Must-Read IT Blogger Q&A: Chuck Hollis

Chuck Hollis, global marketing CTO for EMC, is a big dreamer. When it comes to imagining the potential for fundamentally altering the way organizations work with technology, he reaches for the stars.

But don’t mistake such big ideas as a sign that Hollis is out of touch with IT realities on the ground. With 17 years of experience at EMC under his belt, Hollis has built up an impressive track record working with the company’s customers and partners.

His enthusiasm and energy for organizational efficiencies are shared by readers of Chuck’s Blog, which was selected as one of BizTech’s 50 Must-Read IT Blogs last year.

We recently had the chance to ask Chuck a few questions about analytics, big data, the cloud and blogging.

BIZTECH: What are your daily must-visit tech stops online?

HOLLIS: I had to stop and think about that one, because I read a lot. Google Reader — I monitor about 150 blogs. A handful of online tech pubs like The Register and Ars Technica. I’m starting to like Techdirt because they’re covering social and legal issues. I also like the tech sections of mainstream pubs like The New York Times, The Economist, Wall Street Journal and so on. All in, I spend about an hour or so reading online every day. I’ve learned to get pretty good at high-speed scanning versus in-depth reading.

And, of course, people send me all sorts of cool and interesting stuff.

BIZTECH: What emerging technology do you think will most change the enterprise landscape in 2012?

HOLLIS: That’s a hard question for me to answer, since I tend to focus on how people use the technologies versus the technologies themselves. There are so many great technologies out there that have transformative potential: cloud, social, mobile, predictive analytics, next-gen app frameworks and so on. And every enterprise is in a different stage of their journey around each of these.

We’re in a period where the hard part for everyone is putting them to work. Not a week goes by when I spot a very powerful new technology, and I have to think hard about how and when people will end up adopting it.

BIZTECH: What existing technology do you think businesses have most underutilized?

HOLLIS: That’s easy — it’s predictive analytics, sometimes generically referred to as big data. You’d think that businesses would really care about being able to model business processes and outcomes with more accuracy, but there’s an enormous gap between what’s possible and what’s usually done. When you see someone who’s proficient, you’re generally amazed at what they’ve been able to do. I think over the next few years we’ll see many business leaders “get the bug” and start to invest in dramatically upgrading their use of predictive analytics.

That whole question of “how do you make your organization analytically proficient?” is one of the areas I’m most focused on these days. Four years ago, I was “how do you make your organization socially proficient?” Perhaps the next one will be “how to you make your organization mobility-proficient?”

Note the focus on organizational proficiency — that’s what really matters to me, not so much the specific technology.

BIZTECH: What’s the most innovative, creative or unusual way an organization has deployed technology that you’ve come across?

HOLLIS: I’m fortunate in that I get to meet some very bright and innovative IT professionals as part of my role here. Usually, the really interesting stuff involves some aspect of what I call the new information value chain: predictive analytical models feeding re-engineered business processes delivered with native mobile apps wrapped with social collaboration. People are working this from different starting points, but they usually end up in roughly the same place.

And it’s very encouraging when you see it.

BIZTECH: When it comes to small business technology, what best practice can’t be repeated often enough?

HOLLIS: You want to use IT, not own it. There are so many good external IT services these days, it’s hard to make a case for running your own infrastructure and apps unless there are a handful of places you really want to move the needle. E-mail and collaboration are a common example — why are you doing this yourself? The same is true for so many back-office applications, CRM apps and the like. If you’re a small business, you want to be really good at consuming IT services, and not necessarily standing them up on your own.

BIZTECH: Why do you blog?

HOLLIS: I blog because it’s really satisfying to me personally. I get to share my world with others. The process of writing helps me hone and refine my thoughts. I get great feedback and engagement from many of my readers. And, of course, it’s a nice win for my company, EMC. I don’t think my blogging really fits any standard profile: they’re longer posts, and they tend to span multiple topics. But there are enough people out there who seem to appreciate what I do.

BIZTECH: How does big data impact small business?

HOLLIS: Big data will end up impacting small businesses, but not yet. I don’t think it will be too long before we see a wide range of “analytics as a service” offerings targeted at the smaller businesses. There are a few promising ones out there today, but it’s early. Small businesses need technology that’s easy to consume and use, and we’re not quite there yet when it comes to big data analytics.

BIZTECH: Why should more companies embrace IT as a service?

HOLLIS: That’s easy — because IT organizations risk becoming less relevant if they don’t. If your internal customers find it’s better/faster/cheaper to go around IT, that’s what they’ll inevitably do. The only logical response is for IT to learn to compete for those internal customers, own the relationship with them, and become a better builder and broker of services.

BIZTECH: What has been the hardest lesson for you to learn in your years of experience in the tech industry?

HOLLIS: This business isn’t really about technology, it’s about people. That’s an unsettling revelation if you’ve spent so much of your life trying to master technology as I have.

So much great technology gets developed and is under-adopted simply because we’ve failed to factor in the human side of the equation. That’s just one of the reasons Apple is so successful — they understand that at a very fundamental level. If we as EMC can learn the same lessons, we’ll do well too.