Shakespeare’s character in Henry the Sixth says something to the effect of “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Transform kill to ‘remove’ and that might be the remedy for the snail’s pace of innovation in most corporations – remove the current generation of CIO. Not that it is entirely their fault. They serve admirably and are excellent stewards of the business. They are smart and capable and able to execute.
The reason that the CIOs must go is that they are like the TV managers of Phil the weather forecaster in the 1993 film, “Groundhog Day.” Phil (Bill Murray) is disgruntled and kicks and bridles against the stupidity of his managers, but eventually gets the picture: if he stays in this job, he is going to have to show up every year and cover the same inane story to please the commanders of the status quo. And this is where corporate IT is today.
Let me step back: This week I had the good fortune to spend a couple of days interacting with several high tech teams from a start up. One in particular just knocked me out. The young CEO was demonstrating his next generation product – slick interface, open system, Cloud-architected, scalable, highly Social – when I just had to stop him mid-sentence with a question:
“How many developers did it require to build this?”
“We were just four guys.”
And that is when it hit me, again: 98% of corporations do not have “Four Guys,” – I.E., woman and men with the talent, vision, and freedom/drive to build new and innovative technology. I have had this argument with businesses before – many times. Even in a company with 1,000 IT staff, or 5,000, or 50, I will say: you don’t have three innovators.
At first blush it sounds cheeky – a little insolent – to say this to a CIO. That is not the intent at all. The CIO is caught in a dilemma of innovation versus conservatism. CIOs are our IT J. Alfred Prufrocks, best summed up by: “ - Do I dare
Disturb the universe?” And if they dare, by whose authority and with whose support? Where do they find the resources with the skills? We have eviscerated corporate IT, sucked the bones dry of their hematopoietic compartment. I asked the group of developers and product marketers in the room the other day – from the start up – why they had risked a start up and not gone to work for a solid corporate IT department. Their faces fell. It was as if I had insulted them.
What is that when young, creative IT savvy people eschew the idea of working in corporate IT? These people are clever, ambitious, post-enterprise. They have never been inside of a ‘department.’ To them that is like living in a Roach Hotel. A place the weak or gullible go to die. Houston, we have a problem. The issue is not about brains. Corporate IT has brainy people to spare. But they may not have the right skills, and the right initiatives under way. Just look around your organization – do you have a small, agile team that could build/procure, set up and manage a social enterprise system? Could they create processes for end-customers to participate in an ongoing idea-exchange with the enterprise and be real partners in co-creation? Then why are they not doing it right now?
The challenge is not software, and not hardware, and not budget – it is a leadership crisis that only mindful boards of directors and CEOs can re-mediate and set right. The time is now, the customers are waiting, and a new generation of precious young talent can’t approach you because you are surrounded by a sandbar of predictability versus deep water and a current of innovation.
In businesses where innovation flourishes, the difference is often driven by the CIO. It can happen, and when it does it is electric, and businesses thrive.