by Adam Hartung

CIOs Must Manage the Risk of the Status Quo

Apr 29, 20134 mins
CIOInnovationIT Leadership

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 To avoid out-of-date thinking, ask futuristic questions like "What if in five years smartphones and tablets totally replace laptops?“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Nobody wants to be caught behaving, or even looking, out of date.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.

Aggressively project the performance of tablets, smartphones, apps and cloud services to see just how capable, and cheap, IT services could be in five years. Then rethink how you could change the business by changing your IT. You’ll be able to engage your peers in an entirely different discussion about how IT adds value.

A Few What-If Scenarios

What if you’re the first in your industry to replace all laptops with mobile devices? Which jobs would convert first? What sorts of tablets would you use? What OS would you adopt? How much could you improve productivity and lower cost?

What if you’re the first in your industry to shut down all company servers, moving applications to outsourcers or the cloud? How fast can you move? How much could you lower your costs?

What if you’re the first to eliminate your office land lines by having employees use their smartphones? How much would you save in line costs, switch services and voice mail? How would you handle central inquiries and phone directory services? Could you use this as a springboard for getting half your employees to use a home office half the time? How much would you save in office costs? What OS selections and applications would you need to support to enable this decentralized workplace?

Most of these scenarios aren’t realistic for 2013 implementation. But how many are realistic for 2018? By examining what-if scenarios like these, you could leapfrog the competition and build a more efficient organization that serves happier users and saves money.

Adam Hartung is a consultant specializing in innovation, and the author of the book Create Marketplace Disruption.

Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.