VMware CIO: IT that's easy is more important than bells and whistles

Even at VMware, users vote for IT that is simple, even if it's missing a few features

As CIO of the company most responsible for popularizing the technology that's upending much of the computer industry, it would be understandable if Mark Egan were more of a cheerleader for VMware products than a skeptical consumer of them.

He isn't.

Speaking just before his panel at the MIT CIO Symposium, Egan was enthusiastic about virtualization, but as cautious as any other CIO about buying into technology that could cost him his job if it fails.

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"I work with the R&D folks to help them build better products, but most of what I do comes down to ease of use and doing things that remove the friction that comes with IT to make the business units more effective," he said.

That usually includes as much VMware technology as possible; today it meant touting the newly announced VMware Horizon App Manager, which is designed to create an app store to give end users access to their work applications from any device, as easily as using iTunes.

The job doesn't require using either VMware products or VMware programming expertise – or even the most capable technology available – to solve particular problems.

"We had a support app that was facing upgrade, and the choice was whether to do that or go outside with a SAAS solution," Eagan said. "The legacy application clearly had much better functionality, six or 12 months development work's worth, but it had a horrendous interface. Users hated it. "

Rather than stick with an app whose logic was tuned to the specific workflow and requirements employees needed, both the business-unit manager and user reps enthusiastically voted for the SAAS app.

The extra work it took to use imperfectly customized software was so much less than the pain of a "60s-era Soviet-style interface" that users preferred it even over the chance to have the legacy app's UI redone.

"It's the consumerization of IT," Eagan said. "You don't need training to use Facebook or Google. People sit down, they use it, they collaborate. That's what people want. They don't want to have to learn a lot about IT to do their jobs.

"With IT there are so many points of friction – you have to log in to this thing, log in to that thing, you can't have access to that resource – you have to make it all easier," Eagan said.

Making things simpler for end users usually means using technology that's more complex (and expensive) than before and being more attuned to the specific needs of a business unit, to the extent the IT people working with it are considered part of the business unit, not part of IT.

For end users, too much awareness of either technology or technologists equals friction.

"As an IT professional, my job has changed; my responsibility is to get services out to the business units," Eagan said. "The monopoly of IT over technology is over. It's out there; if I say 'no,' they can go find that resource outside. There are a lot of things we can do that we couldn't do in the past, and it's up to us to deliver those things that make the business more effective."

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