If you had to sit back for just a moment and come up with an answer to the question: what are CIOs doing wrong, what would that answer be? I think that the answer would be that we are spending too much time trying to solve problems in ways that really don’t help the rest of the company that much. What we’re missing is how to make life simpler for everyone, not more complicated.
Simple Is Better
A good case in point would be the area of decision support systems. On the surface, creating a decision support system would appear to be a perfect fit for a CIO’s IT department. Take a lot of collected company data, run it through some algorithms in order to predict the future, and ta-da! However, CIOs have a way of mucking this up.
What happens is that the CIOs let their engineering nature take over. Since the questions that the CEO or other business leaders might be asking a decision support system are unknown, the CIO often has the IT department create a solution that can handle any input. This means that you’ve got to give it a lot of data just to get the beast started. When a solution gets that complicated, nobody ends up using it.
Why Robots Are Good
What is needed is a simple solution to a complex problem. Instead of having the IT department create a big, heavy all encompassing decision support tool, the CIO should have them create a lightweight tool that is easy to use by all.
John Parkinson has spent some time thinking about this issue and he believes that a new class of applications that he calls “thinking support” apps are needed. These tools that the CIO would create and maintain for the business side of the company would have the following characteristics:
- What If: they would truly allow the user to think up “what-if” scenarios and allow them to quickly and easily model them. No large amounts of data would have to be entered in order to check out a given scenario.
- What A Pretty Pattern: since the one thing that we humans do well is to spot patterns, a thinking support tool will show how it created its answers and allow business leaders to spot patterns in the data that was used and produced.
- Become A Time Traveler: the user should be able to run a simulation forward and backwards in time in order to see what the eventual outcome is. This should allow ideas that are great in the short term, but not so hot in the long run to be spotted and killed early on.
- Measure Impacts: doing something will always impact other parts of the business. The tool should allow this impact to be measured so that a truly informed decision can be made.
What All Of This Means For You
When you become CIO, you’ll have a lot of requests sitting on your desk from the rest of the business. Resist the urge to create the “killer app” that will solve the rest of the company’s problems – you can’t do it and if you try, then they won’t use it.
Instead, focus on creating simpler thinking support applications. These apps should be able to be used by everyone who needs them and they should allow simulations to be quickly tried out and impacts measured.
Sure a big fancy decision support tool is what every CIO dreams of – using lots of data you can accurately predict the future. However, this is too hard to do. Focus on creating simple solutions to today’s problems and you’ll have won both the hearts and minds of the rest of the business.
Question For You: How simple do you think a thinking support tool would have to be in order to get the rest of the company to use it?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
Once you become the CIO you’d think that you’ve have it made. Now that you are living at the top of the IT pyramid, life should be grand – the long, hard struggle to reach this position is now over. Actually, the job is just beginning. What you need to do now is to find ways to make sure that the CIO becomes a (more) important part of your company’s success. Here are some suggestions for how you can make this happen.