Strategy in the digital age

Mark Samuels ponders the change facing CIO as things become increasingly digitally focused...

The pace of technological development is now so fast that people talk in misty-eyed terms about devices and applications they stopped using months, rather than decades, ago.

It wasn't always like that. I'm a kid of the BASIC generation that reminisces with fondness about loading programs from tape, copying subroutines from magazines and losing everything when the RAM extension pack fell out the back of the computer. They were happy days.

But we're also talking about something that happened a long time ago. In an era of fast-paced digital development, talking about computing from 30 years ago is the equivalent of chatting with your friends down the pub about the best days of the Stone Age.

A Sinclair ZX81 or Dragon 32 looks exceedingly rubbish if you're a kid that's grown up downloading apps in real-time to your parents' tablet. Computing moves so quickly now that when people talk about technology from the past, they often refer to devices and networks such as Nokia mobile, BlackBerry email, MySpace and Friends Reunited which, although no longer dominant, are still used be large numbers of individuals.

Pity the CIO, then, who has to create a technology strategy for the business across this digital motorway of fast-moving madness. Different platforms overtake others in a matter of moments as opposed to years. For the modern IT leader, there is no "fun, fun, fun on the Autobahn". There's just a depressing array of contrasting and often poorly communicated business demands.

So, what is the CIO to do? What's the point in trying to create an IT strategy for the next five years, when everything you're planning for will be out dated in a couple of months? Somehow, CIOs must create a plan for the future that is inherently agile and that, as any technology chief knows, is a tough gig.

If only there was some kind of digital assistant who could almost magically work out what CIOs need to do with the smallest amount of information. Which brings me to the one piece of legacy technology that no one gets emotional about: Microsoft Clippy.

The animated Office Assistant would automatically pop up when it recognised user behaviour. So, how about a return of Clippy? The animation could offer CIOs real-time advice: "It looks like you're writing a digital strategy. Would you like help?" I posited my idea to a CIO and his response was straightforward: "Oh no, Clippy was just awful."

You see, planning for change in the digital age is an intractable challenge. But great IT leaders know we shouldn't get misty-eyed about the past. CIOs must be open and grab the opportunity to change business operations with modern technology.

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