When David Bowie sang “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strange”, he was not thinking of the modern CIO. But guess what? The times, they are getting strange. As I wrote this article from Kiama on the New South Wales coast, my pulse was by lifted the knowledge that for the first time ever the photons rushing to and from my MacBook Pro were doing so across the National Broadband Network.
The exponential growth of bandwidth that the NBN promises over the next decade is just one of the changes the modern CIO will have to cope with. Then there’s gamification, consumerisation, virtualisation, Cloudification and socialisation. The modern CIO’s life will be disrupted by major innovation in new business models, enterprise and customer base collaboration, massive expansion in the capture and exploitation of customer information, disruptive new channels through which to have customer conversations and extraordinary new ways of creating wealth.
The modern CIO must deal with all of this and somehow keep one-step ahead of the charismatic CEO, the post-GFC nervousness of the CFO and the disturbingly persuasive social media myths emerging from the marketing department. For public sector CIOs, the challenges are no less complex. They must fathom new ways to provide platforms to connect newly empowered citizens with ingrained paternalistic policy wonks in a rapidly declining revenue environment. So will CIO version 1.0 be up to it? Are we in need of a few patches or a major upgrade?
I thought I’d really made it when, 15 years ago, my business cards arrived with the words chief information officer. Three weeks prior I was the humble head of IT — the bloke who could keep the geeks under control, talk tech with the suppliers and organise a pretty efficient help desk roster. Then, due to an organisational re-structure, suddenly I was CIO. But what else had changed? Not much. I was still focused on running IT and internal operations. I still struggled to get into the boardroom.
Things rapidly changed for CIO v1.0. Digital natives emerged in the business landscape and — much worse — brought their laptops, casually connected them to LANs and in turn to, eeeek, the internet! The CIO v1.0 response to these infiltration challenges would be to regain control, lock it all down, not resolving but fuelling the ongoing war between business and IT.
Which brings me back to Kiama. I was there to speak at Kiama Municipal Council’s NBN Expo. I looked around the room for the CIO and sure enough there he is talking to industry players, engaging in community workshops, helping re-imagine a ubiquitous, high-speed broadband future for the Kiama community. I have witnessed this scene in many regions across the nation with the arrival of the NBN. Typically, the mayor wants to do something extraordinary and so the CEO looks to the CIO to deliver, as the CIO, after all, knows about this stuff. In many of these regions the CIO role is being upgraded on the fly. The outcome? A new type of CIO — CIO v2.0.
A CIO is not just responsible for keeping the thing running, but re-imagining and articulating the organism that is the dynamic, knowledge-driven nervous system of a progressive organisation. Increasingly the CIO v2.0 will be required to be visionary, articulate and engaging.
I wonder what this would look like in Australia’s most innovative businesses? CIO v2.0 moving freely around the business, engaging deeply with real customers and meeting their needs by building an online organism that shifts and moves, collects and engages, distributes and deploys the knowledge, the conversations and the wisdom that business needs. “Ch-ch-changes, just gonna have to be a different man,” Bowie laments. One thing is certain: CIO v2.0 is going to have to be a very different person.
David Bartlett is former Premier of Tasmania and one-time CIO. He is chairman of Asdeq Labs and works with communities on the NBN through Explor Digital Futures. He also likes to go fishing.