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Not so fast!

4 min read

I recently noticed that I have been using @CIOPortfolio for 5 years now and that got me thinking about what has changed for CIOs over that time. Although digital technology is renowned for its frenetic pace of innovation (here we go again!) you could argue that not much has changed. Surprisingly, that is a terrifically useful insight for CIOs.

Been there, done that

As an example, all of the technology that we have today was in evidence back in 2011. Pick any of the categories which have attracted exciting headlines recently and a few searches will uncover working examples in 2011 and a development history stretching back decades. Wearables, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, microservices, containers, autonomous cars, drones and blockchain were all in use when I first signed on with @CIOPortfolio. The same applies to IT working practices such as “DevOps” and “Scrum”.

Developments which appeared within the last 5 years have often been variations on existing products or interesting combinations - think of Snapchat, Apple’s Siri, Slack, and Microsoft’s Surface. Even then the headlines often flattered the new arrivals by focusing on new shipments and down playing the enormous installed base of older technologies. For example, some surveys suggest Android has only recently pushed Windows into second place in the installed operating system rankings.

For some organisations, these smaller scale shifts have still made this a pretty exciting period. Over the last 5 years Apple, Microsoft and Google have remained near the top of company valuation lists but the likes of IBM and Walmart have dropped down to be replaced by Facebook and Amazon. HP has split into two firms and Dell is trying to redefine itself by swallowing EMC.

Less haste, more speed

For many CIOs and IT functions the last five years has been a period of recovery and consolidation and the steady pace is likely to continue despite some of the more shrill headlines. That doesn’t mean that CIOs can relax entirely but it does mean that the changes that are needed over the next 5-years are already reasonably well understood, even if they have not been widely adopted yet. Here are some of the most significant examples.

  • Organisation - Projects will still be employed as a useful way to organise special, discrete initiatives, such as a merger. Already, very little of what IT does falls into this category and that share will continue to shrink. Most IT work will be delivered in small, frequent batches by mixed product teams. There will still be a need to look far ahead for strategy and architecture but this will be to explore possible scenarios and not make fixed grand plans.
  • Risk - Everyone is exposed to the internet and the threats which lurk there which means that all of your IT is also exposed. Firewalled networks and datacentres provide a comforting, but false, sense of security. We need to educate our staff, customers and partners to help them become trust worthy users of our IT and have tried and tested responses ready when the inevitable breaches or failures occur.
  • Delivery - Assume that any new services you are considering now will be offered through APIs based upon published standards. Build a mobile, accessible, web front-end but expect your users to choose third-party clients as standards mature - think about the way email has worked for many years now.
  • Development - Most of your needs will be met by configuring cloud services (usually software as a service). The rest will be constructed using open source frameworks and platforms which already include re-usable libraries for most common needs. The talented people you want to attract and retain will expect to contribute their work back into these communities.
  • Compute and storage - Anything you are developing now will have to run in the public cloud by the time it is decommissioned - most likely load balancing across a couple of preferred providers - so build for it now. Private and hybrid cloud might have made sense in 2011 but it does not now and certainly won’t in 2021. The rest of your hardware will be a diverse selection of portable and wearable devices - most of which you will not own or administer.

Calm within the storm

Given all of the shocks and turmoil going on in the world at the moment I hope CIOs can take some comfort from seeing how steady and predictable progress can be in their professional lives.

Related Posts: On the two forms of disruption - on second thoughts, read everything from @swardley

Originally published on by Richard Barton