In Monday's Financial Times, guest columnists John Hagel III and John Seely Brown of the Deloitte Center for the Edge wrote of IT as a "double-edged sword." They describe IT's paradox as at once eroding profitability and providing unprecedented opportunities for value creation. By this thesis, whether a CIO can maximize the latter and avoid the former is ultimately the measure of an IT chief.
First, an explanation of Hagel's and Brown's two sides of IT: In a way, IT innovation is a victim of its own success. Advances in data processing, storage, and transport are advancing at a pace unlikely to let up, according to the authors. Constant improvements make it difficult for companies to discern the best way to capitalize on innovations. Meanwhile, digital networks allow the smallest players to tap the global market. Competition is ever intensifying as competitors easily and quickly copy innovators.
Yet IT has unprecedented potential to grow profitability and increase value for the company. IT capabilities enable deeper relationships with customers and a growing array of third parties, note Hagel and Brown. Moreover, through sophisticated networks, IT can play a major role in reversing performance and turn diminishing returns into growth.
Hagel and Brown contend that in order to fulfill IT's potential to create value, executives need to view IT in a new way. While before, IT was about business processes, now it's about connecting people and enabling improved performance through collaboration.
Further, they warn that "executives of all stripes" who don't participate in IT strategy will fail to adapt to changes ahead. Indeed, "If executives don't watch out, something on the edge [of innovation] that they dismissed as trivial may rapidly achieve the scale needed to take them head-on."
Sounds dire -- and squarely in the CIO's domain. Getting "executives of all stripes" to engage with IT is the purest distillation of the CIO's role. IT's unprecedented value-creation opportunities by extension makes the CIO more important than ever. Yet at so many organizations, the CIO is almost like a voice in the wilderness taken seriously by few. The voice in the wilderness, however, when it finally gets through to the masses, is often embraced as real wisdom.