As a rule…the rules are changing

Much of what we learned in our early careers has now been archived. The basic principles are there, somewhere, locked away in deep memory but the context of our daily practice has changed to such an extent that new entrants to our data-driven world would find our past concerns entertaining more than instructive.

 User interfaces are now vastly more important than memory minimalisation. Connectivity is (or should be) no longer a scarce resource. Quality of Experience has risen above metrics for Quality of Service. Data compression techniques ebb and flow gain supremacy in the era of 4k and 8k HD video-streams. Application silos are collapsed by data integration and enterprise borders are flexible buffer zones when ‘collaborative advantage’ demands joined-up business and public-sector interactions.

 But perhaps the biggest change of all is found in our informatics education process. Once we needed to know someone who knew stuff and could teach us. Nowadays we can guess that someone else somewhere has already cracked a problem and we all have this ability to go online and find the fix. It may not result in much deeper learning – particularly in matters of root design – but it keeps the show on the road.

Budding CIOs whose careers developed in the 1990s were schooled in efficiency – determined process discipline – only to find now that the scorn once poured upon more-creative innovative spirits was a massive mistake. It’s a contrast between efficiency and effectiveness – routinely and steadfastly doing the thing right, or rapidly doing the right thing.

From Professor Irene Ng’s work ‘Value & Worth’* we can understand how business propositions must change to match the changing contexts of customers. Once Philips thought its business was to make and sell light bulbs. Now they have a contract to supply Schiphol Airport with ‘Light as a Service’. In much the same vein, it is around the in-service use of Rolls Royce jet engines that contracts are made.

As in nature, enterprises evolve by a mix of organic growth and cross-breeding.   Business strategists know that successes breed suitors – they plan either to acquire or be acquired – but many a business marriage has struggled on account of incompatible systems and the unexpected costs of integration.

Today’s CIOs must therefore manage for uncertain futures – determined delivery of service standards plus sufficient flexibility for the entire pack of cards to be remelded. This duality was never possible back in the days of rigid departmental demarcations.   Process flows, like RF Spectrum, do not respect borders and the success of any future merger often hangs on the ease with which businesses can quickly be integrated.

After recognising the growth of the Internet through the 1990’s, the UK government created a post of E-envoy – the forerunner of today’s Government Data Services within the Cabinet Office. The recruitment advert sought candidates with ‘a proven ability to manage ambiguity.’ More than ever, CIOs today need that diplomatic ability to ride two horses at the same time – stable process efficiency and an agile disruptive responsiveness that is often driven from well beyond the borders of traditional IT departments.

To achieve this duality, forward looking CIOs seek flexibility not just in management of tangible assets (servers, routers and connectivity) but also in the pool of intellectual resources – and not just in information insights but also, by being able to ask questions, a capacity for exploration and discovery. Freed from the constraints of managing kit, the roles of today’s CIOs are fast shifting towards questions of strategy and organisational agility.

Many great innovations of the past were achieved by a combinatorial process – integrating once separate processes and functions. Now we free ourselves by disassembly – taking things apart and reallocating them within or outwith the organisation.

Most of what we learned when we set out on our journeys has now been archived. Along the way we have also learned that navigating the uncertain road ahead is far easier if we are not burdened by the weight of ‘back-up batteries’.     

* Irene Ng is a Professor of Marketing and Service Systems and the Director of the International Institute for Product and Service Innovation at WMG, University of Warwick.

 The book is published by Cambridge University Press as:  Creating New Markets in the Digital Economy – Value and Worth   ISBN 978-1-107-04935-2


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