April 23, 2009
I was most intrigued by comments from Jean-Louis Ecochard, CIO at The Nature Conservancy, who believes that in general, CIOs are still concerned about sticking their necks out technologically. "The last thing most folks want are disruptive technologies -- nobody wants an 'e-9/11,' of sorts." That's created a group of CIOs he calls "guardians," which love the predictability of IT, the 99.99% uptime, the scheduled releases, the security, and the policies. "They protect the organization from potentially nefarious changes," Ecochard says. "They resist change, analyze it, mull on it, hash it again into fine morsels, and then, after careful consideration and an extra night of sleep, they allow the change to happen."
These clearly are characteristics not engendered by an economic slowdown, but instead are inherent. And they are potentially disastrous for a company. "They promote the type of Nicolas Carr's IT that does not matter to business success," he says. "They are at the tail of Moore's tornado, the industrious gnomes that make the Internet stable." Tough words. On the other hand, there are what Ecochard calls "idealists" (though I have to admit, to me the term connotes a lack of gravity or commitment). These people love the human aspect of IT, the new products, the widgets and gadgets. "They embrace change and risk, bathe in its chaos, ride its waves and then, after a long day of work, they try the newest technologies at home. They are the CIOs who use Twitter, have a Facebook profile, set up ad hoc Ning accounts, and have an iPhone, Storm, or netbook handy." And, all the while, they are pragmatists. Says Ecochard, "They leverage the economic crisis to increase risk and try to do more with less."
So where does this all leave us? Does this mean that what's really at risk is innovation itself? Despite the anecdotal evidence, I don't believe we're headed for a crisis. For one, the CIOs who shared their ideas are all among the group that values innovation and embraces a healthy measure of risk, and they'll serve as the role models for those open to considering new ideas, and learning how to communicate and lead within their companies. And as much influence as the opinions that journalists, analysts, and vendors have on the trajectory of business technology, global CIOs leaders will always have more influence over their peers.
For instance, Richard Plane, CIO for Harris Stratex, said that while "those of us that play to win, and on occasion play an 'all-in' hand, are quickly becoming the few," he acknowledges a determination to get up on the soap box to champion a path of innovation that includes collaborative frameworks, dynamic analytics, network-based videoconferencing, and virtualization across the enterprise. It is this type of CIO, those who still believe in taking risks to achieve business growth, who will continue to drive innovation. And I can personally attest to Plane's commitment. I've played poker with him; he's definitely a skilled risk taker.
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