Monday, September 12, 2011

The Elastic CIO

Last week I happened to be in a panel discussion with some CIOs who were expected to debate on “Improving Enterprise Efficiency”. The sponsor management personnel on the table listened attentively and sometimes also asked intelligent questions to the CIOs. The expert moderator balanced the discussions well jumping from one to another keeping everyone engaged. Unfortunately the enticing headline inevitably focused on server virtualization, private cloud, and VDI as the key theme.

How do you create a link between responsive IT systems to Enterprise efficiency and Business IT Alignment ? The question had everyone stumped and the answer emerged as the lack of responsive systems would imply time wasted by the employees; thus response times are important to efficiency. Intuitive and elementary, so what is the debate ?

Taking another element of research over the last decade on significant portion (estimates vary from 50 to 90%) of IT operating expense is expended on maintaining the lights on or business as usual. So reducing this piece of the pie will presumably shift the budget towards innovation and not as savings. This shift of expense to investment if prudent and allocated to virtualized servers will improve the efficiency of the enterprise. And we will all live happily ever after !

If through some magical process or non-empirical derivation two unrelated pieces of research can be correlated, then as suggested by the Chaos theory, anything can influence the outcome of what the IT organization creates, manages or improves upon. It could be sun spots, or a butterfly in eastern Asia; or global warming might provide insights.

Above is just a sample; simplistic evaluation models defined to justify generic technology investment have almost become the norm. Even when the specific context may not apply, the push to sell is discomforting and creates an auto pushback. Confused, the CIOs have been struggling to divert the discussion to their technology team which is better equipped to discuss alternatives and how they align to enterprise architecture.

The elasticity of hypothesis amuses and at the same time frustrates. Nowadays the headline proposed at any event or by a consultant or vendor speaker has rarely any connect with the subject. The stretch of imagination belies conventional and sometimes unconventional wisdom. However, despite repeated occurrences, the bait still works in getting CIOs excited to come and participate.

The elasticity expected from the CIO goes against the business aligned IT leader with a dialogue that is expected to straddle server provisioning or data centre cooling to improving customer service with process redesign using video analytics, or complex transport management. The diversity of expertise with deep levels of understanding creates a superman like persona who is discussing code optimization with the programmers and engaging the board on shareholder value.

The latter is still rationale and achievable with some hard work, some help and coaching, but the former in which unconnected factoids create an opportunity for specific technology breaks the rubber band.

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