4 min read

Forget Farmville: We Need CIO-Ville Or Call Of CIO Duty

Our intrepid CIO friend, Stu Laura, suggests that if the military can use computer games to help recruiting, why not the IT profession? Warning: If you can't have a sense of humor about the treachery in your own industry, don't play.
Our old friend, CIO Stu Laura, was on a tear once again: "Where is the next generation of CIOs going to come from? If Farmville can inspire the next generation of farmers, what are we doing as an industry to encourage talented people to become IT managers? Let me tell you: nothing!"

Anderson: Look, let's face it. They want to be stock car racers or investment bankers or entrepreneurs. They want to be reality show winners or rock stars.

Laura: Wrong, wrong, wrong. We spend the largest amount of money in industry, and we can't get any respect! That's why I invented "Call of CIO Duty: The Game."

Anderson: I will alert the people at Activision and Zynga. But what happens in your game?

Laura: The CIO gets a call from the CFO--he's over budget! The general managers refuse to pony up for a better firewall! The application development chief gets into a fistfight with the God of Legacy Systems! Like it?

Anderson: If the military can use computer games to help recruiting, why not? What else happens?

Laura: You have to pick an enterprise-wide HR software package, so you run a bakeoff, but one of the vendors has persuaded two people on the evaluation committee to change the criteria! You catch wind of this at the last moment and level the field, but then one of the losers goes over your head to tell your boss you have "no vision" and are probably on the take. And the divisional IT guys see a chance to bring you down, big time! Like it?

Anderson: Won't this level of reality scare away some talented people?

Laura: Hell no! It'll attract the kind of people we want--those bored with Grand Theft Auto. We need people in this job who can make quick decisions … you snooze, you lose!

Anderson: I am, of course, intrigued...then what happens?

Laura: It's midnight, and suddenly a massive Attack of Service! Then cybercrime rent-a-cops move in, but they're really a different gang intent on stealing IDs. At the same time, the CEO's kid wants help on his fifth grade paper titled "Steve Jobs: God's Gift." Which do you do first?

Anderson: Tough call. So you explore the inner workings of the IT department to teach management skills?

Laura: Even better. We teach treachery. We teach double dealing. We teach how to play vendors off one another! We teach how to camouflage operating expenses as capital expenses and use felicitous depreciation schedules to prove points! After all, it's an accounting judgment call. We teach obfuscation using PowerPoint to confound your enemies!

Anderson: Sounds a tad underhanded, but who among us hasn't helped his CFO on occasion. Let's not forget who controls the sacrosanct budget. The lessons you're teaching here seem to go well beyond the standard operating systems in IT.

Laura: Hell yes. We're teaching vital life lessons. Tell me, does MIT do this? Harvard? Isn't this course clearly needed?

Anderson: Maybe. Is your game realistic?

Laura: Realistic? You bet. I get acid reflux every time I play it. All of a sudden you're in a firestorm with the lines of business. You have to prepare a presentation on "private clouds"--and you know that it's all vaporware. Your competition has embraced some archaic operating system and you have to make a board presentation on why it's a bad idea--right after Fortune magazine says it's a good idea! And just when you see the light at the end of the tunnel, you have to make a decision on smartphones, carriers, and how to secure your company's intellectual property! And your CFO wants to cut your budget.

Anderson: Is it a multi-user game?

Laura: That's the beauty of it. Not only is it multi-user, but you're also playing against unseen enemies. Sometimes it's your competition, sometimes it's the consultants, sometimes it's your own trusted vendors! It's dog eat dog!

Anderson: And what's the prize if you win?

Laura: My job. I'm sick of this damn place.

GlobalCIO Howard Anderson, founder of Yankee Group and co-founder of Battery Ventures, is currently the William Porter Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Employees have more ways to communicate than ever, but until the mishmash of tools gets integrated, productivity will suffer. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek: A buyer's guide to enterprise social networking. Download it now. (Free registration required.)