Yesterday the WSJ did an expose about a midlifer's Facebook foray. It made me mull over two CIOs I recently interviewed with two organizational tolerance levels for the latest in populist technologies. It made me think about what actually is the biggest barrier is to acceptance of new technologies within IT? Age of the staff? Tolerance of the enterprise? Or leadership skills of the CIO?
The first conversation was with a UK CIO who believes that his job and that of his IT organization is to spend 10% of their time experimenting in a lab with new tools, which is how wikis, mashups, and Second Life became part of IT's technology lexicon. The firm is in the recruiting and outsourcing industry and the CIO observed that "very old-fashioned industries need to be re-invented. And in my experience, you must keep challenging your people all the time to help them become more open-minded."
The second conversation was with a US CIO who observed that his firm's foundation is the intellectual property of employees. He too wants to bring in social networking tools to solve difficult problems in a new way. And he's worried that the younger generation won't want to work in the company if they lack access to these as well as Google and Gmail (which IT has locked out - but rumblings are already in the air). So he wants to bring in some young people into IT to get some fresh perspective. His staff members are not entirely supportive. "My 55-year-old infrastructure guy has spent his entire career keeping people out!" He doesn't want to use a headcount that I tell him to use for some early 20-somethings if he can use it to hire someone with experience."
These two examples make me think that the "I" in CIO may need to start standing for "Inspirational". Just the way sales executives need to inspire and pump up the troops to get them to go out there and sell, and athletic coaches need to inspire their teams to win a game, the CIO has an equally inspirational dimension to the job that involves convincing and selling ideas to business peers, but first, to the staffers they lead. And it may involve inspiring folks to be open to technologies that the CIO may secretly fear.
Anyway, CIO # 2 is going to insist that his infrastructure guy take on a CIO-funded 20-something intern that he must treat kindly. Perhaps with a more inspirational CIO, maybe it wouldn't have had to reach the point of insistence.
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