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Blog: Plus Ca Change

Blog: Plus Ca Change

It might seem stale and unoriginal to say that when it comes to the way the CIO role has evolved over the last dozen or so years, the more things have changed, the more they've stayed the same. I'll just say "plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose", instead.

But seriously, do you ever get the feeling, as you contemplate your career and reflect on the forced evolution of your role to fit the ever-shifting business landscape, that even with every day packed with challenges you've pretty much been-there, done-that? Do you occasionally feel like that hamster on the wheel, running as fast as you can to keep up but seeing minimal change in the landscape for your efforts? 'Cause that's the way it sometimes feels from the outside, looking in.

Hunting for inspiration for my first major blog post, I spent a little time this week looking over some of the articles I wrote for CIO magazine in 1996 and 1997. I was immediately struck by how easy it would be to rerun many of the articles today, without anyone suffering the shock of cognitive dissidence. Consider just these few of many possible examples:

February 1998""Recruit, retrain, reskill. That's the ongoing mission of CIOs charged with whipping the current information systems staffing crisis.

Understaffed, underskilled, overwhelmed. That's the sinking feeling common among CIOs who feel the crisis is beating them.

Can IS be saved from the ravages of the staffing crisis? Yes" with innovation, cooperation and motivation. With trouble hiring suitably trained software engineers locally starting to put heavy brakes on their businesses, some Australian companies are being forced to recruit engineers from overseas to help fulfill contracts.

The problem is, attracting overseas-trained staff is not as easy as it sounds and the competition is stiff."

July 1998""'They say that time changes things, but actually you have to change them yourself.'-- Andy Warhol. The survey finds CIOs grappling in a world of rapid and radical change both in terms of technology and the fundamental ways business will use it. While e-commerce is an important breakthrough that is reshaping the business landscape, information technologies such as data warehousing, workflow management and new architectures will also play a critical role in determining whose IT strategy is best-suited to the challenges of the 21st century.

July 1998""The new generation of Australian CEOs is vastly more IT-literate than the old, and thus acutely aware of the strategic contribution of IT to the business. Yet for some executives, management of IT remains a "discomfort zone" -- not least because in their eyes important IT projects seem to have a habit of running over time and over budget and failing to deliver anticipated benefits.

But for CIOs, the news is not all bad, as a new report from research and advisory firm International Market Assessment (IMA) highlights. At least there is now a much greater awareness than in the past of the strategic importance of IT."

September 1998""Boards of directors are changing. These days the pressures on boards are intense and the need to adopt a strategic perspective on the information revolution keenly felt. But even as organizations like the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) assume a role in identifying IT trends and keeping members up to date, many board members are crying out for further help to understand the technology that will underpin their companies' futures. IT seminars and lunches are slowly filling up with directors, and others are reading extensively to further their education. All in all, this intense drive for boards to master technology presents both new demands on CIOs and new opportunities for those CIOs who can who can understand the changing dynamics of the boardroom.

And there are other examples galore. See what I mean? Certainly over the duration we've seen various technologies come and go, watched Y2K become a major blot on the landscape and then a major credit to the IT folks who effectively responded to it, and watched the dot com surge and crash. Certainly technologies have changed, but how much of the CIO role has ever been about managing technology and how much more was always about delegating technology management to others while managing people's response to and need for technology? As business acceptance of the role has grown and CIOs have gained in business acumen and sophistication, it seems to me that the main and toughest part of your role has always been about what we might call the intractibles" business alignment, strategic development, security, sourcing and above all, the most intractable of all" people management.

True, we're talking about Generation Y these days, rather than Generation X, Web 2.0 rather than e-commerce, and battling to come to terms with blogs and wikis; most business execs and board members can probably send an email these days and trust in the CIO role has grown, but isn't the job still about educating your superiors as tactfully as humanly possible, strategic alignment, process management and redesign, enabling innovation and empowering the organisation through IT?

And however talented your guys and gals are, however sophisticated the learnings able to be gleaned from consultants and other management gurus and however hard you work, these elements of the role just don't seem to get any easier.

For all the pieces I've written over the years about the evolving role of the CIO" and evolve it undoubtedly has" the fundamentals seem to remain the same.

Am I right, or am I missing something here?

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