Thursday, May 3, 2012

Math Professors and the Cost of IT

As an engineering student I was taught many technical courses including LOTS of mathematics.  While I was never more than a mediocre student when it came to math, I had a very difficult time reconciling the belief that there was only *one* correct way to solve a problem.  In my second semester of calculus I had an even more difficult time because, for some reason, the correct answers would many times just "pop" into my mind.  But I never received any credit for being right (thanks a lot John I. Cobb!).  As I was told, there is a formula that is always integral (pun included) to the solution because it drives the correct thinking about how to solve the problem.  Linear thinking was the way to succeed in Cobb's class and many others.  You can guess how that worked out for me, although I did graduate!

So fast fowarding into real life and remembering my college experience I spent part of my career believing that problems must always be solved in the same ways used by the people who came before me.  While the leaders that came before me had much wisdom to impart, I realized that many solutions are geared to be specific to the problem at hand in conjunction with events current to the time.  If you've ever heard the phrase, "Those guys are always fighting the last war and that's why they lose...", you may get what I'm saying.  Solutions and strategies need to change and adapt with the times or they become like clothes on a toddler - ill fitting, stained, and out of date.

Somewhere around the turn of the new millennium I figured out that my job was to design solutions to fit the problems of tomorrow.  When I started down that path I realized several things, many of them contrary to popular belief.  For example, if I want to provide an email service to my company I may not need:

  • a data center
  • my own servers
  • server administrators
  • overhead required to allow me to support physical ownership of the "soup-to-nuts" solution
Same thing with just about every major application today.  External and cloud-based application providers have become so good at providing superior low cost services that in 10 years I might not even need a data center!

The most important thing to remember as a CIO these days is that, unlike my math professor tried to teach me, there are almost infinite solutions to the problems we face today.  What you really need is (a) a vivid imagination anchored to a strong business acumen and (b) great people who can actualize your strategic intent.

Don't let yourself be boxed in - live in the future and use the past as a good consistency check. 

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