I love a good metaphor - that wonderful space where two parties with different backgrounds can move closer to a shared understanding of something complex and abstract. CIOs, who are forever explaining technology costs to their executive peers, love metaphors too.
Imagine my delight, when in speaking recently with Bruce Lee, Group CIO of NYSE Euronext, he talked about infrastructure as an iceberg. It goes like this:
The tip of the iceberg, that 10 or 20 percent of the IT budget, is visible to everyone in the company. It is gleaming in the sun and holds within it the promise of mobility and predictive analytics and integrated data, and all of the wonderful things that modern businesses need to compete. But lurking below sea level is a quagmire of old hardware, bolted on systems, unsupported applications, complexity, cost and bloat.
As CIO, you alone among the executive committee can see below sea level. You see the heavy, antiquated iceberg. You know that with every year that passes, the heavy bottom threatens to drag the tip of the iceberg down until it is completely submerged.
But where, I asked Lee, does the iceberg come from?
"In moving as quickly as possible to deliver new technology solutions to their businesses, most CIOs have not had the luxury of going back and re-architecting in a new paradigm," says Lee. "CIOs are more likely to put in a new tool to abstract data, secure access, overload a data model for new business requirements, and bolt on web services than re-engineering an underlying application. Often the solution is cross platform, cross functional and adds layers to the overall application and infrastructure portfolio."
Let's say you have an application that's 10 years old and only remains secure and compliant through add-ons. But your competitor has a new system with embedded security and compliance. "If your competitor's system is newer, then it is simpler, easier, and probably cheaper," says Lee. "This means that your competitive position against that other company decreases. You as a firm are not getting the benefit of the technology market evolution." The weight of the iceberg, in other words, is a reflection of giving up market wide productivity gains.
If your iceberg is so weighty that it is putting you at a competitive disadvantage, you need to act.
What do to?
Be technical. "Being a CIO today can no longer be solely about cost, corporate governance, business strategy, sourcing and labor relations," says Lee. "We are now at a major turning point where technology has gone through such a transformation, that unless CIOs get into real application engineering, they'll have trouble." Lee cites, as an example, the current push toward open stack. For CIOs to know whether they should get in on that trend, they'll need to do a functional gap analysis: what does the open stack trend mean for your applications? Are your applications designed for high availability of single processes rather than newer, multi process, designs that are built with failure in mind? Will open stack support your legacy architecture? "
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