Wednesday, 1 July 2015

CIO: caretaker or gamechanger?

I saw this article ("The era of IT-as-a-roadblock must come to an end right now", TechRepublic) and thought it worth sharing, as it reflects something bothering me for years about the role of IT in businesses.

I've led IT teams and departments, and, as a CTO selling software and services to clients, meet IT heads quite often. Some of them running IT for well known brand companies. You can tell a lot about a company by its attitude to IT. Even the job title of the head of IT is still varied and indicative: VP ICT, or Head of IS, or CIO, or more recently Head of Digital. Some are on the board/exec team, some report to the CFO or COO.

Then there's the small talk: get any team in the company in a room together for a day (as we often do at my consulting firm) and see whether a) an IT topic comes up, and b) it's a negative comment. I'd give a 75% chance of both.

Traditionally, I'd put this down to the struggle of IT: what other department of a company has to deal with the turmoil of its industry effectively reinventing itself every 3-5 years? Take Finance: the CFO is probably the best accountant in the firm - certainly the most experienced. General Ledgers don't really evolve and GAAPs evolve as carefully as prudent accountants and auditors would allow. The CIO, on the other hand, has probably never used the technologies they are responsible for. Sure, they'll likely know the principles and implications, but they are fully dependent on the knowledge and skills of younger staff in deploying and maintaining new technologies. Furthermore, nobody outside of IT could keep up: why must I trade in my Blackberry for an iPhone? Why so many passwords? In this context, it's little wonder that IT departments would often be as fretful, self-absorbed and moody as a teenager. They effectively were teenagers.

Then it all changed with the arrival of mobile apps and app stores. How many training courses have you been on to learn a mobile app? Me neither. Suddenly everyone was configuring their own personal computing device in their own way. And demanding the same ease of use for other software. That contact management software at work started to feel really clunky.

Developers, be they desktop, web or app software, suddenly had to focus carefully on user experience (UX). If they didn't, the results were there for all to see: poor app reviews and few downloads.

The IT department was now having to contend with consumer devices and apps on the corporate network because the users found them more useful, were going to use them anyway, and, well, it's all technology, innit? Would they step out from their server rooms and support desks and embrace the mobiles, the apps, the clouds? Or would they bridle at the users' initiative, and chafe with disdain at the cloud? 

The results so far appear mixed. There are certainly many IT departments showing fear, usually in the form of disdain for technology initiatives coming from users, security concerns, or "hidden" costs. They've finally got what they always wanted: an engaged audience. We're finally over the hump and now technology illiteracy is not cool, nor even quaint. If you don't have a smart phone, or know how to use one, you're a dinosaur. The world has realised IT is about the information, not the technology (thank you Apple!). Unfortunately, many IT departments haven't yet. 

No comments:

Post a comment