On CIOs and responsibility

I’d recently posted about the reasons why enterprises should use opensource, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, just to switch the conversation from the “cheaper to buy/fix/run” reason traditionally provided. Many of you were kind enough to comment, and a couple of you raised some questions on my first point, on responsibility.

So I’d like to expand a bit on that. When I entered the industry nearly thirty years ago, people used to say “Nobody got fired for buying IBM”. When the battle moved from the mainframe to the desktop, the saying mutated to “Nobody got fired for buying Microsoft”.

So who’s next, I ask myself. And the answers that come aren’t that well-formed. Please flame them, criticise away. I will learn from you. And here they are:

Answer 1: There is no next, and there will never be a next. The industry has changed fundamentally and structurally, and there is no longer any space for a dominant platform. Where there is a platform, it will be an open many-sided low-barrier-to-entry malleable beast, run on classic NEA principles. (Nobody owns it, Everyone can use it, Anyone can improve it). Incidentally, there is no Wikipedia entry for NEA. There should be one. Any takers? Otherwise I will.

Answer 2: There is a next, and it’s here already. And it’s called Linux, and it’s NEA already. Distros can try and dominate, but they will fail. The market will ensure that no distro gets that power.

Answer 3: There is no next, but there will be one. It will emerge from that weird space where mobile meets palmtop meets desktop. The only question that’s left is whether an open iPhone can stave off the linux world for long enough, or whether later generations of iPhone will really go where James Gosling thought OSX would go: Linux with QA and style.

I’m probably biased, I think there really is only one answer. Linux with QA and style. What I’m not sure of is where that will come from.

There’s a lot more to the question of CIOs and responsibility and risk. We live in an age of The Risk Management of Everything; so much so that many CIOs seem to believe that outsourcing is a means of offloading risk. I don’t. Outsourcing and offshoring are ways of  making sure you focus on the right things, making sure you have access to the right skills, making sure you  can do all this at the right price point.

But the risk remains yours. As long as the customer remains yours.

The day you manage to offload your risk successfully, you’ve offloaded your customer as well.

The customer stays with you because there is a relationship, a relationship of trust; there is a vulnerability within that relationship, a vulnerability that is born of the risks you face together, a vulnerability that underpins the relationship, that makes it human. When everything that is hardware and software is commoditised, there will still be something unique: the relationship. And customers will stay with you because of your service. Underpinned by that vulnerable relationship.

More later.

8 thoughts on “On CIOs and responsibility”

  1. I always find it interesting that a large part of customer loyalty comes from your reaction when things go wrong. If there’s never a shared problem in your relationship with your customer, then you actually build very little loyalty. It’s the moment when there is a problem that will make or break your relationship.

    If you react well, your reputation is enhanced, your customer’s loyalty is increased and they’ll actually evangelise you to others. If you react badly, then the opposite may well occur.

  2. Couldn’t agree more, James. It feels to me that this is a variant of “character is defined not by the problems you face but by the response you make”. Relationships, as also the trust that binds them, work on a similar principle.

  3. Indeed. That quote reminds me very much of the lyrics to this song (courtesy of TED.

    It’s not the fights you’ve dreamed of, it’s those you’ve really fought. It’s not what you’ve been given, it’s what you do with what you’ve got

    Apologies if the formatting doesn’t come out right – I’m not quite sure what HTML these comments will accept.

  4. JP, I read your post and it made me smile. I am a Risk Manager for a financial services firm and at my firm it is actually against corp IT policy to use any free software. Of course I use open source and free software every day because some of my favorite add ins for Excel are free… and I host an internal WordPress blog for industry news for our department, and I host a project wiki page by running MediWiki software. All of this is actually a direct and blatant violation of corporate IT policy. One day I will get in a tumble with some IT contractor who tells me I am out of compliance. That should be interesting.

    In the mean time I am reading your blog on my home laptop running Ubuntu Linux and my internet traffic is routed through an IP Cop firewall based on Linux. I’m not really a devotee of open source… they just seem to often be the best tool at the best price.

    Keep up the good blogging. I came to your site from Sean’s. Good work.


  5. Hi JD, welcome to the conversation. Glad to see there are people in other financial sector firms who believe in blogs and wikis for creating enterprise value. Let me know whenever I can help.

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