The CIO as a sailor

Last year I was lucky enough to meet some managers and entrepreneurs of Italian companies located in the North East and with great pleasure I found out that long-term business plans still exist in medium-sized Italian companies. I am referring to manufacturing companies, in some cases even to some divisions of American corporations, which in our country have managed to carve out a space to produce goods and do research, within which, they confessed to me, “it is often ‘easier’ to invest millions of Euros to purchase a machine or a production plant rather than to dedicate ‘extra’ budget to IT”.

The courage to experiment

The CIO and IT managers, as we know, are struggling with maintaining the existing situation, an ‘existing situation’ which is the result of heterogeneous technology substrates, often obsolete and even unused, whose complex management is undeniable. Yet, I (often!) have the pleasure to meet professionals who ‘experiment’ and carve out space and resources to work on small projects, in the hope that they can then act as a ‘driving force’ for innovative projects in their companies. These are people who spend most of their free and work time (the ‘luckiest’ ones have top management support) – to search for methods and technologies to generate new digital services, ICT experts, technicians, connoisseurs or enthusiasts who ‘have the courage’ to leave their comfort zone and ‘try’ something new.

While backing and filling…

But how can this courage be reconciled with reality, very common in medium-sized companies, resulting from cuts in IT budgets, from short-term objectives with even shorter guaranteed profits? How does the CIO find his way through business plans, long-term strategies, needs and tactical investment plans?

Sailing by sight: the CIO, as a sailor, must be clear about the destination and the means by which it can be reached but, since there are many variables involved along the way and they are often unpredictable, he must have the ability (and courage) to ‘change the route’, through zigzags and unexpected turns. ‘Filling’ a bit, ‘backing’ a bit and sometimes preparing for the ‘gybe’.