Bartleby, the CIO

I recently shared this piece on how “IT Departments have become utterly useless”. The number of retweets shows that it has resonated with many people.

So why is that? I mean, I have been a CIO for a number of organisations and on some massive projects, why have we allowed ourselves to become a stereotype of delay, obstruction and failure?

Here, in no particular order, are a few of the reasons why:

Risk – We live in a world where the core assets of our businesses – information, money, delivery systems – are all completely reliant on technology. Companies are robbed these days not with guns but with 0-day vulnerabilities. This creates an immediate tension between what people want to do and what they should do.

This is not a technology issue, it is a business issue. Yet it is convenient, simpler to push the onus down to the CIO, on to the back of technology. So risk then becomes embedded in the service management sausage machine and like all machines, it grinds and it grinds, and it grinds and it grinds very small.

In the public sector we have the concept of a Senior Information Risk Owner (SIRO). This is someone who can take a pragmatic, business view of the risks around a particular asset, system, service or project. I am often asked who the SIRO should be?

My answer, brutal but important, is that it needs to be someone worth sacking if it goes wrong. Their seniority, their reputation, their authority needs to be aligned with the value of the asset and scale of the risk. “Business is the management of risk.”

But individual responsibility is tricky concept so too often we return to the service management sausage machine to not just control risk but to grind it into vanishingly small chunks.

So when you wonder why you can’t access Twitter from your office machine or why it takes 7 minutes to boot up in the morning it is often down to an unowned risk being ground in the machine.

Outsourcing – Outsourcing is a tool, like all tools it is both morally neutral and proffered as a universal panacea. The MBA siren call of the recent past was “Focus on your core business”. Unfortunately outsourcing has revealed that a lot of people do not understand what their core business is.

Outsourcing has boundaries – I wash the plate, I hand it over to my outsourced plate drying service, they return a plate that has been dried to the agreed standards by the agreed upon deadline. And those boundaries need to be policed, policing of the boundaries means more service management and more grinding into dust.

Contempt – much enterprise IT demonstrates contempt for the user. I often ask people from big organisations, public and private sector, how they feel when they have to use their corporate HR or finance systems? And I do mean feel, usercentricity starts with how we feel.

The universal, UNIVERSAL, response I get is a chorus of groans. People hate using these core, fundamental business systems. Some of that is down to the business processes which themselves are often bedevilled by some of the things I have mentioned previously, but a lot is down to a user experience which seems rooted in a contempt for those who are forced to use these systems.

Delivery – by which I mean the opposite, no delivery. My current team and I have about 40 projects on the go at any one time. Some are large and involve perhaps 30-40 million users and in some cases hundreds of billions of pounds, some are small and involve a handful of users.

There are 5 of us, we ship an average of 5-6 products every quarter, we save an average of £10 for every £1 we cost.

Why aren’t we the norm? You can call it agile, you can call it digital, you can call it user centred. It is all of those things but most importantly, it’s delivery.

I have been a CIO, I may be one again. The name is irrelevant, the challenge is clear. What is stopping you from doing the same?

Or are you Bartleby?

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One thought on “Bartleby, the CIO

  1. Pingback: Link roundup | Kind of Digital

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