Beware of geeks bearing gifts

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CIOs learn to manage expectations but must live in a world where ‘advanced wishful thinking’ is endemic and potentially dangerous.

The consultancy Gartner has long tracked the ascendency of ideas through that cycle of anticipation and the roller coaster of realities. Reasons for failure can range from ill-conceived attempts to defy physics through to vaporization of some assumed problem.

Success is found when an idea takes off without support from a massive injection of hot air – but even then folks often and let go of things they haven’t fully grasped. If those ideas are not yet fully formed they may indeed need more time on the back burner.

What is now known as Social Media illustrates the oft-haphazard patterns of idea take-up. How long has it taken for your organization to work out where, or if, Twitter has a role in your business? Did it just happen without any clear policy?  Has it been integrated into systems design? Is its use tracked? Are the benefits understood?

Concepts like Cloud Computing were for many years shrouded in, well, clouds of confusion. What happened to blow away the mist? Was it born of better connectivity or the frustration of managing device diversity or simply the need to get things done?  And are the motivations now entirely different to those first imagined?

What some may first have seen as a potentially massive security weakness may now be viewed as essential antidotes to legacy system security holes and a lack of resilience. This flip in attitudes may take a decade or can happen almost overnight.  Some ventures may indeed exist and succeed entirely because of these newfound capabilities. A business like the UK’s Trainline.com, for example, could never have been imagined without rapid leveraging of fresh ideas.

But how do CIOs know which way to turn when strange, exotic, plants appear in the garden they’ve been nurturing for years? Like the early pioneers of Kew Gardens in London, they bring back the specimens and nurture them in laboratory conditions before releasing them – Orchids, yes, Japanese knotweed, definitely not.

Where are these corporate laboratories? In the cloud, of course. On mobile apps with limited release to selected users – recruited perhaps via Twitter or the corporate Facebook page or some other internal collaborative networks.

And it’s not just about software products or new devices (anyone for Apple watches?) but about vastly bigger concepts. What is your organization’s response to the Sharing Economy? What does the board understand about the Circular Economy? Will you ever discover value in Flipboard magazines? What about Corporate Open Data?

There will never be a shortage of disruptive challenges for CIOs. If we lack current awareness we gradually drift into detachment, disconnected from everyday realities. But ‘keeping up’ demands creativity and imagination – and with that comes great responsibilities and a duty of care for the enterprise. And that is why the job can be so much more than oiling the cogs of well-proven mechanics; it is realizing the opportunities to make a difference, as Charles Babbage might have said.

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