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Talkin' 'bout tech

Talkin' 'bout tech

Rob O'Neill has a flashback to the days when chief information officers cared about IT.

There was a time when chief information officers cared about technology. That was about four years ago, but ever since, they've been obsessed with cost cutting and keeping their jobs for longer than a few months. Four years ago, according to some surveys we conducted, "keeping up with technology" was the chief information officer's major challenge. There was a lot happening back then and technology was going to change the world. Now, of course, IT doesn't matter. I was chatting to a nice chap from CSC about disruption. Disruption is the idea that certain events or developments can cause profound change. New technology that has the potential to create change is referred to as 'disruptive technology'. The idea is businesses should try and anticipate disruption and even plan for it. Plan for it, that is, if the chief information officer can spare a bit of time from cutting costs and watching their back.

CSC has a group called the Leading Edge Forum whose latest report deals with technologies that have the potential to deliver significant change in the immediate future. This focuses on the network effects of technology, saying the time is ripe for networked business models. That we are heading into a build-out period, akin to when the railways were being extended rather than invented.

As the CSC report says, this involves the use of existing technologies and standards such as IP to deliver new ways of operating that cumulatively can be revolutionary. This view contrasts sharply with the 'IT doesn't matter' school of thought that says IT is no longer strategic.

It is quite possible the real business revolutions happen during this build-out stage rather than in the stage of early adoption. They happen cumulatively and they happen for organisations that build platforms that allow quick action and reaction.

A rocky career road

Distributed computing, virtualisation, grid computing, a wireless mesh network to provide ubiquitous connectivity and web services all play a part, and we can see the technology pieces of this vision beginning to arrive.

For chief information officers, the issues are about how to get from where they are to where they want to be, when they should move and how they will find investment funds from their already pressured budgets.

For CEOs and CFOs, there has to be a realisation that when IT saves budget, it generally does so with a view to reinvesting the surplus; using the surplus to deliver better, stronger, faster and more agile IT.

Unfortunately, these savings are in many organisations removed from IT and 'banked'. Not only does this send the wrong message to IT, it potentially does the organisation a great disservice. It is often a sign of short-term over medium to long-term thinking, though the strategic impact will differ greatly from industry to industry.

On the other hand, there are signs chief information officers are winning back management support. They are doing this by applying new management techniques alongside new technologies; techniques that better quantify benefits of investment and assure service levels, among other functions.

It's still a rocky career road out there. I heard recently 40 per cent of chief information officers get replaced every 18 months, a kind of Moore's Law for technology management. That's something else that has to end; the era of the disposable CIO.

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