I remember as a seven year old...

Posted on: September 11, 2009 by Rob Price

I remember as a seven year old, I wrote a poem which went along the lines, "I am he, who can be, anything he wants". I don't recall a thing of the rest of the poem, but I always remember those first three lines. Of course, at seven I probably hadn't thought "I want to work as an IT Consultant", or "I want to be a CIO" or even "I want to be a programmer" (which is what I started out as 14 years later). I was probably still in that "I want to be a Dinosaur", "I want to be a Fireman" or "I want to be a spaceman" stage.

In the conversations I have with many of the team (direct and virtual), one of the common themes that emerges is often "I want to be a CIO", which for a consultancy practice that focuses directly on the CIO agenda is an entirely reasonable ambition. For some of us sadly, that spaceman agenda just isn't going to happen quickly enough! So returning to my poem, if you want to be a CIO, you can be. It is of course up to you to make it happen. If I want to be a CIO, I can be. But what would I do?

The average tenure of the CIO, according to Martin Veitch (editor of CIO Magazine) is around 2 years and 4 months. That gives me 6 months to understand, 12 months to act and do, and 6 months to reap the benefits - and then maybe 4 months to find a new job, before the axe falls or, preferably, for the next opportunities present themselves on the wave of success I've created. What would be my themes?

Extinction Campaign: Get rid of the Dinosaurs

Most IT organisations still have legacy systems, and often legacy people too. Usually these are business critical - the complexity and knowledge trapped within is often too challenging and expensive to easily transition. And yet all systems must eventually die, and all people must eventually retire or adapt. I would need to understand each legacy ecosystem before I selected those to address first (expense of maintenance, criticality to the business, lack of resource, inflexibility) and I would personally start with a mix of both the easier-wins and the biggest challenges - after all its important to get noticed, to be seen to be addressing historical issues that others have not yet conquered, but its also important to deliver regular improvements. A combined approach, with a range of resolution roadmaps, will be fundamental to the extinction and evolution campaign.

Conquering Risk: Firefighting to Fire Prevention

There are still CIOs, and certainly IT Directors, whose sole focus is to manage the KPIs around availability and response times - well OK, maybe not quite, but not far off. The time required to fight and extinguish limits the time available to evolve. My focus would therefore be to understand the root causes of the fires, and then to make sure that we managed it at the root - understand the maturity of the infrastructure estate (Infrastructure maturity - http://tinyurl.com/lt89ww), understand the capability and responsibilities of the staff and their knowledge of what to do (Behavioural Risk), understand the rigour of the governance processes (Operational Excellence - http://tinyurl.com/l65xpa) - and get them fit for my purposes - bringing each to the required level. Yes, give everyone their fire blankets still but let's keep them on the wall.

Embrace (the right) Emerging Technologies: To boldly go where no man has gone before

There is no point diving into the LMC X-1 Nebula (honest, check it) to find a big black hole squashes you into mush before you've had time to think. Similarly I would need to be cognizant of the risks and benefits of new technologies presented to me on a regular basis, before I adopted them wholesale into parts of the business. The nature of my business will clearly also impact that too. It is fine to adopt salesforce.com and EC2 in certain circumstances, but not if I'm in the midst of a life and death business model. Who will I trust though? Where can I gamble? However interesting any of these point solutions maybe, surely there are only three reasons to adopt any of them - so which does it address?

  1. This technology (or process) enables me to deliver my business strategy (which would not otherwise be done so)
  2. This technology (or process) enables me to deliver the required services much more cost effectively
  3. This technology (or process) enables me to accelerate the speed of delivery or response to the business

The fourth is clearly "because it's really really cool technology and I want to play with it to see what it can do", and whilst we see it time and time again (and trust me I'm tempted - I do like my toys) I just couldn't afford the time.

I'd work out who to trust (product suppliers, advisors, my team), align the technology adoption to the three core facets and go for it. We want to be CIO LEADERS after all, don't we (http://tinyurl.com/meubnu) ?

Translate to the Business: "It's life Jim, but not as we know it"

And finally in my role as a Spock, a role-model for my logical, emotionally-detached CIO self, I need to make sure that the business - the captain of the Enterprise - is getting what it needs from the team - every month, every week, every day. We, and others, have often talked about the Business-IT divide and so I will not further here. Suffice it to say that it is my job, as CIO, to be the translator - to ensure that the business strategy, short term through long term, is effectively supported through the exploitation of technology - whether infrastructure and connectivity, applications, processes or people. Increasingly this is changing as the divide is eroded by new generations of employees who are all technology savvy, eroded by global connectivity at a level beyond seen before, eroded by a new mass social consciousness that drives opportunity and threat. At times like these we need Uhuru to navigate through this changing path - what once didn't work that well will certainly not work in the future. We need to drive the new ways of working, the next practices, the new norm. Take an IT Director from 40 years ago and place them into the CIO role of today and it is a different beast - life, but not as they knew it.

I think I'd make a pretty cool CIO, so would my guys. Of course, I still harbour secret desires to be Vulcan. Apart from the ears, that would be pretty cool too!

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About Rob Price
COO for Worldline UK&I and member of the Scientific Community
Rob is COO for Worldline UK&I, the European leader in the payment and transactional services industry. He was previously Head of Digital for Atos UK&I, is a member of the Atos Scientific Community and was a founder of the award winning CIO/CTO Atos blog, the predecessor to Ascent. He successfully melds inspiration and creativity with strategic direction and implementation, focusing on driving more efficient and effective exploitation of technology and services to drive positive business outcomes and better connect our clients with their end consumers. The insight gained through both operational delivery roles and strategic Digital evangelist roles ensures that he views the Digital Revolution from multiple perspectives. Find him on twitter @The_Digital_COO

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