by Mike Altendorf

Xfactor and other 2010 Eureka moments

Dec 14, 2010
CareersData CenterGovernment

I don’t know about you but I think this year has been a bit of an odd one. One of those years when the things you think are going to have a big impact on your life either pass you by completely (like England and the World Cup – blink and you missed it) or those that affect you in a completely different way to what you expected.

Take for example the election and subsequent spending review. This is a great example of something, which has taught me to expect the unexpected. Once the depth and the breadth of the government spending cuts became apparent I fully expected a lot of sagging shoulders, mournful sighs and comments about war-time spirit and belt-tightening but that wasn’t the case.

The public sector of course will be hit hard but bizarrely the response among many of the public sector IT departments that I have encountered was the first big surprise of the year. Instead of viewing the cuts as a problem, many of the CIOs I speak to see it as an opportunity.

Positive thinking gone mad you might think. Not necessarily.

What it gives them is the opportunity to get creative and show just what they are capable of. It seems that the most ambitious among you think perhaps this is a chance for you to stand out from the rest.

After all you could argue that when times (and budgets) are good, doing a good job is relatively easy. It is when times aren’t so good that you have to really prove your worth.

For some of the CIOs I speak to this is also a chance for real innovation – especially those with perhaps more forward thinking colleagues. Virtualisation and cloud computing provide an opportunity for increased agility with costs that are much more based on actual demand.

Shared services are especially attractive to the public sectorand yield benefits beyond efficiencies – collaboration, improved information management and so on. And both of these have the ability to deliver real savings, very quickly.

The second surprise was the source of a particular significant ‘eureka moment’. Namely Xfactor.

Not because I actually I watched it (I didn’t) but because of what it taught me. What I realised is that everyone wants their five minutes of fame. No surprise there you might think but the revelation was how this applied to the way enterprises should look at social media.

In its top ten predictions for 2010 IDC predicted that social networks and collaborative tools would transform the way we use business applications.

But fundamentally, I don’t think this change can really take place until we accept what it is about social networks that has driven their success.

Social media is so popular because everyone likes an audience. Why else would millions of people get so competitive about how many people are listening to them – be it number of friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter?

This innate desire to be loved and listened to is so embedded within us that no amount of corporate rulebooks will drive it out. Once you embrace that fact, you realise that you can turn it to your advantage.

Almost every week we have CIOs phoning us up and wanting to know how they can stop employees getting access to social media. What lies behind this, is the belief in the business, that social media is a threat – both in terms of security and productivity.

I am not saying that isn’t the case, but if you embrace the opportunity, get the right security in place and educate your employees on the dangers you have a real opportunity to turn employees into advocates – championing your brand out there on the web.

If 2010 was the year of the unexpected I think 2011 has the potential to be really ground breaking. I don’t necessarily mean in terms of technology itself but in the way IT as a support function interacts with the business.

Historically the role of the IT department has been quite passive. Traditionally it waits for the business to tell it what is required and then responds.

In the future, there is real opportunity to become a partner in the business – identifying the technologies and new ways of delivering projects that are out there and showing the business how they can be used to drive it forward.

I would go a step further and say that CIOs should now be looking at their departments as micro-laboratories driving disruptive innovation. This could even involve working in partnership with vendors to test new technology within its own restricted environment.

This has benefits for both vendor and business. The vendor effectively gets an extra layer of beta testing – within a real business environment – and the CIO gets to put new technology through its paces and identify tools that can have a real impact on the business.

The added benefit here is that this kind of innovative and groundbreaking environment will also help you attract and retain talent because the best people will be attracted to an opportunity to push the boundaries.

I am optimistic about 2011. I think it might finally be a year that is about something other than efficiency. It is not a word that encourages innovation and optimism and I for one will be glad to see the back of it.