Squeeze Play

Squeeze Play

CIOs know piggy in the middle all too well.

Was there any more exasperating childhood game than piggy in the middle? Especially if you were the piggy. Remember the utter frustration of trying to catch that endlessly elusive ball?

One of the great tests in business today is the relentless need to do more with less. But the real challenge for CIOs derives from the fact that IT is increasingly at the epicentre of business. Wherever some force of change impacts a business you can bet London to a brick that there will be some significant IT implications. The result? CIOs have the unenviable task of satisfying a never-ending stream of user requests at a time when they can't get those very same users to support a budget that provides the resources necessary to meet these demands. In effect they are piggy in the middle.

When I illustrated this view at a recent InTEP session I must have struck a chord with CIOs. It was the most requested slide I have ever produced in my 10 years of running InTEP.

Change can impact business on four fronts. The first of these are what I call industry changes. The constant government interference in superannuation is an example of industry change. Another would be deregulation such as that faced by the airlines in Australia during the 90s. It fell on IT to provide the systems to support all the new discounted travel arrangements that emerged. The final, and perhaps most frequent, area of industry change is merger and acquisition activity. Here IT has the burden of integrating or uncoupling systems to support the resulting organization.

Next there are workforce changes. Not so long ago work was seen as a 9 to 5 activity. You could certainly take paper documents home, but few workers dialled into the office computer. Now the popularity of e-mail means that a large percentage of office workers need online access at home, which presents significant and ever-evolving security challenges for the CIO. Moreover, the increasing portability of computers, and associated digital devices like PDAs, means that there are now whole groups of workers who can use technology while working in the field. Again the IT department has to provide the infrastructure to support them.

The third force of change is technology itself. In particular, the Internet has enabled organizations to provide a raft of new products and services. A classic example is online banking. Most organizations want their customers to interact with them via the Web, yet it's possible only because the CIO has established the environment and security safeguards to make it happen.

Finally, business has to grapple with socio-economic change. One such force is globalization. Commerce can now be 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Many Australian CIOs find "follow the sun" support arrangements mean they are supporting IT users across vast geographies and time zones. Another of these forces has been the impact of September 11. We live in a more anxious world and increasingly business is looking to IT for protection.

End users may take the IT department for granted but they would be utterly helpless if IS did the same to them. All IS wants is some appreciation by the business of the ever-expanding task they are expected to tackle. If business is to succeed it needs to call an end to treating IS like piggy in the middle.

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