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11/18/2009
09:14 PM
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A Useful Outsider Perspective On Evil IT

Some of the best advice on being an IT executive that I ever got was from an ex-boss. Jonathan, he said, there are two types of CIOs. The first type looks into the data center, and the second looks out of the data center to interact with customers. The first type, he said, isn't nearly as useful and doesn't last nearly as long.

Some of the best advice on being an IT executive that I ever got was from an ex-boss. Jonathan, he said, there are two types of CIOs. The first type looks into the data center, and the second looks out of the data center to interact with customers. The first type, he said, isn't nearly as useful and doesn't last nearly as long.I've taken that advice to heart over the years, and while I am an unapologetic geek who loves to run into the data center every now and again, I try to overcompensate for my natural geekiness, and keep my ear to the ground regarding what IT's customers need. One of the ways that I do this is to keep in touch with as many business publications as IT publications. And this week's Technology section in the Wall Street Journal really hit a nerve.

"It's a Free Country," says the writer, "so why can't I pick the technology I use in the office?"

I don't agree with every -- or even most -- points in the article, but it is essential reading for those who want to know what your users are thinking, even if they don't tell you. He's saying it, and the rest of your users are thinking it.

Yes, IT will get to the point where there's an intersection of innovative consumer technology and enterprise robustness and security. No, IT is not there yet. No, rushing it simply to rush it is a bad idea. Yes, taking advantage of opportunities to get there, with IT supporting SaaS, iPhones, and other perky consumerish technologies, is a good idea. No, Virginia, virtualization does not solve all problems by "walling off" personal programs from business programs. (Did someone really say that in the Wall Street Journal? Really?)

Silly assertions aside, this is a great article, because it's the harbinger of things to come in your boardroom, and it serves as an early warning system. There will be things that IT can and should do in the consumer space, and you should work on them now to start to build credibility for the ineviatable times that you will need to handle dopey requests.

My old boss would agree: with consumer technical cockiness at an all time high, now is not the time to be staring into the data center. It's the time for you to be building trust and confidence with your constituents so that they consider you to be their advocate, and a trusted partner in successfully using new jazzy technolgies to advance business requirements, instead of treating you as Evil IT and whining about it.

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