Innovating in IT without lock-ins

Looking at the personality traits and drivers associated with different management styles and executive leadership, a head of IT or CIO will often fall into a number of categories that generally defines their approach to IT and their IT strategy. Some may regard themselves as risk-takers; others are considered “a safe pair of hands”. A successful IT leader needs both – someone who is bold enough and  has the aspiration to take risks but equally, is a solid foundation, the voice of reason, that the business can trust to make the right decision.

These two attributes pull against each other, as the CIO battles with running an IT department that is tasked with keeping the lights on but is also agile enough to rise to the challenge of managing new threats and opportunities. The playbook of IT best practices, a path the CIOs will strive to follow, in the footsteps of those who have been before, will often have bumps and detours that shift perception of what is and isn’t best practice.

No one can deny IT innovation moves at a phenomenal pace. In the early 1990s, among the biggest issues facing IT was the Y2K date bug error that occurred because older systems were coded to use a two-digit date field, to save space. So the industry made a concerted effort to drive a new application architecture, client server computing, where major enterprise providers saw an opportunity to move businesses to a new approach to running IT-enabled business processes. Platforms like Java Enterprise Edition became the de facto foundation for enterprise architectures.

These systems are now getting old. Some are unsupported and businesses again are experiencing the upheaval of having to replace systems that they have relied on for decades. At the Oracle Cloud World tour in London, Anna Manz, CFO of the London Stock Exchange, said: “The business case for ERP change is hard.”

There are also upstarts, which seem to offer a compelling enterprise IT advantage over what came before. But today’s upstarts will inevitably become tomorrow’s legacy and add to the ever-growing mountain of technical debt that makes up IT departments.

Looking from the outside in, there appears to be no real incentives for the industry to sell technology that avoids lock-ins. At some point in the future, today’s modern SaaS products will inevitably become costly headaches. The compelling cloud native platforms of today are more than likely to become tomorrow’s roadblocks. CIOs and IT leaders need to balance stability with agility. Lock-in and standardisation at all cost, is not an option. Nor is it particularly smart to risk all on unproven or new tech. The CIO challenge is how to balance these extremes to deliver the best possible outcome for the business.

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