Last week I posted a review of the excellent book, “The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership” by Martha Heller.  Martha examines the CIO role, stakeholders, staff and future, and provides a rich trove of practices shared by leading CIO’s.

Reading the book and writing the review got me thinking about the current state of IT leadership, and where this is going in the next few years.  After all, this blog, started back in 2007, is titled “IT Organization Circa 2017” and was originally intended to explore just that topic!

The CIO Role is Essentially “Unnatural”!

I first became aware of this fact back in 1980, when reading Alvin Toffler‘s remarkably prophetic book, The Third Wave.  (I had the privilege of having dinner with Mr. Toffler early in the 1980’s and talking with him at depth about the coming implications for IT leadership, further reinforcing my beliefs around this).  In the book, Toffler argues that Second Wave economies (Industrial Revolution, late 17th century through the mid-20th century) were largely driven by an unnatural breach between “consuming” and “producing.”  He pointed out that in the first wave economies (Agrarian Revolution) most of us produced for ourselves what we needed to consume.  The Industrial Revolution tore production and consumption apart – we worked in offices and factories to earn the money to buy the goods and services that came out of the offices and factories.  Toffler further argued that in the third wave, technologies would “heal” the breach, creating what he called “prosumers.”

The very notion of the IT professional, grouped into IT organizations, managed by CIOs in order to help consumers of IT is inherently very “second wave.”  In fact, over the last 60 years or so, we have seen more and more examples of IT “Prosumerism.”  The first spreadsheets (Visicalc, et al) allowed someone with virtually no IT training to create financial models that a few years earlier could only be produced by teams of expert programmers.  Desktop publishing allowed anyone to get into the publishing business.  YouTube, et al allows anyone to create and publish their own videos, and today high quality movies are produced by amateurs on relatively low cost consumer equipment.

The forces behind this IT prosumer revolution are not going away – rather they are leading to an exponential growth of the IT prosumer – a trend which some people refer to as the “consumerization of IT.”

CIO as Enabler or Barrier?

So, what’s a poor, embattled CIO to do?  On the one hand, the CIO has an obligation to protect a company’s assets against the continuous and growing threats from hackers, viruses, criminals and bad technologies.  On the other hand, the CIO and her IT organization must constantly, even aggressively be preparing for and pushing people towards IT “prosumption.”

As an IT leader, how much of your time and actions are devoted to protecting those who use IT from it’s perils, versus creating the infrastructure and an educated business community that can safely exploit information and IT for competitive advantage?

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