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Monday, June 4, 2012

Liberation or Apathy


The time has come to seek out an alternative and improved state for our corporate I.T. department and its leader, the Chief Information Officer (C.I.O). 
It makes good business sense to recognize the increasingly important role that information, technology and its management plays in the success of every business. Without it, businesses can no longer succeed as they did in the past. 
Without effective information and technology, there is virtually no sporting chance to compete in a world where electronic communication is immediate, information is everywhere, and kids pack more technology in their backpacks than most knowledge workers are allowed to access at the office. 
For the first time in centuries, the private individual is on an equal footing, if not better than the corporation, thanks to recent advances in information technology. Suddenly, we have a a radical change in the way information production and exchange is being capitalized in the world today. The ownership of this capital, the way the capitalization happens, is radically distributed, and companies with closed garden I.T. departments and thinking are finding themselves out in the cold. 
We are probably only at the beginning of a world where information is everywhere, and our ability to access and apply it is bound to grow in leaps and bounds in years to come. As businesses we are on the cusp of setting our companies’ information and technology free, instead of controlling it as we’ve done in the past. 
Setting it free should allow knowledge workers to create more value that what has ever been possible. This phenomenon is already taking place on the Internet, where data sharing is leading daily to scientific discovery and rapid innovation through collaboration globally. Governments and academic institutions have discovered for a while now that if you are prepared to share and liberate your information that good things happen. More value is created. More opportunities become apparent. Problems are solved, and societies overall benefit. 
Companies are waking up to the opportunity as well. However, we cannot do it with a closed and controlling I.T. department organization structure and approach. I believe that the time has come for the C.I.O’s role to be liberated, and redefined. These people have larger assignments. These executives have a unique enterprise wide perspective valuable for formulating and realizing a business’ strategy. 
C.I.O’s get this perspective from the responsibility they’ve had for the information and technology that is consumed by, and is supporting every part of the business’s day-to-day activities. For many years C.I.O.'s have been expected by their colleagues to know and understand every part of the business. Having accountability for a company’s information technology demands a comprehensive and as complete as possible perspective of the business and its operations. 
C.I.O’s not only fulfilled this assignment, but also felt the pain of contributing towards evolving parts of the business through information technology and processes automation made possible by these tools. Working through business and technology innovation at the same time has proven to be one of the hardest assignments available in any company. 
The C.I.O.’s duties included seeking out and implementing business improvements, finding ways to minimize cost, and increase day-to-day efficiencies. It is a large responsibility. In many instances incumbent executives for departments showed little or no interest in, or comprehension of the trials and tribulations that goes hand in hand with doing something that in most cases have never been done before. 
These department executives abdicated a large part of their own responsibilities and understanding of the information and process landscapes of their businesses to their company’s C.I.O.. The time has come to use this understanding and highly sought after talent for asking "what if", together with a business' increased reliance on its I.T., and allow the C.I.O. to do much more for the company. 
The time is here to explore how this additional value can materialize against a backdrop of rapid information technology evolution and information proliferation. Make no mistake, the ways of the “old” I.T. department should not, and must not make it into the overall business approach. It is not about centralized control, gatekeeping and lockdown. 
Rather, the understanding of business enablement through I.T. is the key asset that these incumbents bring to the table. It is the key asset that their fellow executives will have to learn from them over the coming months and years. The C.I.O is ideally positioned to lead this opportunity.
While this is a grand promise for incumbents in the C.I.O role, it is unfortunately not going to be “beer and skittles” all the way. It is a journey with implications for the company as a whole, for the I.T. department, its staff, and for the I.T. industry. The C.I.O's role is about to change, but so are the roles of most business executives as well.
Successful companies have realized that information and technology is foundational to their success. However, they are now grasping that a company’s I.T. is really the business of every corporate executive, every corporate department and every staff member. Individuals have almost unconstrained access to information and technology outside the company. This access is fast becoming the expectation at the office too. 
However, it comes with responsibility. I.T. should no longer be something somebody else, like the I.T. department does for, or to these executives and staff. Without information technology, most people in the company cannot get their jobs done. Even manual labourers carry smart mobile devices allowing them to communicate, collaborate, share information, and improve the way they've been doing their jobs. 
Without a thorough and responsible understanding of a company’s information technology demands, no executive can any longer steer his or her company towards success.
Today, many individuals personally carry technology that surpass the scale, application and complexity that I.T. departments have dealt with a decade ago. While it is clear that without good information and technology, the company cannot prosper, the recognition should also exist that most of our corporate I.T. departments have fallen out of step with the enterprise’s I.T. needs. Consumer consumption has outpaced corporate application, and individuals personally boasts more technology at home than what they have access to at work.
The role information and its supporting technology is playing in the success of every business venture has increased exponentially. Its place in process automation, business strategy and execution, no longer provides the competitive advantage for a business it once was. Rather, it has become the entry pass and very foundation for a place at the commerce table. 
Small businesses have discovered that simple I.T. Services like a web presence, email, online advertising, personal computer and an accounting system form an important basis for starting, and being in business. It is as important as having a good product or service, and a loyal customer. 
Equally, large enterprises are discovering that what they once perceived as differentiating information technology capability can very easily turn into a monster withholding them from competing in their respective markets. It can lock them out of opportunity. I.T. is part of a successful business’ foundation, and it is also the success determinant for a business’ future. It is no longer something that can just be entrusted. It is now everyone’s business.
Technology and its accompanying disciplines have become too important for the enterprise as a whole to be delegated to a supporting department or one executive. It cannot be perceived merely as a support function anymore. It is time to redefine why this very important attribute to every business action and transaction must become part of what a business does every day. 
It has become more and more obvious to C.I.O. executives and their advisors that they have a department and an industry in peril. Something is not quite right with I.T.. It is time to rethink the role of the C.I.O, and that of the I.T. department, as we know it, for business’ sake. Because, I.T. should make good business sense.
Hendrik van Wyk

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