It is admittedly cliché to talk about how simple the world was when we grew up. But like many things cliché, this simplicity perception holds more than a kernel of truth and nowhere is this more true than in the areas of tools and choices. We have an explosion of tools and choices in our personal life and, increasingly, in our business world as well.
World of few tools
In 1975, if you wanted to communicate with your grandparents who lived in another state, you basically had two tool options; the telephone or mail. Each tool had a limited set of associated choices, like when to call or how many pages you could include before incurring additional postage.
Music functioned much the same way. What started as music on 33 RPM records played on a turntable became a cassette player and then a Walkman, but still fundamentally the same tool with a couple of switches, just updated. We grew up in a world of tool and choice scarcity.
What a difference a few decades has made. Want your kids to talk to your parents back on the East Coast? No problem. You can choose from a cell or landline phone, mail provided you can find a stamp, email from any one of your six accounts, FaceBook, Google+, Skype, and Facetime.
Music is no different: You can choose from iTunes, Groveshark, Spotify, Pandora, or iTunes and use them in many ways. We suddenly live in a world of abundant tools and choices and what may seem like a good thing is also very potentially chaotic.
The tyranny part
I’m all for choice. The challenge, however, is that none of us have ever been trained in how to deal with this onslaught of tools and choices. Organizations face this challenge but on a much larger scale. The CIO’s challenge has fundamentally changed from managing technology that provides automation and cost savings to becoming a filter of ideas and technology that could quickly slip the enterprise into chaos.
Where to go
Consumerization of IT has put enormous power in the hands of people who aren’t accountable for the chaos that results from poor filtering of choices. IT can easily look outdated and defensive. So how does a CIO survive in this landscape?
- Filter the incremental without missing the trend – Several friends have suggested Pinterest but I don’t see where it fits in my personal technology ecosystems. I’ll pass…for now. Organizations need to be able to filter, pass and stay open minded to ideas that may become more valuable at a future point.
- Avoid the brittle: I was recently at a cross industry business process meeting hosted by APQC. Each attendee had a similar problem of how to communicate process to the end user in a meaningful way. Their solutions were a homegrown and brittle series of tools cobbled together rather than something coherent and purpose-built for the enterprise. Theirs were clever approaches, but the net result was chaotic and very, very brittle.
- Balance gatekeeper with innovator: Small, clever software companies now go directly to the business with the concepts being sold to the consumer world. Mobile, social, gaming are all hot but potentially chaos for the IT department. To avoid being seen as an angry gatekeeper, IT needs to partner with the business and be seen as an advisor on choices or face being seen as irrelevant.