Next-Gen CIO Delivers for Customer
By Tony Kontzer
With a 30-something now in charge of the federal government's technology strategy, it seems the perfect time to ponder a simmering generation gap issue in the world of IT. More specifically, a lot of you CIOs out there are struggling to reflect the technology appetites of your ever-younger constituencies of users, and eventually that's going to lead to some interesting dilemmas.
Consider the issue of cloud computing, which is infusing the technology world with its latest wave of innovation -- and controversy. As CIOs debate the wisdom of entrusting critical data to third-party service providers, their wariness of the cloud is completely reasonable and understandable, especially considering the potential cost of data breaches, or, as customers of cloud vendor Coghead are discovering, of having to extract data in a rush when a provider goes belly up.
But the younger generation of technology users hitting the workplace now doesn't see things that way. They don't worry about potential consequences. They'll try anything with the technology at their fingertips, safe in the knowledge that it's all fixable. And it's a good thing they're not in charge yet, or their elders--that's you, CIOs--would have a collective ulcer.
It won't be long, though. As current CIOs approach retirement, or find themselves sacked because they're not having enough of a bottom-line impact during this brutal economic cycle, corporations are likely to follow President Obama's lead, tapping rising stars to run their IT environments. They'll choose CIOs willing to take chances to make their organizations more nimble and responsive, their employees more efficient and connected, and their IT staffs giddy from being able to live out their mad scientist fantasies.
This is not to say that youthful irresponsibility will reign in IT's future. There will still be metrics and business cases and opportunity cost scenarios to analyze. There will still be stuffy CXOs to assuage and shareholders to coddle. Business will still be business. But, to return to the example of cloud computing, it will no longer be acceptable to be ruled by fear of a new technology simply because it doesn't offer the same level of security as whatever it's replacing. I predict that one day, the 20-something business-technology whizzes currently waiting in line to step into management roles will laugh heartily when reminded that their IT ancestors let fear impede their adoption of cloud computing.
Whenever I bring up this generation gap with IT folks, they nod their heads in agreement. They know they're facing the arrival of a generation of workers who will barely remember a time before the Internet, cell phones, social networking and iPods, for whom technology is like another limb. They know this new generation won't settle for anything less than having every conceivable tool at their disposal.
And they know they'll eventually have to match the fearlessness of 34-year-old trailblazer Vivek Kundra, the man Obama has tapped to be the federal government's first CIO. Kundra's track record clearly indicates that he'll barrel ahead on any technology he believes users want, provided it saves money, enhances productivity or efficiency, improves collaboration with constituents, or at least promises to deliver some other tangible business value.
It's that first part -- the willingness to deliver what users want -- that will separate future CIOs from their predecessors who've shepherded IT from the mainframe era, through the client/server paradigm, and into the Internet Age. Rather than being distributed from the top down, technology strategy increasingly will be adopted from the bottom up. Welcome to the epoch of the user, a period that calls for a whole new type of CIO.