CIO: Lotus Eaters and A Hero’s Journey

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CIOs journey today is not very different from Odysseus’s effort to achieve objectives against all odds.

There is an interesting story in Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey”. On their journey back home, Odysseus (the protagonist, hero) and his men brave a frightful storm and end up on Lotus Eater’s island. While exploring the island, few of Odysseus’s men taste a flowering plant, ‘Lotus’ and fall in love. On eating this sweet plant, they become forgetful of their purpose and eventually lose the will to continue their journey. An alarmed Odysseus gathers his remaining men and drags these potential settlers back to the ship, tying them to the rowing benches and quickly sails away before he himself succumbs to the temptation.

CIOs journey today is not very different from Odysseus’s effort to achieve objectives against all odds. Let’s face it, these are not trends anymore: demand from the business leaders to leapfrog the competition with digital technologies is at a speed IT teams have not moved before, shifting budgets to operations, changing technology landscape, difficulty in acquiring right talent and the list goes on. It can almost feel for a CIO, his IT team is like a Piñata in a party taking hits from the board and business leaders, only in this case there are no blindfolds!

My motivation for this blog is from my conversations with CIOs at various forums on this topic. Based on those conversations, I have tried to summarize below few things CIOs can do:

1. Immerse yourself in learning new (digital) technologies and approaches (multi-tier IT architecture, systems of foundation, innovation, and differentiation) and their application to your business. Create an agenda and communicate your objectives and plans. If you do not do this proactively, your CFO or CEO or both will approach with unsolicited proposals such as how Cloud can save 30% cost on infrastructure cost requesting your action.

2. Get close to operations more than ever (even if it means moving your office closer to operations). There is no doubt new technologies are creating new business opportunities. One question you must constantly ask: How can I change the game proactively by suggesting business model changes, process changes, improve profitability and potentially adding new revenue streams with the new technologies?

3. Experiment with new things in a small way. If you are not trying you are not moving towards your goal. Understand your trusted partners are waiting to help you at a fraction of cost today to pilot new technologies. DYI from your team is good but not at the cost of speed and results. Rather pair your team with the trusted partner team so that you get the desired results faster.

4. Understand strength is no longer in numbers (how large your IT team is, how big your IT budget is). Strength now comes from setting clear objectives, charting a new course, being bold, focused, and delivering results in a long run.

5. Choose your partner portfolio wisely. While cost play is important, do not ignore partners who can bring new ideas, innovative ecosystem and are ready to put skin in the game.

Finally get the team off from the Lotus Eater’s lsland. You want to be leading the escape, and not the person getting dragged off from the Lotus Eaters island. It’s your hero’s journey, embrace it and avoid temptations to settle for anything less.

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