A generation lost in technology; and how to refocus the CIO/ CTO’s purpose
CIOs and CTOs need to be paradigm shapers, information architects and curators
SOME of you may have read Theodore Levitt 1960 classic piece on Marketing Myopia (click here to download a PDF version), on how railroad companies had largely gone bust because they totally missed the boat that they were in the transportation business, and thus succumbed to the myopia of being too rail product-focused versus being customer-centric.
The myopia in IT manifests itself as the lack of attention to the first word of “Information Technology,” where organizations infected by the meme of
technology first, information later have CIOs and CTOs (let’s call them CITOs) who prescribe “technology of the year” investments: Cloud, big data, software defined networking (SDN) and numerous fandangle contraptions to the business.
If there’s one CITO mission statement that I am wholeheartedly for, it is as follows:
The CITO’s mission is the provision of accurate and timely information for decision makers towards driving stakeholder performance outcomes
More importantly, technology is a consequence and should not be an end in itself. So what are the capabilities of the new generation of CITOs that can cure this myopia?
a) The CITO as a Paradigm Shaper
This is probably the hardest of all the capabilities as it requires the ability to ‘abstract’ business requirements and opportunities; more importantly, move beyond the technology-only mind set.
Case in point of zero paradigm shifts are businesses that force customers to remember cryptic customer service incident identifiers or systems that in turn force employees to remember charge codes, staff ID numbers and staff names before proceeding.
A company I know recently celebrated creating a mobile application for its desktop-based office applications; yet, the paradigm remains unchanged. The mobile application is merely an extension of access channels and the application did not even take advantage of GPS sensors, high definition cameras and intelligent character recognition or even the ability to trigger SMSes/ emails from the phone.
In short, one is only migrating manual business activities and forms into e-forms with little or no access to higher order potentials enabled by the “Information” in IT. When I explain the example use cases, I see data points along with the technology:
b) The CITO as a Business Information Architect
Classification and Authority
Businesses need CITOs to maintain single source of truths versus acquiring technologies that isolate umpteenth pieces of the same information. All businesses should have at least three unadulterated and interlinked information facets, without which I see it as running the business afflicted with schizophrenia.
ii. Product and/or Services
What about financial data? Humbly, financial data are a demand-and-supply consequence of these three data sets. Without source data, the business will ultimately conduct copious meetings only to end with the conclusion that failures are an act of god.
Integrity, Retention and Security
The ability to version control and manage the evolution of information over time such that one is able to analyze performance time slices and decision making branching that leads to different outcomes. Secondly, security is required to manage not only regulatory requirements but leakage of crucial learning and information either via resignations, wilful dissemination to competitors or even a disaster.
Retrieval, Display, Dissemination and Collaboration
The architect enables the business to easily identify information; disseminate it to the intended parties and creates an ecosystem that allows intercompany collaboration; while a techno-centric CITO buys tools.
Here’s a test. If you’re thinking about Enterprise Search, SharePoint or Unified Communications right now, you are still stuck within the technology paradigm. CITOs should be planning for solutions along the questions of
How do employees and managers conduct and transact their business?
What are the datasets and information that are exchanged?
What can I do to make it faster, easier and better for them to work?
How do you know that you have missed your mark? Well, users claim that the technology is unwieldy and have little relevance to the business.
This leads us to the next criteria; where the CITO stands a chance to end their career as a CEO.
c) The CITO as a Business Information Curator
While an architect has a notion of design once then use for perpetuity, a curator evolves with his collection. Curators are responsible for the acquisition and care of business information and in doing so possess subject matter expertise and able to parlay with the best of the C-levels; after all, it is within IT solutions that the business information resides.
The challenge is freeing oneself from the spell of technology myopia and this has to begin with the service providers. After decades of sponsoring CITOs to spanking conferences in Las Vegas to worship technology, service providers have to move towards re-educating CITOs on business outcomes, decisions and information required to feed these decisions.
In summary, we have seen how the business, CITOs and IT service providers become fixated with technology and why we need CITOs that can be paradigm shapers, information architects and curators.
While I do not dismiss the need to still stay relevant technically, I fear that without the focus on information and how it affects business outcomes, CITOs will not only slide lower down the corporate totem pole, but see only one option in advancing their careers: Retirement.
Bernard Sia is head of strategy at Mesiniaga Alliances Sdn Bhd. His opinions here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mesiniaga.