Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Staying Relevant

Imagine that the year is 2004 and you are a CIO.  It's been less than five years since Y2K and companies like Google, Amazon, and eBay are still very much a new phenomena.  The role of the CIO, which emerged in the late 1990s as a corporate force, is one of the hottest new positions in corporations around the world.  You are riding high on a wave of prestige having just been given a seat with the senior executives and are regularly presenting at board meetings.  It seems like you are just coming into your own and can see an actual path to the top chair - the actual CEO position.  This is not a dream - Bob Willett became the CIO of Best Buy in 2001 and quickly ascended to run the entire company as CEO just a few years later.

There are a few naysayers out there including writer Nicholas Carr.  A few years earlier he wrote a book, essentially becoming the lone voice saying that the CIO position was doomed.  He believed that the CIO role was simply an over-hyped reaction to the Internet/Dotcom bubble which only recently has begun to ebb.  Now this year (remember we're still in 2004) on May 1 he sat down with the Editor-In-Chief, Abbie Lundberg, of CIO Magazine to double down on the assertions in his book.    Carr is saying things like:

(IT Innovation will be outsourced) "I think there will continue to be lots of innovation in corporate IT. But it will take place at the infrastructural level, it will be driven by vendors, and it will be shared."

And on the role of the CIO:

(The importance of the CIO role will fade away) "I don’t believe that it’s essential that it always be a C-level position. In a lot of companies, that’s probably not necessary. It might make perfect sense to have the CIO report to the CFO or the COO. A lot of the hype that surrounded the CIO role during the Internet boom, particularly, was the sense that the CIO was driving strategy. "

Like many other CIOs you join in the chorus of boos and cat-calls aimed in Carr's direction.  With the importance of IT in the corporate environment, the CIO position is here to stay.

On your way home from the office on a crisp Fall evening you are kidnapped by an unknown assailant.  You are drugged and put into a stasis unit where you hibernate for the next 12 years.  Mysteriously, you awaken to find that you are now in the year 2016.

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You somehow find a way to travel to your old address.  Defying all logic, not only is your house still there but everything is *exactly* the way you left it.  All of the food in the 'fridge is still fresh, house is clean, and the car is in the garage.  Taking things a step further, you go into work the next day.  Even though it's been more than a decade, your office is still there and your name tag reads "CIO".  Everything is good, right?  Not exactly.

When you take a look at your org chart, most of the staff is comprised of people you've never met.  You also have dotted lines to external service partners that are managing some of your most sensitive core assets. What's more, the total count of your personnel which used to be 350 is now 80. (!)  Rather than having seven data centers you now have two and one of those is co-located instead of in its own facility.  You walk down to the CEO's office for your daily staff meeting but are greeted by a confused executive assistant.  He says, somewhat bewildered, "You have reported to the CFO since 2013.  Her office is down the hall in suite 1622."

At the end of the day you look at your new reality and see that while you were asleep, everything else changed around you.

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The little story above is somewhat dramatic but it highlights in a simple way what has happened to a number of technology executives over the past decade.  The reality of IT has changed in ways that would NEVER happen in any other part of a company.  If that's hard to believe, just take a look around your own environment.  For the most part, accounting is still accounting, operations still works very similar, and sales people still go out and sell.  Only within IT has the entire "modus operandi" changed.  The function of technology is still very much the same but it is practiced in entirely new ways.

So the biggest question of all is, "How do you stay relevant?"  Depending upon who and what you are the answer will be different (of course you knew I'd say that).  However........there is something that all of us can do that will lead to the right path.  The answer - MOVE FORWARD.  This can take shape in a number of different ways:

  • Embrace virtualization outside of the data center
  • Work with strategic partners when and where you need them instead of hiring full-time staff
  • Hire problem solvers - Be a problem solver
  • Express yourself internally to your company and to the outside world (history is written by the writers!)
  • Use a Mac (in other words, become hardware agnostic, not a PC evangelist)
  • Spend your budget on projects that will give immediate results
When you realize that being a technologist is a journey rather than a career is when this whirlwind journey that we all share will start being fun and rewarding.