Message to CIOs: Ignore Consumer Technology at Your Own Risk

A few issues ago, I wrote a column titled The Next Wave Is Here about the profound changes taking place at the heart of enterprise IT. Well, if those internal changes are profound, the ones taking place at the edge are revolutionary. And they’re also what’s driving the need for internal IT transformation.

If you’ve been reading my column for any period of time, you know I’m not prone to hyperbole. All through the (first) dotcom era, CIO’s take on newly emerging Web businesses was pretty conservative. One piece we wrote, about whether CIOs should ditch their jobs with traditional companies to run IT at a dotcom, was headlined Look Before You Leap and provided a rational framework for making that decision amid all the irrational turn-of-the-century exuberance. (As it turned out, we were probably too conservative on that one. While few of those jobs had good long-term prospects, it’s hard to argue now with the value they provided, experiencewise, as a tour of duty.)

But as rational as we are at CIO , we’re getting pretty exuberant about what’s going on today. And given the velocity at which it’s all happening and the extremely conservative climate we’re coming out of, some good old-fashioned hype just might be in order.

Innovation today centers on the digital consumer and is spilling over into business, said Verizon CIO Shaygan Kheradpir at last month’s IDC IT Forum. There’s a flood of cool, simple, creative new stuff emerging online every day. With the Internet as a platform for testing out ideas, the cycle time to determine market acceptance is insanely short. (And, by the way, your new competitors know that, even if you don’t.)

So why is this a problem for CIOs? For one thing, too many of you don’t spend any appreciable time online. You don’t know what a vlog is, or a machinima (I didn’t either before this week), and you’ve probably never spent time in MySpace and rarely communicate by IM. You’re dinosaurs. I am too.

Unlike real dinosaurs, however, we have an opportunity to adapt. But we’ve got to get out there. Carve out a half hour a day, if possible, to visit some of the Web’s more unusual neighborhoods. Spend some time in the virtual world. Find a vlog (a video blog) about something that interests you. Edit your home videos through an online service. IM not just with your kids, but with other interesting, creative people. Hire young people and encourage them to tell you about some of the cooler things that are happening, because you’ll never keep up on your own.

After about a month of this, carve out some time with your colleagues to think about the 360-degree implications of these things for your business.

The biggest risk right now is not irrational exuberance but rational conservatism. And as we all know, that’s something that comes naturally to CIOs.

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