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Business-Driven Architect

Brenda Michelson

Will your CIO survive the business and technology change tsunami?

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Abbie Lundberg, editor in chief of CIO Magazine, has a great post on Are More CIOs getting Fired, in which she recounts a conversation with Bruce Rogow, IT Consultant, New Paradigm /nGenera contributor, on why previously successful, incumbent CIOs are suddenly finding themselves out of work.  While some of this attrition is 'business as usual' -- retirement, over 5 years in a position -- much is attributed to 'business change'.

The most interesting reason some of the CIOs gave for why they were leaving their positions was that the CEO and/or the business direction had changed, and there was a new sets of expectations for IT. Seventeen or 18 that he talked to said they had been doing a great job (one even faxed over his performance review to prove it), and they didn't see it coming. They were told, simply, that the business needed a different kind of leadership.

So what's going on? According to Rogow, a lot. He said for the first time in five years, the CIOs he's been meeting with have more questions for him than answers. They know that the imperative is for growth, and they have CEOs who understand that IT is the best platform for growth. But they don't know exactly what that means for how they run IT. They want to know: How is this different from what we did in the past? How can we increase IT velocity and dramatically decrease cost at the same time? How can we resegment IT when much of it is based on immediate user demand -- and how do you get requirements out of people who don't necessarily know what they need? How do you ensure security, agility, reliability? If the new approach is chunking, how much do you bite off?

As the post continues, Abbie shares that it's not that incumbent CIOs are missing the boat, but rather how CIOs are responding to the impending business and technology change tsunami:

It's not so much about missing something that might leave without you; it's more like being on the shore knowing there's a tsunami coming. CIOs are aware it's coming, but according to Rogow, they're responding to that awareness in different ways. He presented three scenarios.

1. Some CIOs are trying to do business as usual. All these issues are coming at them, and they're swatting at them like flies. They're tweaking. They think they can tweak their way into the future, but they're wrong. These guys are vulnerable.

2. Others are taking a real objective look at what's coming in the next three to five years -- and they're coming back saying "holy s***." This is not "different circus, same clowns," he said; it's a different circus with different clowns -- different skill sets and different user communities with radically different points of reference and expectations. This group of CIOs is working hard to figure it out.

3. The third response is reactive. New CIOs come in thinking that whatever the last person was doing wasn't right. They know they were brought in to do things differently. Some are good, Rogow says, but some are doing the most ridiculous things -- they come out of the business with no real grounding in IT, get rid of the enterprise architecture group and decide that users should be able to use whatever they want without understanding cause and effect or the consequences of their decisions. This group is the one most likely to really screw things up.

Another wave-crushing scenario I see is CIOs who observe, or are informed, of the imminent wave and respond by undertaking a strategic review to produce a 3 - 5 year plan.  While it's always good to have a long term view, the wave won't freeze-in-place to match a glacier like response.  Organizations need to respond to velocity with velocity, which of course, is not an excuse for recklessness, or obsessive tweaking, but crafting an informed response that includes matching business and IT capability, ridding portfolios of excessive technical debt, and delivering value, early and often.

How is your CIO and organization responding to this tsunami?  Are you experiencing different scenarios?  Will your CIO be a survivor or casualty?  Which should they be? 

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Brenda Michelson, Principal of Elemental Links, shares her view on architectural strategies, technology trends, business, and relevance.

Brenda Michelson

Brenda Michelson is the principal of Elemental Links an advisory & consulting practice focused on business-technology capabilities that increase business visibility and responsiveness. Follow Brenda on Twitter.

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