The pace of technology change -- and therefore business expectations and IT culture -- is accelerating, fueled by three things: IT's brief but turbulent history, a crush of external forces that reset IT spending and user attitudes, and the strength and resourcefulness of CIOs themselves. To survive in tomorrow's context, a CIO will need to disperse staff and capability out to business units at the same time as they acquire capacity from a supply grid. Meanwhile, the CIO must switch focus from efficiency and cost to enabling greater experimentation and iteration of new ways of competing for the firm. The best will take over their firms' operational services, run P&L lines, become COOs, and in tech services firms, aim sights on becoming CEOs.
Nobody can argue with the aspirational arc of Cameron's overview -- create new ways to compete, take on more responsibility, become a CEO -- but that's not going to happen just because the CIO snaps his fingers and decides it would be valuable to "disperse staff and capability out to business units." Because they won't be able to make such moves since all hands will be needed to feed the 80 part of the 80/20 beast.
If CIOs have not declared war on the 80/20 ratio for 2009, they will very likely fail or at best fall woefully short on other major initiatives for the coming year because the funds and organizational flexibility they'll need to complete those other initiatives will remain locked up and inaccessible within those legacy systems and processes and policies that consume 75% or 80% or even more of many IT budgets.
And while such shortcomings would look bad even in a robust economy, now is the worst possible time for such failures. In these times of relentless cost-cutting where superb execution is critical, the inability of a CIO to help deliver new and unique competitive advantage will stand out like a car-company CEO taking a corporate jet to the next groveling-for-dollars meeting with the wizards of Congress. It will have disastrous consequences.
If I were a CIO, and I were paying Forrester or Gartner or some other IT-advisory firm many thousands or tens of thousands of dollars per year for strategic counsel, I'd be telling Bobby Cameron and other experts in the field to send me the book on exactly what I need to do to turn my 80/20 maintenance/innovation spending habit into 50/50 by the end of 2009. Because otherwise, I'll be giving my CEO no recourse but to get to rid of me and bring in someone who can slay that 80/20 demon and thereby unlock the resources needed to do all the fun stuff that Bobby Cameron hinted at 13 months ago.