When Google Speaks …

... CIOs should listen. Google's CIO Douglas Merrill gave a (brief) interview to <i>The Wall Street Journal</i> earlier this week. Plenty of IT people picked up on it. If you haven't read it, you need to.

John Soat, Contributor

March 20, 2008

3 Min Read

... CIOs should listen. Google's CIO Douglas Merrill gave a (brief) interview to The Wall Street Journal earlier this week. Plenty of IT people picked up on it. If you haven't read it, you need to.There used to be a commercial on TV for an investment company that featured the tagline: "When XYZ company speaks, everybody listens." One of the commercials (there were a few) featured people at a party and one of them says to the other, "Well, my broker is from XYZ and he says ... " Suddenly, everyone at the party stops speaking in order to hear what that person's broker had to say. (The irony is, who's listening to brokers these days?)

Google is like that now in IT. When Google talks, IT people listen, whether they agree with what Google has to say or not.

For example, when Google CIO Merrill said in the interview, "Our model is choice," CIOs need to realize the implications, that there is an IT organization that actually allows its end users to pick the devices, applications, and operating systems they want to use. That's a radical concept for most CIOs, but one that will become more pervasive (at least as a concept) now that Google is out there talking about it.

That short piece has generated plenty of blog chatter, including on our blog site. My colleague Eric Zeman compares his own experience with what Merrill is advocating, and comes down on the side of the Google CIO.

I find it hard to fault this argument. In my own experience, I was least happy with my work computers when they were completely locked down and inaccessible to me aside from running company-approved software ... Now I use what I want ... [and] My own personal productivity has jumped through the roof because I'm not spending time dealing with an IT department to get what I need.

On the other hand, a Wall Street Journal blog referred to Merrill in the headline as a "Tech Anarchist."

Traditionally, information-technology departments maintain tight control over what computers and programs workers are allowed to use, making Merrill either a visionary or an anarchist.

I guess we know what side that blogger came down on. And several commentators agreed with him. Several didn't, instead supporting the visionary argument. The point is this: Because of this interview, and the blogs that resulted, the discussion is out there. Don't be surprised if you start getting more requests for nonstandard, noncorporate equipment, such as Mac, Linux, or Google apps (which may have been an ulterior motive of Merrill's anyway).

My colleague Art Wittmann recently interviewed Merrill, and he had some very interesting things to say about his job and the role of the CIO in general. For example, there's this:

I have the best CIO job in the world. It used to be the case that the CIO existed to bring technology to business, but it's our belief that's vanishing. Increasingly now, the way our technology works is driving the business. The CIO of tomorrow isn't a business service person; the CIO of tomorrow is a technologist who understands business in a different way.

Once again, if you haven't read that interview, you need to. When Google's CIO speaks, IT listens -- and so should you.

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