CIOs Must Manage the Risk of the Status Quo

One of a CIO’s greatest risks is not moving fast enough, says columnist Adam Hartung. To avoid out-of-date thinking, ask futuristic questions like "What if in five years smartphones and tablets totally replace laptops?“

Uptime, response time, mean time between failures--the history of IT is full of metrics improved by reducing risk, making sure nothing interferes with operations and productivity.

But times have changed. Today one of the greatest risks is maintaining the status quo--being wedded to dated (or nearly obsolete) IT solutions as competitors move to cheaper, faster and better platforms that are easier to use and produce happier customers and business partners.

The best way to manage the risk of being stuck in the status quo is to do scenario planning. Rather than planning toward a better future starting from what you have and what you know, start by taking your mind all the way out to 2018 and asking "What could the world look like?" and then plan backward to today. Forget about the status quo as you look through the windshield to see what likely lies ahead.

Nobody wants to be caught behaving, or even looking, out of date. Yet it's easy to fall behind. Look at how fast BlackBerrys lost market share. Remember a decade ago when Unix servers and workstations were common, only to be almost entirely replaced by Windows servers and faster PCs as Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics faltered in just five years? Preparing for the possibility of radical change is better than finding yourself tied to a struggling vendor that lacks the solutions for your needs--and charges more than your CFO will accept.

For example, what if the market shift to tablets and smartphones continues unabated? What if in five years users don't carry laptops at all? What happens to your IT shop if Microsoft Windows sales decelerate, as you and your peers no longer feel compelled to upgrade existing PCs or buy new ones? Are you prepared for a wholesale transition to devices using operating systems like iOS or Android?

Overcoming status quo risk offers your IT department the opportunity to be of even greater value to your business. Rather than thinking about how you can improve what you have, free yourself of the status quo to think about what you could deliver.

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