by Eric Berridge

Captain Chaos: Superhero CIO of 2013

Mar 27, 20135 mins
CareersIT LeadershipSaaS

CIOs must learn to harness chaos for a very simple reason: business is becoming more chaotic. Globalization and technology, which have turned commerce on its head over the past 20 years, promise an even more dizzying rate of change in the next decade. Therefore, in a market that demands very specific and timely solutions to the most wiley business problems you can imagine, successful IT strategy becomes less the product of well-planned cultivation, and more of an exercise in controlled chaos.

In the era of frenetic business, the superhero CIO isn’t Batman, with his plethora of gadgets, or Spiderman, with his sixth sense, but rather a new champion: Captain Chaos — able to harness a seemingly insurmountable level of disarray to deliver the right value at the right time. Here are some tips to harness today’s tumultuous business environment for the benefit of your organization:

Defeat your arch-nemesis: The Long-tailed Monster

Every superhero has a super-villain. However one may feel about the Standish Group’scontroversial Chaos Report, at least one of its 10 Laws of Chaos is highly applicable: you will always build too much of what you don’t need and not enough of what you do need. In a business environment where CIOs must balance a constant flux of demands and challenges, masterminding architecture can be like building a freeway system for a city whose layout is constantly changing.

The solution is simple: don’t build stuff you don’t absolutely have to build, because you’ll be stuck with it. Chaos-embracing CIOs will leverage the scalability of the cloud as much as they possibly can for agile infrastructure. In this way IT can offer elasticity, ebbing and flowing with unpredictable business demands, to defeat the Long-tailed Monster.

BYOD: Resistance is futile

Consumerization of IT, spurred by a generation that prefers its own devices over the company’s, is causing unprecedented confusion within IT’s old guard. Face it: it’s here to stay. The chaos-embracing CIO views BYOD not as an obstacle, but rather as a source of innovation and an indispensable aid in the mission to facilitate organization-wide interaction. To harness the chaos for the benefit of your organization, create policies and infrastructure that encourage employees to use their personal devices to freely exchange information with each other — especially across departmental lines. Prevalence of mobile devices can be particularly useful when it comes to creating a socially-enabled infrastructure.

Embrace your secret identity

CIOs have to be as quick to identify and address business challenges as any department member. To do this, you must be fully embedded in the other departments. You’ve got to know them, and they have to know you well enough to offer a constant stream of unadulterated feedback regarding what’s working, what’s not working, what they need, and what they think they’ll need down the road.

Unleash the full power of R&D

While R&D may not be as ROI-focused as other business functions, it must nonetheless adopt more agile approaches to innovation. A chaotic market demands that R&D be much more attuned to the needs of the customer, and therefore in much more close connection with each department — companies can’t afford to let R&D be an ivory tower.

R&D staffers, typically engineers and scientists, may not be inclined toward fluid communication with the rest of the organization. Therefore, the CIO’s task of creating an infrastructure that allows a free-flow of information with the rest of the organization should be top priority. To manage the chaos, you’ve got to be less the Chief Information Officer, and more the Chief Interaction Officer.

Flexible governance: Let the Innovation Squad be your Justice League

As you give employees more creative latitude and facilitate greater cross-department interactivity, you’ll hopefully open the floodgate of new ideas, and have a detailed view of the entire organization’s challenges. Embracing chaos doesn’t mean reacting in real-time to every single challenge or implementing every innovative idea — not even Superman can do that. Rather, it means deciding which of a seemingly infinite array possibilities will deliver the most business value.

The more chaotic your business environment, the more agile you hope to become, the greater the importance of some kind of a governance board. I hesitate to use the term “governance board” because it conjures up images of a stodgy old committee of bureaucrats who shoot down projects. I’m really talking an Innovation Squad made up of forward-thinking stakeholders from every department with the vision to identify which projects make the most business sense, and quickly greenlight them.

Progress amidst chaos is actually fundamental to IT, as modern computing shares theoretical roots with chaos theory. We’re living in exciting times when the resources at CIOs fingertips are catching up with theory. Visionary CIOs — those who understand the fundamental changes that are occurring in business — will differentiate themselves by harnessing, rather than resisting chaos. Expect to see some amazing things from this new breed of CIO superhero.