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5/27/2014
09:06 AM
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Why The CIO Rebirth Is Like The Wrath Of Khan

Similar to the Star Trek baddie, CIOs are awakening to an advanced world where they have the intellect to thrive. But remember: Khan was destroyed by ego.



I'm a huge Star Trek fan, and enjoy all the characters. But my personal favorite isn't from the regular cast. It's one Khan Noonien Singh – or just Khan.

For those unfamiliar with Khan, he was a genetically engineered super being who, after being cryogenically frozen for 200+ years, wakes up to find himself in a technologically advanced world well suited to his "superior intellect." He then quickly gathers the knowledge needed to take over the innovation around him -- well ok, the star ship Enterprise.

[Continuing with an inflexible IT strategy until something breaks will break you. Read IT's Famous Last Words: If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It]

Khan's situation reminds me a lot of what CIOs are going through today. Here's why (borrowing some of the more famous Star Trek quotes):

"It's life Jim, but not as we know it."
In many ways, CIOs (like Khan) have been in a blissful slumber. For years the IT department under his or her captainship has been focused on keeping the technical lights on. Stability and control have been the mantra, backed by large complex systems and infrastructure. Additionally, enterprise IT has always had its shields up, protecting large internal applications and systems of record using security controls and policies.

But with the flash of a phaser, all this has changed, and just like Khan, CIOs find themselves operating in a different world -- one where mobility, DevOps, and cloud dictate far greater agility than existing applications, practices, and infrastructure. Now, customers and employees demand warp-speed access to apps and systems of engagement. Resistance is futile, because if the CIO can't deliver, business execs will source the capabilities themselves.

(Image: Wikipedia)
(Image: Wikipedia)

Against this backdrop, what real skills must CIOs acquire in order to survive? I believe this involves developing something like Khan's "superior (IT) intellect.” That is, quickly assimilating new technology disruptions like mobility, big data, and cloud computing to help improve the business.

"I speak Klingon and all dialects."
Modern CIOs must change their role from directly managing technology to becoming partners in business innovation. As such, they'll seek more opportunities to apply technology in far more radical ways -- such as wrapping traditional services with mobile apps to connect with customers at any point in time. Some CIOs will go even further, enriching physical products with software and APIs that allow development partners to build valuable mobile extensions to the original product.

"Logic is the beginning of wisdom…"
“… but not the end of it.” CIOs will follow this Mr. Spock gem by complementing (and challenging) instinct and intuition with the insights hidden in massive amounts of data. To get there CIOs will push for investments in the timely capture, analysis, and exploitation of information -- yes, through technology, but also by hiring and training people with data analysis skills. With legacy system architectures mismatched to mobile needs, logic further dictates that secure cloud adoption will accelerate with the increased adoption of open, secure APIs and analytics.

"Warp speed, make it so!"
The age of large monolithic applications with predictable release cycles is waning. Now success will depend on delivering mobile systems that update much more frequently. Modern CIOs will have to reinvent the traditional IT organization by aligning development and operational teams to deliver new business services continuously -- ones like adding new functions to a mobile app during a 30-day social media marketing campaign. This will be a supreme test, requiring CIOs to challenge the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mindset and reorganizing today's largely siloed IT departments.

"The dilithium crystals are breaking up."
Khan met his demise in the brilliant movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan when he succumbed to his ego and was outsmarted by his enemy. In many ways, it's a similar story for today's CIOs who get caught up in rants about innovation when it's not achievable or even relevant. Smart CIOs won't overextend an already resource-constrained organization by overcommitting, but will rather seek out innovations for an immediate business need. For example, one business technologist (in the mining sector) who I know personally prioritized sensor-based excavation equipment monitoring over BYOD, arguing successfully that the efficiency of front-line mining equipment was better for the business's bottom line than any back-office employee productivity.

Technology is no longer the domain of the technologist, so those who thrive will need to demonstrate business smarts. Meanwhile, questions about the relevance of the CIO role itself will persist, meaning CIOs must constantly reinvent themselves and their crews. Unfortunately, and unlike the crew in Star Trek, they'll never have a five-year mission to do it.

Personally, I'm optimistic, especially for those CIO captains who live and breathe business technology and can shape it strategically. Those who fail will remain with Scotty in engineering. Those who adapt will, in the words of Spock, "live long and prosper."

Trying to meet today's business technology needs with yesterday's IT organizational structure is like driving a Model T at the Indy 500. Time for a reset. Read our Transformative CIOs Organize For Success report today. (Free registration required.)

Peter Waterhouse is a senior technical marketing advisor for CA Technologies' strategic alliance, service providers, cloud, and industry solutions businesses. View Full Bio
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