October 1, 2014
Is the era of digital business really all that novel? A technologist might be inclined to say no; the basic requirements for making technology serve business needs haven't changed. But it feels different to business leaders, who are less inclined to follow a CIO's lead on technologies that suddenly feel much more integral to how they do business.
The challenge for IT leaders is to execute a judo move, flipping the maneuvers of business leaders to preserve the momentum of business and the needs of technology.
The changing nature of IT leadership, particularly in relation to marketing-led technology leadership, was one of the major themes of the InformationWeek Leadership Conference at Interop New York. PricewaterhouseCoopers chief technologist Chris Curran, also a principal in the firm's advisory service, had the most to say about the topic, based on PwC research, but practically everyone who took part in the discussions had a story to tell.
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"I bristle when I hear people talk about digital being new," Curran admitted. As if every previous generation of computer technology hasn't been based on storing and manipulating digital data?
What's really changed is the transition to digital -- as opposed to paper-based -- marketing and advertising. That transition made digital transactions and communication with customers much more central than they were even a few years ago, when the role of computers might have been more to plan a campaign and maybe do some desktop publishing. Web and mobile interactions have come center stage, and consumer technologies have radically demystified IT.
"The idea that 'digital' has emerged as a topic is really driven by the advertising and marketing and sales world," Curran said.
Michael Healey , president of Yeoman Technology Group and an InformationWeek contributor, had an even more succinct explanation for why marketers like the term digital: "Because it's not an IT term -- marketing doesn't want to be more like IT."
"There's a belief that marketing knows IT really well, maybe better than IT knows marketing," Curran said. Now that business leaders have discovered that technology doesn't have to be painful, he added, the IT organization needs to shake its reputation for delivering awkward-to-use technology late and over budget.
Curran told of a worst-case scenario: A consumer products company where marketing built its own parallel technology organization. IT tried to respond by hiring its own marketing technology specialist, and the result was a "cold war" between marketing and IT. PwC worked with this organization to build trust between the factions, so that IT could review the security and architectural aspects of a cloud service without unduly slowing down adoption. Ultimately, marketing had no objection to consulting IT as long as it retained the right to make the ultimate product selection decision.
"We're moving into a world where IT doesn't run IT anymore," Curran said. "IT is going to be consultative in a way that helps organizations make good decisions."
A CIO today needs to get over himself, said David Wright, CIO at McGraw-Hill Education. "You can't possibly be the center of the universe anymore for technology. More and more, business partners are going to be coming to you with technology that you haven't heard of. You've got to be OK with that -- because it's not all about you."
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