Why CIOs Should Know the Way

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bill Gerneglia

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Article By Laton McCartney

We’ve been through this before, a number of times. Some new technology comes thundering over the horizon, and CIOs understandably ask themselves: “What does it mean for me and my job?”

Go back to PCs. For years IT managers were guardians of huge mainframes that had to be kept in these specially cooled rooms in the bowels of the enterprise. Then along came PCs -- and worse laptops -- that users could tap into themselves without benefit of a high priest giving them access to the inner sanctum.

Power to the people! MIS chiefs or DP managers, as they were called at the time, had to get rid of their wizard hats and try to pass themselves off as ordinary business managers, though they still talked in a strange language that no one other than their peers understood.

Then we had the client-server movement. This was seen as a threat to the status quo in some quarters because it was a decentralized approach and the corporate data was stored on servers instead of the enterprise equivalent of Fort Knox.

 Of course, IT managers survived client-server. Those who understood that business and technology needed to go hand in hand were often promoted to a new position, chief information officers.

Now frankly, that title doesn’t carry that much weight. Think about it. CFOs are in charge of the money. COOs run operations. And CIOs are responsible for... information. Still, it was a C-level post which often came with a bigger office and more money.

The downside was that CIOs soon had to send a lot of corporate information along with apps, processes and even IT infrastructure over to India. They were no longer really in direct charge of corporate information; they were in charge of the people in Mumbai and Bangalore who were in charge of corporate information.

The CIOs’ powerbase was diminished, but as long as they saved the corporation money, their pay checks kept coming every two weeks.

Now, fast forward to today where we have a perfect storm of new technologies. Users are running around tweeting and text messaging one another about god knows what; the enterprise has become virtualized, which means, as Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, “there’s no there, there.”

And vendors, research gurus, the media and consultancies have been beating the drums so loudly for cloud computing it’s a wonder CIOs can hear themselves think.

Now the inevitable question: What does this mean for CIOs, their future status and pay levels?

Every year executives at every level have to endure an annual review, in which he or she must unfailingly answer two core questions: What have you done to earn your keep recently and what are you going to do to earn your keep in the near future, especially -- in the case of CIOs -- since your traditional job of ensuring operational excellence in IT delivery has pretty much gone by the boards?

OK, here gratis – and remember you get what you pay for – are a couple of thoughts on how to address these questions.

First, understand that your CEO and whoever else resides on your company’s executive compensation board, likely doesn’t have a clue what cloud computing and social networking are. And virtualization? Forget about it. Moreover, they’re likely scared to death of these disruptive tools and their potential downside.

So, your first goal is to assure them that you have a firm handle on the cloud – a neat trick if you can do it – social networking, etc. Think of yourself as a pathfinder or one of those frontier guides who led the wagon trains to Oregon.

Your charges are terrified of the unknown, but you’ve done your homework, know the terrain and have worked out a roadmap that circumvents the pitfalls. Hell, you even know sign language.

They are in safe hands with you. You’re a 2.0 CIO, and you know the way to the Promised Land.

Next, do not under any circumstances use any of the acronyms or jargon associated with these new technologies. This crowd doesn’t want to hear about solid CDDBs or ITIL sub-processes, believe me. What they want to know is what the cloud and the like can do for the bottom line.

Now, here you have to be cautious. Don’t oversell. Prepare a list of, say, ten potential benefits that can accrue from these technologies, but make it clear it’s essential to proceed ever so cautiously.

Your objective here is to whet their appetites without getting them so riled up about potential savings that you’ll be pushed into doing something rash, something that can backfire.

The rest is up to you, but not to worry, you’ll be fine. You and your predecessors have been through all this before and not only survived but generally flourished.

Best of luck.

Cross-posted from CIO Zone

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