Fortune Cookie

Are CIOs Ignoring Their Own Organizations?

Fortune CookieAre CIOs asleep at the switch?  Maybe a better question is “Have CIOs become too one-dimensional?”  For years, CIOs have been constantly told that they need to spend their time driving relationships with the company’s business unit managers, as well as with the company’s key customers and partners.  Partly as a result of this drumbeat, most CIOs spend the majority of their time focused outside of their organization.  It would be impossible to argue that driving those relationships isn’t important — it is.  However, now more than ever, CIOs need to spend time and energy focused on the evolution of their own organizations.

For as long as I can remember, the majority of the resources of the typical IT organization have been consumed performing operational tasks such as configuring switches and servers — depending on which analyst report you read, between seventy and eighty percent of IT resources are consumed with day-to-day tasks.  What is also true is that, in a given year, the typical IT organization commissions more devices, both physical and virtual, than it decommissions.  As a result, the percentage of the IT resources that are consumed with operational tasks has the tendency to creep upwards.  The net result of these factors is that while CIOs are spending the vast majority of their time managing critical relationships, the IT organization itself has continually fewer resources available to add new value to those relationships.  This fact is one of the primary reasons why there is so much buzz in the industry right now stating that CMOs will soon spend more on IT than do CIOs.  If CIOs don’t have the resources it takes to make CMOs successful, CMOs will do what they have to do themselves to meet their goals.

However, the IT operational model is potentially changing, and this change is being driven by a number of factors, including the convergence of technologies (i.e, networks, servers, compute), the broad and growing adoption of varying forms of cloud computing, and the somewhat nascent — but growing — adoption of software-defined everything; e.g., software-defined data centers, software-defined networks.  One thing that these factors have in common is an increased use of automation.  Since the increased use of automation holds the promise of freeing up considerable resources, it might seem like the problem of IT organizations having a diminishing amount of resources will soon go away. The truth is, it won’t unless CIOs deal with another problem:  organizational fear and inertia.

I got some insight into the ‘organizational fear’ problem at the recent Network Virtualization and SDN seminar that Network World produced in Los Angeles.  At the end of the seminar I ran a discussion group with the attendees.  As part of this session we discussed what would drive — and what would inhibit — companies’ adoption of Network Virtualization and SDN.  The inhibitors I heard discussed had very little to do with the value of these approaches, nor did they have much to do with the maturity of the enabling technologies — they mainly had to do with the IT organization itself.  Multiple seminar attendees stated that people’s concerns over their jobs and “organizational fiefdoms” would significantly inhibit their company’s adoption of Network Virtualization and SDN.  If the adoption of new approaches to IT, such as Network Virtualization and SDN get delayed, then the freeing up of existing operational resources to be able to add more business value also gets delayed.

This was the seventh time this year that I have run discussion groups like this, and the results have been remarkably similar.  So, what’s a CIO to do?  He or she needs a plan that overcomes organizational fear and inertia, and which also maximizes the use of IT resources on a going-forward basis.  CIOs don’t need to develop these plans themselves, but they need to ensure that they get created, get updated regularly, and that they get implemented.  A plan must describe how the IT organization needs to evolve in order to respond to the changing environment, and it must also identify — at least at a high level — the types of IT skills that are increasing in importance, as well as the skills that are decreasing in importance.  In order to actually drive change, the entire IT management team must translate the high-level plan into career planning for each member of the IT organization.

The bottom line is that few, if any, IT professionals want to stonewall change.  However, being human, all of us want to know how we can successfully participate in that change.  CIOs owe that to the people in their organizations and to the companies they work for.

Image credit: pixonomy (flickr) – CC-BY-NC