology decisions make it back IT, to so IT can exert its governance control over those. A key reason why it's important to explain that the ‘why’ of this to the executive is because there is going to need to be a leadership mandate that spreads across the organization to ensure that the functions are not only on board with this, because what you'll see is that functions will be more than on board with this. You mean, I get to do this myself and I don't have to wait for IT, that's fantastic. Finally, someone has seen the light, and we can do this in a sensible way, they think. And then they build a solution, and it punches holes in the firewall and has gappy code in it or whatever the flaws of it might be, because the governance hasn't been put in place. So, there's a risk element to it, as well, that the executive needs to appreciate. And that's where you're really going to need them on board. It's not enough for them to see lower cost, faster times delivery for some of these solutions. They also have to see the role that this orchestration of governance plays in mitigating the risk.

And risk, I would suggest, is probably historically one of the big reasons, one of the big barriers perhaps to this whole idea. This is not a new idea. But why hasn't it gained traction in the intervening years? And it's this whole idea of, you know, if you're going to involve the business in technology delivery, but you're still going to hold the IT function responsible for the risk that goes with that, it's not going to work. And without that executive support in, let's say, spreading that risk, the ownership of that risk across all the functions that would participate in this, then the risk will necessarily end up coming back to IT, and it's going to fall apart at that point. 

So, that's really where the executive conversation comes in. And then, conversations similar to that move down the organization. But they, as they move down the organization, they begin to become much more about delivery. So then, it's about how do you actually pull a team together? How do you project manage this work? So, now it becomes a little bit more tactical as you move out into the functions of your organization. You start to line up these opportunities with the people, the citizen developers, and data analysts and technology producers in the business that would do them. They need to be equipped with how to actually govern a project and manage a project, but at all times, along with that, comes this idea of support from my IT. 

So, I think the only way that I've seen this successful in the earliest stages is to essentially have IT work very closely with the business. Once the business has identified an opportunity, have IT work very closely with them to formulate a team. Who are the appropriate people that need to be on this team, whether they're from IT or from the business, and likely both, particularly in the earliest stages, to execute. What are the capabilities, the technical know-how that's required to actually deliver the solution. Once you've helped the business identify those people and figure out, OK, this is what we need to do this, and they put that team together, then it's really about, you know, Liz, you mentioned, the change management side. Those folks may be from multiple functions, particularly for a larger initiative. You may have some finance people and some engineers working together, or some operations people and some engineers working together. And IT is going to have to be able to constantly tell the story of the value of what Gartner calls a fusion team, pulling these groups together from within the enterprise cross-functionally to contribute to rate capabilities and skills to the initiative that needs to be delivered. 

So, I would say that it's really about the story of why, it's a story of value. I think it then goes down into more tactical things around - here's how you comply with governance. I think there also has to be -- I hate to use the word, but there has to be an element of consequence. And I apologize for that word. This idea of consequence, if a given function either well, if it doesn't comply with some element of the governance, which could be anything from a peer review at the end. So, they don't actually take the time to get something certified and they deploy it. Where does the ownership for that decision lie? It can't come back to IT. It has to stay with the groups that actually didn't follow the governance correctly. And that all needs to be supported by the executive as well. And the consequences need to be defined within the context of the company. 

Back in IT, what are we doing? Well, we're ensuring -- we still need that incredibly tight alignment with the business to understand what it is that's in flight. Which of our people need to be on those project teams? Because that's inevitable. We will still be very involved in these projects where we need to provide guidance to the business, and most importantly, what platforms we need to be provisioning, understanding what's coming from these business teams. So, we really stay in that platform space. And the business is really focused on, you know, this is the solution that we need. We know how to put it in. We know how to comply with the governance, and we know that IT is only an arm's length away if we need anything along the way. So, it's advice and guidance and counsel. 

Liz Ramey (29:19):

So, off script a little bit here. And you don't have to add color to your answer at all unless you want to -- I just think -- I would love to know if you think that the kind of up and coming, more tech savvy, you know, Gen Zs or even millennials, does that make it harder or easier to do this? 

Ross Ballendine (29:47):

Yeah, great. Great question. It's really interesting because, you know, there's definitely some generational warfare going on in a way, you know. 

Liz Ramey (29:59):

Exactly. 

Ross Ballendine (30:00):

But, you know, you feel that the most in the -- when your IT department is running it in a true legacy, IT manner. So, where we pick this up is these kids are coming out of school. These kids are coming into the business. They've got some skills. And certainly, their daily life is immersed in this technology. So, even if they don't bring pure play technology skills into their role in the business, they bring a lot of expectation around the quality of technology they're going to get --subjective. The speed with which it is deployed to them, how they're going to interact with it, and be permitted, in other words, security. So, why can't I have this federated to my customers, to my vendors, to, you know, my tower of power that I’ve got on a rack in the basement at home? How come I can't have access to all of these external things? What do you mean it's not secure? Make it secure. So, there's a lot of expectations that come up with these people. 

But fortunately, there's also a lot of technical skill. Now, I say technical skill, but where we see it the most is actually in the data side and some roles are very naturally bent towards becoming data analysts, almost data scientists. I got a call the other day from a young millennial out of one of our technical groups in operations. And he said to me, listen, I just I want you to be aware that I'm going back to school. And he explained to me that he was going to go back to do an advanced degree in data. He already has a great capability with data, and that took him about five minutes. And the rest of the half hour conversation was spent addressing his immediate next question, which was -- so I'd like to know how we can work together, you know, as I build these skills and finish this advanced degree. But, you know, how can you get me what I need in order to ensure that I'm able to take what I learned in school and bring it to work and add value with it? And so, again, there's a whole bunch wrapped up in that question. But that's what we see from these younger generations, is that it's really not about can we have direct access to this technology, and can we contribute to it? It's more about -- how can we? And there's an implicit expectation that they're going to be able to do that. They just want to know within this company that I work for today, how does that work? Because it's going to work, right. 

Drew Lazzara (32:56):

Ross, I really love that particular example because it somewhat aligns with one of my favorite pet subtopics when I get a chance to talk to executives like yourself. You know, I tend to look at a lot of these things through the lens of an employee. And I get to hear you talk about these things. And I think, OK, so how would this impact my day-to-day life? What would I think as someone who's kind of in the rank and file in your organization if these things came to pass? And, I think even beyond the technology question, I would start to think, OK, so if technology is letting me sort of be the person I am, they're letting me integrate my own skills, and letting me use my own technology. I might think, gosh, there's all kinds of other things about the way that I work that I would love to have a little more autonomy over. So, where do you see this kind of as a concept or as a cultural staple impacting other functions and other roles? Do you see more an openness to different kinds of work, even beyond the technology that's being employed? What are the implications, I guess, if you expand beyond IT? 

Ross Ballendine (33:57):

I think, again, you know, great lessons out of Covid. I think that it's something… I can't say that Covid is necessarily the source of all of these lessons or paradigm shifts that we've seen in the last little while. It could just be that Covid happened at a time that really sort of created a tipping point with a lot of these paradigms. And it really comes down to that element of choice. As leaders within an organization today, we are, I think, doing a disservice both to our workforce and the people on our teams and to our companies as a whole if we focus too much on the chair that people sit in. Ideally, we will have people lined up properly, and they're the right people in the right chair, and their roles will very tightly match their capabilities. 

But the truth is, I don't know that that's ever enough. The thinking needs to be expanded. We need to be looking at giving people the opportunity to have a voice outside of their immediate role, not just related to technology, but, you know, why can't somebody in operations have a comment on how our products and services are marketed to the marketplace? The folks in operations, the folks that actually in our case that execute the work are face to face with the customer. They’re tremendous sources of customer feedback. You know, folks in in HR who are very integrated and close to both corporate employees and field employees in our case, and certainly in any company, people at every level of the organization may have a lot of opinions about cross training or, you know, the types of data literacy or technical literacy that we that we build into the recruiting process at our organizations. 

And, they need to have the voice to talk about that. And I don't think that it can only be a voice that goes straight up to the highest levels of the organization because then we create -- we're really just kicking the bottleneck down the road or up the org chart, if you will, and creating a bottleneck in a new space. But it's that element of choice. And as soon as you begin to take that choice away from people, you start to see that resistance and that push back and morale goes down. Well, in terms of the broader context that you're talking about, Drew, I think we need to extend that choice further. And it becomes a choice of -- do I contribute this idea, do I put myself out there, or do I not? And it's that that safe place to understand that these silos that we have for the purpose of making it easy to draw org charts are not actually serving us. And again, this is not a new idea either. But I do think as leaders within our companies, we still have a ways to go to give our people the ability to periodically get a glimpse of the larger company and how it all ties together and to have a voice in what that looks like and how we can leverage it and make it even better still. 

Drew Lazzara (37:04):

I really think, Ross, that point you made about doing something for the sake of the org chart is kind of a traditional point of view that sometimes does get in the way of the empowerment that you're talking about. I also think sometimes incentive structures that reward ideas that come from different places are poorly defined, you know. And the course that people could chart for their careers if they stick their neck out is sometimes a different kind of risk that is not worth taking or that doesn't pay off. So, I think there are some huge implications for what you're talking about. And I hope that choice extends. That's something that I think I would personally benefit from, perhaps. And I think a lot of people would generate really great ideas for businesses if they had that kind of leeway. 

I want to ask you a question that comes from our previous guest, who is Miao Song, who is the global CIO for Mars Petcare. And she was actually talking about some of these forces from a little bit of an opposite point of view of yours. She was saying, if you look at the CIO's role, they’re the one executive seat that has the broadest view of the organization. And in some ways that makes them pretty ideally suited for greater business roles with it. So, you know, we've been talking about what happens structurally to IT under the changes that you imagine. But her question was, how close do you think a CIO role is to that CEO or, you know, they even higher business leadership role. 

Ross Ballendine (38:23):

I would just like to clarify, though, that I actually don't think that is an opposite view. I think that that's a very aligned view to what I'm saying, as well. Because really, when, you know, let's go back to the word orchestration for a minute, and you think about -- sorry, it might be a bit pat, but I'm just going to say the conductor of an orchestra, right. So that role that is really orchestrating the music that you hear. Yes, everyone in the orchestra is playing the music. But if you were to go behind the scenes or, you know, watch the documentary on how a philharmonic group would prepare for a particular show, that person who can see the entire expanse of the group, who understands how it all needs to fit together, can likely play many of those instruments, can certainly read all of the scores, understands how the music needs to fit together, understands the history of the music that brought us to where we are today. So, they really are very much a broad and expansive knowledge base leading that group. And that's the type of orchestration that I'm talking about. I think that CIOs, in my own opinion, are extremely well suited. And this continues to become more and more evident that they just get more well suited to other senior leadership roles within the organization all the way up to CEO. I'm a huge believer in that. 

I think that one of the things that a lot of us wish we could have in our companies, some more than others, my particular company does quite well, but some more than others. We wish that we can have that technical literacy at the very highest levels, right up to the board on our companies. And I think if you start to imagine somebody with an understanding of how technology creates an enabling platform for the entire enterprise, and then you put them into a leadership role where they're setting the ultimate strategy for the enterprise. Automatically, the enabling power of technology jumps up the org chart and becomes much more visible, much more apparent, and becomes a focus of investment, which is not to say that CIOs should become CEOs so that finally technology becomes legitimized in organizations. That's not at all what I'm saying. What I am saying is that there's an incredible intermeshing that happens when somebody comes in with that natural affinity for technology, because truthfully, it literally is everywhere, and we see it in the form of data. Data is really the key driver of what a lot of organizations are doing and where they're looking for value right now. And for that, you need these underlying platforms. So, for someone to be in a CEO role that understands that platform thinking, I think it was that organization forward instantly. 

Liz Ramey (41:22):

So, now we get to turn the table on you and ask you your next big question. But before you kind of dig into it, I would say I would love for you to kind of set aside your experience even as an IT leader, and just think about it. Think about a question kind of through the lens of just being a leader within an enterprise, right, an executive. So, so and also don't think of any obstacles that could come in your way. We really want executives to pose what this next big question is to our other guest without any sort of restraints in our thinking. Because I think it's important, just as this conversation today has really helped us think outside of the box. And I'm hoping it will help others think outside of the box, you know. What's your next big question that you're going to kind of push people to be thinking outside of the box? 

Ross Ballendine (42:19):

You know, there's lots of areas where the big questions exist. You know, I think for me, the big question really comes down to -- how do we further remove the barriers to making technology ubiquitous for the end user, not for organizations, etc. But we still continue to see a lot of natural barriers in technology that are created by, you know, this cloud versus that cloud. I still think we have a very long way to go to truly realize our goal of ease of use and access for all in technology. And I just wonder when we're going to put aside the commercial conversation around technology and truly focus on a standardization and harmonization that makes it easy for anyone to interact with technology, because right now, commercialization creates the differentiation that allows companies to sell things. But the more companies are selling something, the more differentiation we have. And it just feels like fragmentation by the time you get down to the end user. So, are we actually committed to have easy to use technology in our lifetime, like no barrier whatsoever? You just -- you know how to use it. It always works. It's compatible with everything. Or, do we continue to be focused on the commercialization of technology, which will continue to create barriers between one solution and another? 

Drew Lazzara (44:04):

Ross, we might have to have you guest host the next time we talk to a CIO, because I would love to have you ask them that question and see what they have to say. You know, you guys could go mano a mano on that one. I think it's an excellent question. I'm really curious about it myself. But thank you so much for being on the show. This was great. We learned a lot and really appreciate you poking the bear, as you say. 

Ross Ballendine (44:25):

Thank you for having me and for your insightful and challenging questions. And, you know, it's always great to engage in these conversations and hear these questions. It forces your thinking down even deeper and very much appreciate it. I had a lot of fun today. Thank you for letting me do this. 

Drew Lazzara (44:43):

Our pleasure. It was a blast. 

Liz Ramey (44:45):

Thanks, Ross. Thank you. Thank you, again, for listening to The Next Big Question. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen. Rate and review the show, so that we can continue to grow and improve. You can also visit Evanta.com to explore more content and learn about how your peers are tackling questions and challenges every day. Connect, learn, and grow with Evanta, a Gartner Company.


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