Technology is complicated.
Everyone likes to give New Year’s advice to CIOs. But why does it all sound the same, so academic and so old? Are Gartner, McKinsey, IDC, ZDNet, & EY academics, practitioners, mimics or lost time travelers? And why are they missing the point entirely? CIOs should tend to the fields, not the skies – unless they’re extraordinarily bored, talented or about to get fired, which makes them ready for retirement or another assignment altogether.
First, Why Do They Write This Way?
Gartner loves to use words like “modularity,” “composability,” and “orchestration.” Does anyone over there understand that CIOs and CTOs don’t think this way? I’ve never heard a CIO tell me they need to focus more on “modularity” and “composability” so they can “orchestrate” more effectively. CIOs are not maestros. They’re crisis managers. Words like “modularity” and “composability” are abstractions that I assume someone inferred by reading a survey where respondents spent a few minutes answering some questions and describing some things on their minds. But it’s not how CIOs in the trenches talk.
McKinsey has its share of abstractions for sure, but their 2022 advice to CIOs has some “make or break” priorities that CIOs must get done in six months! (OMG, what happens if they fail?) But these make-or-break priorities are old platitudes, including “know your customer,” focus on cloud delivery and good application development, become fast learners and worry about security and data quality. What’s new here? Absolutely nothing. I’ve heard the same priorities for decades. Incredibly, McKinsey states that “detailed conversations with dozens of CIOs and CEOs over the past year as well as analysis of recent research have highlighted how the IT mission is both changing and needs to change.” The six areas they identify are anything but new. In fact, they’re old as hell. The Enterprisers Project notes that CIOs in 2022 should focus on cybersecurity, strategic alignment and staffing – just like we did in 2002. ZDNet tells CIOs that they should (my reactions are in parentheses):
I just want to know how they distinguish 50% from 60%.
EY makes an observation:
“… but a new type of CIO is emerging. Until recently the typical role of a CIO was focused primarily on managing technology stacks and business enablement. But 96% of CIOs surveyed in 2021 confirmed that their role is now expanding beyond traditional IT responsibilities. To what extent may be decisive in the success of your organization’s transformation plan. What’s required to thrive is a transformative CIO – one who can manage complex ecosystems, collaborate and co-create with other C-suite partners, use knowledge of emerging tech trends to inform the direction of enterprise strategy and build new innovative capabilities to drive revenue growth. Ensuring that the CIO in your organization is a co-architect of business transformation, not just digital transformation, is more essential than ever.”
This observation has been made every year since Y2K angered everyone in the C-Suite (and the world), and I’m sure will be made every year until the CIO position itself is diminished or eliminated.
But EY expands on its “outsized CIO role,” which it believes requires CIOs to:
Not sure how outsized this role actually is.
Priorities in the Trenches
How many decades have we been talking about alignment, the changing role of the CIO and business technology strategy? There’s absolutely nothing new about the advice thrown at CIOs year after year, decade after decade.
But can we be honest about the life of CIOs in the trenches? The vast majority of CIOs spend most of their time on operational technology issues, problems and crises – not digital strategy, in spite of all the invitations from pundits to do so. They talk a good game about disruption and innovation, but strategy only happens when the SaaS, PaaS and IaaS vendors are all humming along with no issues. Which means that strategy takes a backseat to operations almost every day. Vendor management, multi-cloud/ hybrid cloud management, people management, C-Suite briefings – you name it – it’s all part of a day in the life of a 21st century operational CIO.
Trying to Escape
Escape Plans for Some, But Not Most, Which Is the Way It Should Be
CIOs have a choice to make. Stay in the trenches – where most of them should remain – or plan their escape. Why stay? I don’t know, maybe it’s because it’s the world they know. Enablement is noble: there’s no reason for CIOs to abandon the trenches unless they’ve absolutely, positively had enough, unless they’ve always aspired to digital strategy (which probably means they’re mediocre or poor operational technologists) or because they’re about to be fired for delivering a less-than-adequate operational infrastructure, applications and security. But the CIO role is changing, just not in the way the pundits describe. The new challenge for CIOs is not digital strategy, but how to manage commoditized cloud delivery options.
For those who want or need to escape, they need to leave it all behind – because operational technology and digital strategy are toxic together. They should never be mixed, which is a mistake the field has made across two centuries. Digital strategy is not – and never has been – an extrapolation from operational readiness.
Advice for 2022
Henry Picard, one of the country’s leading professional golfers, tells Ben Hogan that he probably … [+]
Since anyone can offer advice to CIOs, here’s some:
Happy New Year.