Mind the gap

mind_the_gapIn my article, Meet the CIO: star of the C-suite, I wrote about a gap that exists between the capability of the IT function and the expectations of the rest of the business. This gap has existed for a number of years and it is growing. In fact I have written about this gap on a number of occasions recently and have long been an advocate of a new model for IT to address the problem.

At a recent Gartner Outsourcing and Strategic Partnerships Summit Dave Aron, a highly acclaimed and respected analyst in Gartner’s CIO Research group, also talked about the gap, calling it the “not so quiet IT crisis”. And it’s not an exaggeration to use the word crisis as it has potentially dramatic consequences for all involved; CIOs, IT functions and the wider organisation are all at risk if the gap is not addressed.

The IT industry has been through a number of structural changes over the last 30-40 years. This has seen technology pass through a number of eras, starting with mainframe computing in the 1970s and early 1980s and then transitioning into the personal computing era. During the 1990s the internet era took over followed by the mobile computing era, which started in the mid-2000s.

As each of these eras has progressed, the rate of innovation and change within technology has increased; during the last decade we have seen the development of social media, mobile, cloud computing, consumerisation and big data. And as the rate of technological change has increased so has the value and contribution of technology to organisations to the point where now, in the mobile era, technology is being used to create whole new business models, products and services.

CIOs and IT functions have also evolved over this time from pure technology providers focused on the provision and maintenance of mainframe hardware and software to service providers focused on internal customers and operating under service level agreements in addition to providing and maintaining hardware and systems. The service provider model evolved in response to the changing needs of organisations as they embraced the personal computing era. However, as technology moved through the internet and into the mobile eras, there has been no corresponding evolution in the underlying model, shape and structure of IT; the CIO and the IT function is still performing a service provider role based on a model that was first introduced in the 1980s.

The mobile computing era and the disruptive technologies and trends that have emerged since it started have moved the needs and expectations of the rest of the business far beyond what the internal service provider model can fulfil. And this is why the gap between the capability of the IT function and the expectations of the rest of the business is now too big to ignore.

The change in the needs of the business hasn’t happened overnight; they have been gradually evolving throughout the internet and mobile computing eras as technology became more accessible, vendor offerings matured and the rest of the business became more tech savvy. But the basic model of IT as an internal service provider with a high proportion of technical resource focused on building, maintaining and supporting solutions has not changed. The disruptive technologies and trends such as social, mobile and cloud did not create the gap; they have widened it to the point where it cannot be ignored. And they also provide the rest of the business with alternative routes to acquiring the technology they need to drive the digital transformation of their business models, products and services. It’s a double blow for CIOs and IT functions; the technologies that are highlighting their failings are also the means by which they can be bypassed.

CIOs must move themselves and their departments out of the service provider era and become the enabling partner that their colleagues across the rest of the business now need. The next era of the IT function has already started but most CIOs are behind the curve and are struggling to keep up with the increasing demands of the rest of the organisation. This is why a new model for IT is required. And it has to be radical; it has to be as disruptive as the technologies that have highlighted the need for change.

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