IT author: CIOs should become enterprise coordinators

KING CITY, Ont. — CIOs should stop worrying about mundane issues like chargeback systems and think more about how to co-ordinate technology efforts across their organizations, an IT author told the recent CIO Summit.


is my 40th year in IT and nothing has changed. The problem remains the dialogue and the nature of collaboration between designers and users. The surface has changed but not the fundamental issues,” said Peter Keen, founder of Keen Innovations and author of at least 20 books aimed at helping senior executives understand IT.

“This is 2004 and I’m sitting at dinner last night and there’s a discussion by CIOs about chargeback systems (a method whereby IT charges end-users for its services.) And they are passionate about it,” said Keen admitting he was at a loss to explain why.

“What happens is there is this tension between centralization and decentralization, and it swings every 10 years. The PC was not a technological innovation, it was ‘hey we can do something without IS. Then we had LANs and we swing back.

“We had data processing in the 60s, management information systems in the ’70s, then information and communications technology (ICT) in the ’80s,”” he continued. “”Then we invented the term CIO and that in itself narrows down what things are.”

Keen argued that while IT doesn’t matter, coordinating technology does. “It may sound trivial but as soon as you start to say, ‘What is our co-ordination technology?’ you start paying attention to the issues that matter.”

One such trend that is being hugely underestimated “is the massive, radical, consistent commoditization of every industry,” said Keen.

With globalization and deregulation everywhere, you get price erosion and standardization of components, and the real challenge is how to innovate in a commodity world.

“It used to be you innovated by having something different and proprietary.” Then along comes Universal Serial Bus (USB) which turns digital cameras from being something special into a give-away.

It’s not just IT though, he added. Keen said a lot of companies are locked into “crummy industries” like retail and air travel where there is ” no way you can make money” except to innovate collaboratively.

He cited the car industry, where Toyota has cleaned up using standardization to move production from Mexico to other locations in less than a week. Toyota’s profits in the last six months were greater than Ford, GM and Chrysler in the last five years combined. “They innovate by their ability to co-ordinate their supply chains better,” he said.

“The good ones realize they need to shift their innovation to a value-based Web.” or you end up like Chrysler and GM. “Every three years, they look like they are coming out of the trough with some brand-new cars. Three years later they are back to the depths.” he said.

The more complex the business becomes, the more you have got to co-ordinate to innovate, he added. “”The question I’m asking (of CIOs) is ‘Who owns the enterprise-wide co-ordination design?’””

Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly was getting fewer results from more and more research expenditures. They created a portal that researchers can access from anywhere.

Keen said that business depends on its interfaces. “My goal is simply to get CIOs to be willing to share in the dialogue about this shift in the landscape, take some ownership of this issue and start looking at their role in value Webs.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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