Michael Earl discusses three major challenges facing CIOs today, namely the use and convergence of social media, consumerisation of IT and cloud computing. He argues that the name of the game in IT is changing and that it’s time for CIOs to re-assess their technological scope, rethink their concepts of architecture, reskill, and reflect on whether the ‘I’ in CIO is what they really should be responsible for. In essence, they should be sure their IT organisation is ‘open for business’.
The IT industry is seeking to persuade us that ‘cloud’ is a brave new world for both IT and business. However, it is perhaps the convergence of cloud, consumerisation of computing and social media that is the real challenge for CIOs and the real opportunity for their businesses.
In a group discussion with several CIOs in 2011, they opined that of these three emerging technologies, it was social media that had the greatest potential impact for business, opening up new channels of communication, learning and interaction – both internally and externally.
More recently, a larger group of CIOs was most concerned about consumerisation, particularly the demands of their users who more and more were doing their own computing on tablets, not unlike what happened in the dawning of the PC era. Ironically, the majority of these CIOs were active users of tablets themselves, mostly iPads!
Both groups of CIOs had reservations about cloud. In particular, they were concerned about security and still unsure about the economics, but were dabbling in private clouds.
Now let us look at these emerging technologies from the perspective of users. They are being pulled into Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and so on by their families and friends, by customer pressure, and by enthusiastic peers. With their tablets they not only compute almost anywhere, anytime, but also buy their own applications, access information from diverse sources, and see what modern information presentation can look like in contrast to the stuffy outputs of the seemingly antediluvian corporate systems they used to rely on.
Then perhaps in activity-based groups, in local business units or in their part-time work in other organisations they see the attraction of cloud in terms of accessibility, flexibility and scalability.
In other words, the name of the game in IT is becoming open technology. This is far more than the old ideas of open systems and open standards. It is open information environments created and accessed by all of us who see the previously closed boundaries of infrastructure and applications being blown apart. Some observers have seen this as an ‘Arab Spring’ of IT.
However, I prefer to think of this new era as one of Glasnost; that is of opening up and with it availability and transparency of information, just as in a different sense what happened in President Gorbachev’s days.
So for CIOs and their IT departments, there is a classical control versus freedom dilemma. On the one hand control may bring security in many dimensions, and on the other hand it could limit their organisations from embracing new ways of working and even lead to the IT function itself being seen as Luddite. Yet a preference for freedom would lead to untold exposures, escalation of IT costs, and a patchwork quilt of unconnected technologies and applications.
Thus now is the time for CIOs to re-assess their technological scope, rethink their concepts of architecture, do some reskilling and reflect on whether the ‘I’ in CIO is what they really should be responsible for. The question is: how open should IT be for business?
The broader question, however, for CIOs and executive teams is what is required in this Glasnost vision for their organisations to be open for business? For just as Glasnost led to Perestroika, or restructuring (albeit somewhat below expectations due to decades of central planning conservatism), one can envisage these converging technologies enabling business and the economy to be restructured.
Imagine an entrepreneur who invents a new fashion item and decides to start up an online business to promote and sell the product. Yes, a website is built for global reach and low cost entry, but also a presence is created on Facebook and Twitter to promote the new product, seek feedback on it, to stimulate viral advertising, to capture ideas for product and brand extension, and to capture ideas from commentators, suppliers and partners. Crowd sourcing via tablets and smart phones through social media then creates a network of suppliers, agents, partners and larger customers.
Soon the business has grown to the point where information systems are required to coordinate and control operations, and packaged software is accessed and deployed via the cloud, scaling up as the business grows (without a CIO!). When the start-up invests in bricks as well as clicks, nearly all the necessary supporting IT infrastructure is in place.
In other words, the geographical, business and management scope of this new business knows no bounds and becomes a motor in the ever more open, disaggregated economy. And incumbent businesses and industries have to adjust to this new world where not only IT is open, but business is open.
This is the exciting promise of the convergence of cloud, consumerisation and social media, and the question for CEOs and CIOs alike has become “is your IT open for business?”.
I welcome your thoughts.