Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Changing Role of CIO

Changing Role of CIO

Presented at the CIO Summit, May 21-22, 2013, DHA Golf Club Convention Center, Karachi. (Presentation pdf)

We know that we have transited from the industrial age in to the information age. We can put the date of this transition formally to the start of internet revolution in the mid 1990s. What is the impact on workforce when one moves from one age in to another age? To study this impact of change we should look back to the time when we transited from the agriculture age to the industrial age.

One useful parameter is the nature of employment of people. In agriculture age, significant majority was that of farm workers. In the industrial age the significant majority was that of industrial workers.  In early 1900s, in USA, about 70% of the population was farm workers and only 3% were working in the industry. The situation has totally reversed by 1980s when only 3% of population of USA was working in the farms and about 70% of the people were working in the industry. We are now in the midst of the information age. Employees working with information are often called knowledge workers. The shift of the population from the industry workers to knowledge workers is already significant. In information age, only a very small percentage of people around 5% would be industry workers, and 70% and even much more would be knowledge workers.

We can already see the shift. Over the last fifteen years, nature of work in organizations has already changed. Most employees are adept at the use of computers and information technology.  Kids starting from a very early age are born knowledge workers __  Much more proficient and comfortable with mobile phones and computers than their predecessors. It is a common sight to see even a two year old playing with mobile phones. This generation is fundamentally different from its predecessor in the ease with which it lives with the technology and works with it. Gone are the days when the IT department had to convince the higher management about the need for the adoption of the information technology. There is now enough of the pressure from the youth that even die-hard opposers of technology are now forced to change.

There is now widespread use of technologies and platform. Organizations have now fundamentally changed from whatever they were doing to becoming knowledge organizations. Their task has now become to manipulate, process and present data. Their existence has become virtual.  Any organization that fails to see itself and its mission as manipulation, processing and presenting of data in a unique format is destined for oblivion.  It is a matter of life and death for every organization that wants to survive in the information age. The industry is now littered with examples upon examples of organization that failed to see themselves as knowledge processors and were forced to either redefine themselves or to become relics of history.  

Once upon time, we used to consider postal industry to be different from the movie industry, movie industry to be different from the telephone industry, telephone industry to be different from the TV industry, TV industry to be different from the camera industry, camera industry to be different from the computer industry, and computer industry to be different from the telecommunication industry. The boundaries between these industries were dismantled by the information age some fifteen years ago. Only those companies managed to survive who were quick to see themselves as part of the wider knowledge processing industry. The classic distinction of industries and sectors is now obsolete and irrelevant to the economic analysis.
If you don’t see yourself as a knowledge processing industry you are gone. A mobile phone today is a computer, telephone, camera, movie maker, communicator, bank branch, retail outlet, and much more. Anything that you want it to be, even your friendships and family life is now there.

Once upon time there used to be big giant of a bookseller Barnes and Noble. I think it is still there trying to define itself in terms of internet and identity. They did not know from where they were hit. They were sitting smug, not realizing that a virtual competitor called came from nowhere and took the central stage in the book selling business. Not content to selling of only the books, amazon had redefined itself as a general retailer as well and is now redefining itself as IT solutions and infrastructure provider.

Microsoft today is not being challenged by a computer company but a search engine on the internet.

In 1997 Encyclopedia Britannica with its over 200 years history was sitting smug. Some diehard crazy individuals thought they could create an Encyclopedia with volunteers and unpaid knowledge workers.  We can give some license to Britannica they were in a different field. But what about Microsoft and its Encarta Encyclopedia. That also got started in 1997. Even they could not foresee the trend. In 2012 officially Encarta division of Microsoft was shutdown. Britannica after its illustrious reign of several centuries starting in 1776 stopped its print business and was forced to simply exist only as an online business. Both a computer giant Microsoft and the print encyclopedia giant Britannic were forced out by a collaborative encyclopedia site that was free and developed by unpaid volunteers, Wikipedia. Newsweek, the big name in the weekly publications established in 1933 was forced to shut down  in 2012. Many other big names in the newspaper industry are already gone. Unable to survive the challenge from the online news.

We have the example of Nokia whose emergence, reaching the status of giant and whose decline has been so rapid. Similar is the case of blackberry now trying its best to survive from the challenge from a company that never classified itself in the mobile business, google.

I am giving these examples to show that if you do not envision yourself as a knowledge processor in the IT domain your existence is threatened. You are doomed.

Let me now give you the example. There are these monster enterprises over the world established over the last few centuries that think they control the generation and production of knowledge. They are known as universities. They think that their biggest assets are their buildings and their campuses. Even the most progressive of government organizations such as the HEC in its latest criteria thinks that the quality of a university is its campus and its physical facilities. They are now sadly out of sync with what has been now labeled as the “avalanche” which is hurtling down the mountain and which is going to shatter all the long held beliefs about the universities and their quality criteria about how to create and disseminate knowledge. How can this not be!

When the majority of the population is a knowledge worker, when all their day they are working with knowledge, creating knowledge, manipulating knowledge, presenting knowledge, then the role of a secluded physical space where the same would be done and would be considered value addition is questionable. Let me pronounce today.

University as we see it today is doomed. Let me tell you how. It is very simple. Whom do you think would take on the role of a university? The primary role of the university is to certify that such and such knowledge processing task i.e. subject has been passed by the student.  I think this kind of certification could easily be done by a company like LinkedIn.  An individual can already endorse the project work of a person on the net. An organization or its authorized representative can then do this endorsement.  Supposing a student does 40 projects for reputable companies like IBM, Engro, Lever , TPS, etc and has to its credit on his linkedin account endorsement from such companies. Each project may correspond in its nature to a relevant course required for a degree. Would you consider this endorsement of practical project much more valuable than an endorsement by a university teacher?

I will give you another example, supposing a student has done 40 courses through MOOCs conducted by the faculty of Stanford, MIT and Berkley. Would you consider their endorsement as more powerful than an endorsement of a university with its ordinary teachers. Same is true by the generation of knowledge. Previously it used to be the domain of specialized labs. Today these labs data is available on line to volunteers and online analysts to study and churn out results. There is democratization of knowledge creation all around. There are now more wonderful and exciting learning environments available on line than with any other teacher. For universities to survive they need to redefine their expertise and leverage the internet to be one step ahead of the technology. Their inability to do this would render themselves to be obsolete and irrelevant to the fast pace of change. 4 years is a terribly long time in the information age to gain any expertise where a technology from its introduction to its zenith and its obsolescence covers the entire product life cycle in a few years.

I have been giving these example to show that the role of CIO is now different. The other day I called the CIO of the university where I work and gave him a number of papers on this avalanche which is about to hit the existence of universities. I told him to develop a business strategy for the institute and assume the role of a leader who can guide the higher management about the trends and the followings in different areas. He fortunately had already done a MOOC from a Stanford Professor and was knowledgeable about what was happening. However, my challenge was to tell him that his role is much more than to oversee the implementation of PeopleSoft and ensuring that the organization moves towards a campus management system and an ERP.

The role of CIO is now that of a person who monitors the changing trends in the industry and not just in a particular industry but all around. The next challenge to your organization may be from a very different player that you may not have thought about. Who would have thought that Telenor with EasyPaisa would be a threat to the Western Union and a Commercial inter-bank transfer.

The other challenge is to understand that the employees may be more expert in the technology than even the IT workers. Their knowledge and expertise in particular areas may surpass that of the expertise in the IT department. They would probably be more interested in selecting for themselves  the particular application and features. A role that was previously with the CIO. This power will now go the consumer departments. There is more democratization of the power. Functional features and their ownership and requirements would now be the domain of the consumer departments.

The other is that CIO may be the person looking at the big picture involving non-functional features such as integration, scalability, reliability, maintainability, security, extensibility, performance etc.

As you can see from the topics of the sessions in this summit the issues now involve organization wide data and its long term use. The existence of the organization in the virtual domain, very well termed now as the cloud. We will now all be living in the cloud. The days of living on the earth where our feets are firmly planted on the ground are over. Our existence and our future is now up in the clouds.

The bargaining power of the CIO now has to change. He must be able to articulate the non-functional requirements of the various “ity”-s in the form of business strategy and business terminology. These non-functional “ity”-requirements include reliability, extensibility, maintainability, modularity, testability, availability, etc.  He needs to be the owner of the virtual existence of the company. The designer of the virtual existence of the organization in the cloud and owners of the expertise and knowledge of the organization in the form of big data.

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  1. Salam!
    This is in reference to my previous message that i posted on Google+ yesterday. Having read abouy your clear views about age transition, changing roles and new emerging trends, i must say thay my previously raised questions are well answered. My opinion goes in 100% agreement with your analysis and thoughts.
    After commenting on your article, i would like to present my views which are rather directed towards human psychology. Undoubtedly, if organizations do not try to get them adjusted, they are gone. Kids are far proficient than their elders in using e-devices and apps. Very right, but think for a moment what happened when this simple device called cell phone became everything, it even became a "social member" of this society? The damage is immeasurable!
    Damage to values, damage to memory, damage to ethics and morality, damage to societal values and gatherings, damage to trust and emotions and damage to time are some of the damages we experience in this imformation age. Sir, i know you have not been debating on merits and demerits of this age, in fact i myself agree what you try to convey, however, i am just trying to form an opinion, keeping in view the human psychology, that this mankind will come to its basics someday. This humanity is getting and will further get frustrated due to the inclusion of high tech devices and apps. which have replaced even relationships. Hope i am clear!

  2. You are so right. I would like you to see the talk "Alone together" on

    This talk posits that this message exchange (for example) does NOT constitute a conversation and can never be a substitute for face-to-face communication. Same is true for message exchanges via sms, emails, blogs, etc.

    What we are loosing out is on the "humanity" of our interactions as we focus more and more on the "technology". It is far easier to annihalate thousands while sitting thousands of miles away with a press of a button as if in a video game (or Enola Gay dropping atom bomb and killing several hundred thousands in Hiroshima), then to actually take a sword and kill and maime like a Tartar warrior in a battlefield where you see the blood oozing and people shrieking with pain.