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The CIO and the New Digital Divide

The CIO and the New Digital Divide
Abhishek Vanamali - Director | November 2, 2010

Ever wonder what it would feel like to be in a CIO’s shoes these days?

Gone are the days when the CIO was considered to be the “guru” – to whom the rest of the organization would bow humbly while requesting for guidance through the stormy unknown that was technology. The CIO was often times the superstar, the master conductor, standing on the podium and conducting hapless users to work according to his tune of technology.

Those were the good days.

Today, when nine year olds are writing iPhone applications and even the most technologically challenged can summon up their desire for computing power with a swipe of his Amex, the CIO’s foothold as the harbinger of all things technology, is shaky. It’s of course not the poor guy’s fault.

It’s the fault of those darned software engineers.

Sitting in dark corners, huddled over multiple screens of gibberish and surviving on a diet of chips and caffeine (and other unmentionables), this disheveled lot has been (not so) silently changing the way technology is being delivered and consumed. You see, the milieu of software engineers is by definition fiercely independent, liberal and egalitarian. Even though many of them buy their chips from “Big Company” money – they don’t really like big companies. Call them digital anarchists. And much like the French cultural revolution (but without the bloodbath) something beautiful and enduring is resulting from this anarchy.

The power of technology is coming back into the hands of the users.

And most CIOs are left scratching their heads. They are befuddled because all the hard work that they had put in during the previous decade by digitally arming their organizations with the power of technology was now coming to naught – because now their users are feeling empowered in ways which most CIOs had not imagined.

Social Networking. Cloud Computing. The ability to consume software as a service. Intelligent Mobile Applications.

This shift of empowerment is creating a widening chasm called the “New Digital Divide” between IT and Business, throwing an already delicate relationship into jeopardy. The fact that this gap is widening 24/7 makes it even more difficult for the CIO to reorient and deliver, making him feel as if he were a character in “Inception”. So largely, the CIO community is indignantly sticking to their version of technology transformation while the world moves on in myriad directions. Take cloud computing for instance. Bernard Golden, a well-known and much respected commentator on the Cloud told us during a recent conversation that as far as Cloud Computing is concerned the CIOs think there is “Room for Inaction”. A case in point is one of our customers who recently alluded to the fact that their IT organization was very slow in reacting to the changes warranted by Cloud Computing. Tired of waiting for IT to find its bearings on the cloud – they were going ahead and doing field tests on their own. Could businesses even consider getting their hands dirty with servers and storage racks without protracting some un-curable disease, in times really not too long ago? That is the beauty and the beast of Cloud Computing.

Social Media is another source of grief for CIOs. (Sure enough, many have tweeted about it.) Business wants IT to help them make sense of all that conversation that is happening every second of every day in every part of the world. Trends are peaking and dying in minutes, leaving a window of opportunity too small for businesses to react – no matter how agile they are. Multi-million dollar branding campaigns are being superseded by a few negative blogs and consumers are making buying decisions based on a million different inputs – and there is nothing that state-of-the-art CIO-recommended CRM systems can do to help hapless businesses out.

And finally the iPhone. (or Android for Apple-haters)

This little marvel has garnered such rabid fandom that business users are demanding to consume more and more business applications and services on their phones. Is the CIO geared for this? Is this in his IT transformation roadmap? Most probably not. Will this have widespread adoption and lead to more efficient consumption of business processes? Absolutely, yes.

These are just a few examples of a chasm that is widening between the CIO’s armory of tools and technology, and the new “technology democracy” that their users are a part of. Of course all is not lost as these CIOs are a hardy lot. They still hold business’ attention and still hold the keys to the safe which holds technology budgets. The truth is that the future success of these technologies depends on CIOs adopting them on a large scale. And to be sure, many of them are. It probably is just a matter of where they are in their last transformation cycle. Those who already run transformed process-oriented IT organizations (early adopters) will soon find ways to adopt the Cloud and how to tap into the latent power of Social Networking. The others (followers) will just wait and watch for real success stories to happen.

In the next of this series we will seek to explore the concept of the Digital Divide in greater detail – and look at ways organizations are trying to deal with it today. Meanwhile, if you see other examples of the digital divide around you, then please share them with me and the other readers of this blog, by commenting on this post. Adios!

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