The role of IT has changed considerably over the past twenty years, yet if you ask people to describe an IT person the description includes references to pocket protectors, glasses, social awkwardness and other less flattering terms. Such characterizations include the CIO who is often seen as being somewhat separate from the rest of the leadership team — remember the term “business and IT” well the “and” is a way to keep the two apart.
At the Gartner CIO Leadership Forum we held a workshop around creating a new myth for the CIO. The first part of creating something new is to acknowledge the existing myth its inaccuracies and opportunities for improvement. In this first activity CIOs highlighted the old myth of the CIO by pointing out that there were actually two old myths.
The first from 1970’s through to the mid 1990’s was that of technical master, the CIO and IT as the wizards who could do magic with technology. This myth is predicated on technology being complex, costly, risky and better left to scientists. This myth sits behind much of the social underpinnings for IT and its management.
However this myth began to fade as we moved through Y2K, the Euro, the arrival of the internet, widespead use of the PC and more technology savvy consumers and personnel. Those factors changed the myth as what was once seen as a cloister of technical wizards became something else.
“RSP’s, thats what they called me when I joined the company,” commented one of the CIOs in the session. RSP by the way stands for Revenue Sucking Pigs. The latest myth of the CIO and IT centers around the cost of IT, its inability to respond quickly, and quesions around its business value. These questions and challenges were unheard of in the 1970s 80s and early 90s as technology was hard, necessary and valuable work. It seems that once people could do their own word processing and spreadsheets on PC’s the technology did not seem so hard. That is true, to a point, but you cannot run a multi-million dollar company on a PC. So with the wizard’s hat removed, the myth changed and its one that many of us are living with now.
That myth is not true either and its time to get a new one.
But before we start with the future, its good to recognize the past. What is the myth you are working with, the expectations others have. This is not a request to whinge or complain but to recognize the reality of where we stand to start to reconstruct the ideas and symbols of where we want to go.