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Is Digital vs IT a generational leadership divide?

09 Sep 14

Recently I was interviewing a couple of digital leaders about what drives them and what digital means.

They mentioned several things that separate digital from IT but one surprised me.

It was a sense that the current, ageing generation of CIOs still don’t really “get” the web. The old client-server guys never adapted to internet thinking but they are still occupying the CIO seats.. that was the accusation.

I was quite taken aback by this. The divide they point to was certainly very visible in the dot com / e-business era of the early 2000s – but it’s a sorry state of affairs if it still persists over a decade later.

Indeed the digital leaders raising this with me are not so young themselves now- more Gen X, in their 40s – certainly not Zuckerberg contemporaries ( full disclosure: this analyst is 52 – at the tail end of the baby boomers ).

I know plenty of CIOs who have moved on, but I do agree – some seem stuck with a repetitive playbook developed in the late 1990s and narrow perspective on what kind of IT matters.

I have never believed there’s a good excuse for technology professionals to get stuck on a particular generation of technology thinking.

We would not tolerate an old but still practicing medical doctor using outdated harmful techniques on us would we? So why should we be comfortable with CIOs applying outdated concepts that might damage our enterprises?

If you are a CIO, you have chosen to be a leader in one of the fastest advancing areas of human endeavor. Keeping up is a professional obligation. Becoming a stick-in-the-mud is not really acceptable.

IT isn’t athletic. Muscles degrade, but our minds remain sharp well into retirement. There’s no fundamental reason why you should not keep up with the latest thinking and methods. So do cloud, do social, do mobile apps, do startup science, do data science. You can get up to speed with these things.

You have the capability to reshape and redefine organisational capabilities. You have the power to block requests for incremental, low business value return changes to old systems – that end up consuming all your budget.

That’s why you are the designated leader. If you don’t have time, then delegate more. Nobody is stopping you. It’s all about your choices.

If you are a tail-end baby boomer – don’t be the CIO who held on to his preferred old way of doing things for too long and ended up strategically limiting of even damaging his firm, as the last act of his career.

It’s time to do digital business full force; get with the program or get out of the way.

By Mark Raskino - Analyst, Gartner

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