Friday, November 18, 2011

Is the CIO Becoming Vice President of Power?

Last night the Fairfield Westchester Chapter of SIM (Society for Infomation Manager) held its monthly meeting and dinner program. We were fortunate to have a well known Forrester analyst, Stephanie Moore, present some research and views on the changing role of the CIO. With the advent of powerful, yet simple mobile devises like Android and Apple phones, tablets and now cloud computing, ordinary people have more computing capability faster and cheaper that the massive computing infrastructures you typically found at the office. Once upon a time you would do email or download large files at the office because that is where you had the powerful systems and internet bandwidth. Now you do it on your mobile device.

For years prognosticators have predicted the ultimate demise of the position of CIO. With the consumerization of technology and the technical savvy of the younger generation,  it will ultimately become unnecessary to have someone in charge of computers. A comment from my good friend Greg Fell, CIO of  Terex Corporation, fueled the debate. He cited a little know fact (at least to me) that once there was a Vice President of Power. It was an important role in large companies back in the early days of electricity. Someone had to be the expert and manage the introduction of this marvelous new resource.

Today we would view this as somewhat ridiculous. All of the characteristics of power have been standardized. Anyone can "plug in" an electric device to an outlet and expect it to work. The utilities provide an affordable, reliable and elastic source of power. Whatever the appliance you need may be you simply go to the store (physically or virtually,) review your choices and purchase the one that suits you best. There is no concern around whether it will interact properly with your other appliances or work in your house. Electricity has been totally consumerized.

But you can take this analogy further and show how, as the power industry evolved, the management of it evolved too. We still have people who are trained and expert in managing the production of power. We still have researchers and engineers trying to enhance electricity through new forms of generation, cleaner and more efficient delivery. We have electricians and electrical contractors needed to install the infrastructure, and new electrical appliances are introduced all the time.

Let's not forget that some electrical systems are very complex and beyond the scope of the average person. You don't simply purchase of 10 ton air conditioner and plug it in the wall. You will engage an electrician to add a new circuit to your panel and terminate with the proper outlet type.

My point is this. While some aspects of computer technology have become standard, affordable and generally accessible to anyone, we still need good governance, procurement, integration and custom design for technology to optimally drive any business. Like the marketing department who carefully orchestrate the corporate facade, image, brand and message, the CIO will continue in the role of conductor ensuring all the musicians, while perhaps using their own instruments, are playing the same tune and know the score.

Captain Joe

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