Michael Fillios is the founder of IT Ally, an IT and Cyber Advisory firm based in Cincinnati, serving the C-Suite at small and mid-size businesses nationwide. He is a four-time CIO and senior global business and technology executive with 25 years of experience in transformation, change leadership and operations management. In 2020, Fillios also founded the IT Ally Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides SMBs access to knowledge, research, and practical tools to improve their tech bottom line. He is the author of Tech Debt 2.0™: How to Future Proof Your Small Business and Improve Your Tech Bottom Line. Learn more at www.itallyinstitute.org.
Q: Michael you have had experience with both large and smaller organizations and you have focused your entrepreneurial sights on SMBs. What inspired that decision?
My passion is serving privately held and family-owned businesses by helping them to grow, be secure, and to maximize the value from their technology investments. That passion flows from growing up firmly rooted in family, inspired by the strong work ethic of my father and confronting choices about education and lifestyle offered in a tough Bronx, New York environment. Guided by the example set by my father I chose a unique path, grounded by sports (hockey), a rigorous dedication to, and appreciation of work, well executed, and a desire to achieve a better life than my parents for myself and generations to come.
Q: What are the challenges you have faced working with SMB?
Founders of small and medium sized businesses tend to be laser focused on the goals and objectives they have set for their companies. Keeping a proper perspective on technology can be difficult for these leaders. To some it can be an unwanted distraction (deploy what’s needed and move on to more important matters. To others it can become an obsession, (we’ll be cutting edge, first, with every new application and device).
The challenge I faced was educating and helping leaders understand the importance of managing technology, balancing technology investment with other priorities and keeping technology aligned with the business strategy.
Q: Did you undertake the IT Ally venture on your own?
In some respects, I started IT Ally alone as an individual but really there were multiple versions of myself and mentors and mentees involved in starting the venture. I have enjoyed a varied career with 25 years’ experience in transformation, change leadership and operations management in the Pharmaceutical, Industrials, Automotive, Banking and Consulting Industries. In Shanghai, China I served as Vice President and Divisional CIO at Delphi Automotive and led global IT operations for over 100 plants in 30 countries. As an entrepreneur with tech startup BTM Corporation, I served as Chief Solutions Officer, and advised “C” level executives on implementing transformative technology management practices in the public and private sector. Early in my career I worked at consulting firms Grant Thornton and Ernst & Young.
I brought the experiences with people, the challenges, successes and mistakes to the founding of IT Ally and the IT Ally Institute.
Q: What are your goals for IT Ally moving forward?
My goal for the future is to provide research, best practices, thought leadership and peer to peer programs for business and IT leaders at small and mid-sized businesses. Research and thought leadership carried out through the IT Ally Institute will, in combination with service offerings from IT Ally and our extended network of partners, be the means of achieving that goal.
Q: Michael, with all that on you plate, how do you stay current and maintain a fresh perspective?
Research and education is valuable to our clients but also essential for my continued growth and development. Here are three books I’ve recently read and found helpful:
· David Novak’s “Taking People With You”, a great example of how leaders enroll their employees in wide scale change.
· Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why”, helps leaders identify root causes and get teams to take action.
· “Reinvent your Business Model”, by Mark Johnson, a reminder of the importance of challenging the status quo and creating sustainable transformative growth.
Q: Do you feel that luck has been a factor in the success you have had so far?
I wouldn’t credit luck, but timing and circumstance has been important to what we have achieved. Rapid advances in technology and the pace at which technology has been adopted by businesses has had a major impact since the year 2000. This early part of the new century ushered in impressive change. But 2020 has turned business, economics and the way we live totally upside down. The virus pandemic has reset the stage for everyone and no group more so than SMBs. Business plans and strategies have been upended. So too have assumptions about customers, supply chains, markets and competition. Technologies and how they are managed and deployed now present new challenges and opportunities to SMBs. Technical Debt, a concept addressed in my book, “Tech Debt 2.0 TM How to Future Proof Your Small Business and Improve Your Tech Bottom Line”, now has even greater importance to SMBs. Managing and monitoring Tech Debt provides SMBs with a vaGiven what luable perspective for positioning themselves in this new environment.
Q: Given the opportunity to look back on your experience founding IT Ally is there some advice you would give someone starting out on a similar venture?
Thinking about lessons learned during my career and key to the successful founding of IT Ally, I’d say agility is a most important asset. In an early blog post I wrote that the lack of agility is analogous to playing cart-path-only golf where to speed play and avoid long walks on the fairway you deliberately hit your ball close to the cart path. For a business that would mean constraint to a single strategy, you would have no option to adjust or to respond to market changes, locked into your lane unable to take advantage of opportunities. That would hamper and strangle a business trying to compete in today’s rapidly changing and dynamic market.
I laid out 3 capabilities, key to pursuing and achieving business agility.
· Learn to sense and respond
· Emphasize improvement and innovation
· Distribute and coordinate authority
Agility provides business the power to move quickly and easily - nimbleness. It is the ability of an organization to renew itself, adapt, change quickly and succeed in a rapidly evolving, ambiguous, turbulent environment. Agility is important for SMBs especially today and also for entrepreneurs about to launch new ventures.