Mark Twain, Enterprise 2.0 and the CIO

Some  end-user revolutionaries  don’t like IT departments and CIO’s. The armchair revolutionaries really don’t like CIO’s. Apparently CIO’s are obstacles in the way of end user freedom, and at best CIO’s merely keep the lights on. I’d read the Chris Anderson piece a while ago, but Nicholas Carr’s post made me revisit it.  Nick has the skill of taking something many of us have read before,  adding a couple of pithy comments and the rest of us scurry round linking away.   

Rod suggests:

Avoid the CTO or CIO: Today’s enterprise CTOs and CIOs are in the job of not getting fired.   Many of them do not think in terms of both business risk and rewards.   They are in a cost center.   So they think about cost reduction and risk mitigation.   Preferably total risk elimination.   Cost is budget is power, so in reality, it isn’t such a big driver for many of them.   If you do talk to a CTO or CIO, ask them what percentage of they spend in the last 12 months went to a new vendor with a new product.   That is how much they are focused on innovation.   My guess is that on average, it will be less than 5%.

Read his whole post, and make up your own mind.  I don’t buy it, but then I work for an evil big vendor.  Susan predicts a revolution.  Larry provides a good summary of the CIO angst wave.

This debate won’t go away–in fact you’ll hear it at every CIO conference you attend. Why is there so much angst?

The CIO is not alone.

Go to an HR executive conference, and often there is a similar angst. 10 years ago, Thomas Stewart , another former HBR editor (what is it with them?), wrote this about HR:

Nestling warm and sleepy in your company, like the asp in Cleopatra’s bosom, is a department whose employees spend 80% of their time on routine administrative tasks….

I am describing, of course, your human resources department, and have a modest proposal: Why not blow the sucker up?

I don’t mean improve HR. Improvement’s for wimps. I mean abolish it. Deep-six it. Rub it out; eliminate, toss, obliterate, nuke it; give it the old heave-ho, force it to walk the plank, turn it into road kill.

Even CFO’s talk about the need to move from “beancounting and compliance” to becoming the strategic advisor of the CEO.  

Marketing executives face the constant dilemma of does marketing pay? They tie themselves in knots working out esoteric measures like brand value to the last decimal point.  They seek causality between sponsoring golfers and revenue. Arguably the Cluetrain threatens the CMO role far more than it does the the CIO.

All C level jobs are changing, the CIO’s is no different.  If we really want to get worked up about a C-level job, shouldn’t we be focused on the cult of the CEO? Some  of them are paid more than the whole IT budget.  It seems that every  function has their detractors. 

It is remarkably  easy to get giddy and excited about collaboration, cluetrain, social media and enterprise 2.0.  I am.  I’ve glugged the kool-aid, I ride the longtail and I’m jumping the shark.  I’m tagging, bookmarking and blogging.   I’m dumping my hard drive of presentations on a wiki so that I don’t get the same e-mail asking me for reference information that should really be in a marketing database somewhere but isn’t.  I’m working on some podcasts for our best practice network.   I even  gave twitter a go, but found it slower than my bicycle up an alp. 

Over on ZDNET there is a series of interviews with CIO’s. They help put  in perspective what it is they actually do. Check out the Vodafone CIO, Paul Wybrow as an example.

When I read some of the more exuberant blogs, it seems that with a sprinkle of SaaS and DIY  suddenly you don’t need that crusty CIO and his  legacy systems and old-world experience.  He (they are mainly male) is a roadblock in the way of progress.   ERP systems that 5 years ago were considered bleeding edge are labelled legacy. Despite my own cluetrain conversion and 2.0 baptism, I’m not convinced. 

I’m reminded of a post from JP, a CTO, and author of Confused of Calcutta. I’d like to quote bits of it here, but instead I’d ask you to  spend an afternoon on his blog.  Then come back, look me in the eye  and tell me that CIO’s are dead weight. To conclude  I’ll borrow a Mark Twain quote…

When I was a boy of 14 my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learnt in seven years

My view is that condemning the CIO’s experience of the last 20 years is as dumb as denying the relevance of social computing.  Both have their place. 

 Like Mark Twain’s own death, the news of the CIO’s death is greatly exaggerated.  

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6 thoughts on “Mark Twain, Enterprise 2.0 and the CIO”

  1. Bravo, Thomas. I may irritate our Brit friends here in the community, but I see this “revolution” similarly to the tea-dumping, cocky early Americans who struggled for freedom from the British monarchy. In the end, Americans adopted British ways of life here and raised the bar for freedom and civility. Today, it’s hard to differentiate between the ideologies of the British and the Americans– fast friends. The same will be true for CIOs and their rascal end-user subjects. It will just take time and lots of evangelism and education, such as your excellent post here.

  2. Susan
    Thanks for the kind words…

    It may be time to dust off my Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke again. If my memory serves me rightly they agreed about the American Revolution, but disagreed on the French one.

    The dictatorship of the CIO isnt the answer, but neither is user anarchy.

  3. As with most of the C jobs – the constant is change. I live in the HR world – so I am VERY familiar with this angst! (How will we ever learn to *talk* to the CFO?)

    We recently did a deal where a large company (>100k EES) had a choice to build out the services we provide with their existing ERP or outsource it. (HR Services – SaaS Delivery)

    CIO was the buyer once the HR users completed due diligence. He exercised his leadership by ensuring that we provide quality, service and security up to their internal standards and integrate appropriately with their ERP.

    This CIO helped his users get what they wanted, and ensured that it was consistent with the Company’s requirements, strategy and mission.

    As implied in your post – this is not an either/or thing, but continuous change. And we aren’t done yet. Everyone in every company ought to be thinking about their relevance and contribution to the organization all the time!

  4. To pick up on your quote…

    What about suggesting for just one second that Mark Twain was actually only being sarcastic and is trying to say that HE BELIEVED that his father had changed, whilst in reality it was him (or both of them) ?

  5. tech is becoming like airline industry. Amazing how many sales people, investors, now 2.0 entreprenuers have contempt for customers and CIOs. It’s the “who put our oil under their sand” attitude. How dare he not write us checks?

    We would all be pounding sand without the start of the demand chain…the customer is God…even though he may be middle aged, bald…

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