Thornton A. May: Fed up with blowhards, IT will fight back in 2014

Fred Pohl, a colorful figure in the world of imaginative literature, once commented, "A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam." In a similar vein, I think those practicing the mysterious arts of forecasting should expand upon the realities of the very clever and now consensus prophecy of the SMAC stack (social, mobile, analytics and cloud), migrate beyond the parameters of established opinion and assess what will really happen in 2014.

During the dark decade (2000-2010), IT became exceptional at operation. In 2014, IT will have to become excellent at cerebration. Investors, private equity firms, boards of directors and CEOs recognize that the path forward requires reflection. In a perfect metaphor for the reality that "a CIO's job is never done," high-performance CIOs -- previously charged with connecting us to the world -- will be busy de-connecting select executives from the onslaught of pings, alerts, tweets and likes and creating spaces where thinking can happen.

Once responsible for re-engineering the value chain and integrating the supply chain, CIOs will be responsible for enabling the "wisdom chain" in 2014. This is the multistage, high-speed process whereby an organization comes to know and act profitably in its environment.

Some readers might remember the '80s TV drama Hill Street Blues. In that gritty cop show, a sergeant would preside over daily roll call, laying out the priorities of the day. I label this a "mark-to-meaning" meeting.

I think every enterprise and every IT shop needs to have regularly scheduled mark-to-meaning meetings. The ones that do actively and aggressively seek to make sense of the changing world around them. Having a mark-to-meaning meeting places the supreme act of leadership -- sense-making -- on the agenda.

Classic examples of technology-enhanced/enabled mark-to-meaning meetings are the Monday morning Business Sphere sessions at P&G and the weekly use of the Situation Awareness Room at Scotts Miracle-Gro. In these meetings, executives are given a factual map of what happened, a forum to discuss why it happened and tools to decide what to do next.

In the 1976 film Network, Howard Beale (a newscaster played by Peter Finch) induces his viewers to shout out their windows, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" In 2014, the IT community will rise up and with one voice shout, "We're mad as hell." My IT ethnography research reveals that our community is fed up with subscription research firms hiding behind a "nexus of forces," blowhards spewing erroneous stereotypes, and academics with 14 data points in their samples telling us that IT is doing a bad job. IT is doing a great job.

We are simultaneously chief infrastructure officer (keeping the lights on and managing existing systems), chief integration officer (bringing together internal and external data and systems), chief intelligence officer (fostering business intelligence and getting the right data to the right people), chief innovation officer (looking for disruptive technologies to drive innovation) and chief in-compliance officer (making sure all regulatory i's are dotted).

I suggest we all become chief "in your face" officers when people start bloviating about IT's failure to create value.

Next: Wring value from your IT budget

Thornton A. May is author of The New Know: Innovation Powered by Analytics and executive director of the IT Leadership Academy at Florida State College in Jacksonville. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter (@deanitla).


Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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