It’s always been tough being an IT leader.  The “Career Is Over” distortion of the CIO acronym is humorous because of the real world challenges associated with the CIO job.  I think that today is an especially challenging time for IT leaders.  I say that because these jobs are typically caught somewhere between two very different realities – realities we might refer to as “1.0” and “2.0”.

IT Reality 1.0

Reality 1.0 holds that IT must be managed.  It is difficult and complex – fraught with crucial technical details.  Mastering these details requires teams of technical experts, following rigorous processes and procedures.  Issues that mere mortals don’t often think about – things such as back up and recovery, security and privacy, regulatory compliance, business continuity – must be planned for and managed by IT specialists who have been properly trained and certified in these disciplines.

Reality 1.0 holds that IT should be owned, and certainly, must be controlled internally.  It holds that business users must be protected – both from themselves and from the raft of vendors and consultants, all trying to sell them stuff that could cost them money (at the very least) and might even get them in trouble.

Reality 1.0 holds that qualified IT resources are scarce and costly.  They take time to develop and cannot be ramped up or down quickly.  Therefore, long term planning and concerns about scaling are constantly on the IT professional’s mind.

Reality 1.0 is obsessed with risk avoidance.  Constantly aware of many of the horror stories that are told around the IT campfires (and sometimes involved in either perpetrating or recovering from such horrors), IT leaders work to prevent the many risks associated with IT.

Given resource and risk issues with IT, Reality 1.0 deploys sophisticated tools and governance processes to filter the many opportunities for IT-enablement and weed out all but the key initiatives that justify the the investment and risks.

Reality 1.0 perceives the world of IT as relatively closed and proprietary.  Therefore, it is obsessed with IT architectures and standards – with figuring out how to weave together point solutions into capabilities that meet enterprise needs.

Reality 1.0 is about large projects and solutions – multi-month, sometimes multi-year initiatives designed to last for years.

Reality 1.0 separates the world into ‘development’ and ‘production.’  The move from one to the other is like the move through an airlock – from a dangerous and polluted free-for-all into the safe, secure and sterile data center.

IT Reality 2.0

Reality 2.0, by contrast, holds that IT is simple, ubiquitous and inherently safe.  Almost anyone can be creative and productive with IT – all they need is an Internet connection and a device equipped with a web browser.  If the user knows nothing, they can simply leverage what is already on the web – and learn as they do so.  If they know a little, and are adventurous, they can do much more than passively leverage what is already there – they can “mash up” new capabilities from existing ones to solve new problems.  They can learn as they go, become even more adventurous and creative – perhaps even commercialize what they have created.  Over time they will become even more skilled – creating more sophisticated solutions – or leveraging ‘crowdsourcing‘ to engage others to help them create the solutions they need.

Reality 2.0 does not care about IT ownership or control – they care about results.

Reality 2.0 sees the world as a sea of opportunities and solutions to be tried and exploited.

Reality 2.0 sees IT resources as ubiquitous – found with a click of the mouse, engaged with a few more clicks, and paid only when they’ve delivered.  Resources are paid for as they are needed – no long term commitments or overhead payments to worry about or justify.

Reality 2.0 is about risk management – moving incrementally and organically, managing risks as they are recognized.

Reality 2.0 has no time for bureaucratic processes such as governance committees and cost justification rigmaroles.  It sees any opportunity as worthy of a quick experiment to see if its real – it believes that in the time it takes to create a business case or wait for the next governance committee meeting, the idea can be tested and validated or eliminated – let the proof of the pudding be in the eating, so to speak, not in the political machinations of investment review bodies.

Reality 2.0 perceives the world of IT as essentially open.  Things in its world naturally fit together.  Therefore, things can be built in small incremental steps – evolving in the light of experience and changing needs.  Things can also be built as discrete point solutions – and yet still can be fitted together if need be.

Reality 2.0 is about small projects and solutions – created in days or weeks and designed for just as long as they are effective.

Reality 2.0 sees development and production as living side-by-side in some virtual place in the sky – while I’m working on its creation, it’s in development.  Once it’s working, I declare it ‘production’ and it is so.

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times…

If IT Reality 1.0 accurately reflected today’s world – as it did for most of the last 50 years or so – life would be ok for IT leaders.  Both they and their business consumers would understand their respective roles and would work together for the mutual good.  If Reality 2.0 accurately reflected the world – as it might do in the next 50 years or so, life would ok for IT leaders.  While their roles and those of their business consumers would be very different from those typical today, again they’d be on common ground.

The really big challenge today is that the reality today is neither 1.0 or 2.0 – it is in transition.  And in the immortal words of William Gibson, “The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.”  This ‘uneven distribution’ of IT Realities 1.0 and 2.0 is going to represent both a curse and an opportunity to IT leaders.  For the progressives, it’s a wonderful opportunity to shift IT into overdrive.  For the laggards, I fear that it’s going to make their lives more and more miserable!

Do you live in this dichotomy?  How quickly is reality 1.0 being replaced by reality 2.0?  Are these realities coexisting?  What are you doing to accelerate or impede the shift?

Image courtesy of Rumple at Flickr

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