Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The CIO, the train, and the tracks

In today's IT world the center of the universe is the CIO. They are tasked with ensuring IT is aligned with and delivers on the business mission. Today's CIO's are very business savvy with experience across multiple operations and support units. Often they know how the business operates, the underlying processes and compliance requirements, better than the line of business executives and sometimes better than the COO. However what has been lost over the past 15yrs is a fundamental understanding of technology. I recently had a CIO tell me at a conference "This job is great because I don't have to understand any of the technology stuff; I have a staff to do that. If I had to understand it all I'd be out of a job". What she doesn't realize is she has been laying the tracks to her own destruction for years by not learning about the technology and soon the Cloud Computing train is going to run her down, run her over, and keep on running.

A CIO needs to be a balance between business acumen and technology expertise. They don't need to be an expert in either, but they need to blend in on both sides somewhat like a chameleon. How many COO's know how to operate a stamping press, extruder or fork truck? Probably more than you realize but certainly not all. However they know what the equipment does, why it does it, it's value in the production chain, and often how it operates. I grew up the son of an operations executive in the food industry and I can tell you he knew how every part fit together. Why? Because when bad things happened he invariably got the phone call. Many of our new CIO's have never spent a day in IT prior to becoming an executive. Nobody appreciates the balance between the portal, application, enterprise service bus, and database and the underlying utilities, operating systems, processors, storage arrays, networks, and security appliances who hasn't served in an IT operations role. And think of everything I'm leaving out: architecture, quality assurance, requirements, SDLC, etc, etc, etc.

People today see technology as so complex and difficult to understand and yet they use it in their daily life without a moment of pause. The reality is technology is not complex in its implementation. The complexity is in developing new technologies, a business the vast number of CIO's are not and will never be involved in. So this false wall they hide behind is inexcusable. They should be a technology expert as much as a business expert. They should be held accountable for the architecture as much as the budget. They should be able to explain how a database operates as easily as how depreciation is applied to hardware.

We need to raise the bar!

The train is already on the tracks and it's accelerating. I predict cloud computing will end the careers of 50% or more of the current Fortune 1000 CIO's. Why? For several reasons:
  1. Some will be held accountable for not researching and implementing these technologies when they started appearing in the 2001-2005 timeframe. Think of all the lost value that accumulated over the five year period from 2005 to 2010 as companies ignored cloud.
  2. Many will simply be outpaced by their younger, nimbler competition who understand that CIO's need a balance of skills and can operate as their equal on the business side while still having deep technology knowledge and experience.
  3. Most will be held accountable for a series of failed implementations because they waited to long or never did develop a cloud strategy. So many of the implementations today have been built to a vision with no supporting strategy. Already companies are scrambling to remedy siloed cloud implementations and rationalize multiple instances of the same cloud service.
Whether or not my prediction comes true is largely based on how the media covers cloud, how well CEO's hold their CIO's accountable, and vocal shareholders become. CIO's already have low tenure so my belief is it won't take much to tip the balance.

If I were a CIO I'd be sure to get educated, identify a successor, and get my finances in order.

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