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SOA & WOA: Article

SOA World: Should You Fire Your CIO?

Change is often the best remedy

One of the things covered in the recent Burton report was an instance where a new CIO was needed to get SOA going. In essence, the culture needed to change in order to accommodate the changes required to get a SOA rolling, and thus they changed out their CIO to change the culture.

If you think about that, it makes perfect sense. The existing people and processes are typically the largest hindrance to building a SOA, thus you need to address those issues before SOA will be successful. Typically, changing people and processes means changing leadership, thus changing the CIO is often the first logical step toward accomplishing those goals.

The reality is that CIOs are very different animals from company to company. In many instances, I've found they do not have technical backgrounds, but come instead from the finance or operations side of the house. I've even found instances where CIO meant "career is over" and it was a holding position for executives who were about to retire or be outplaced. However, I've also found many who are masters around the business processes within their enterprise and they know their way around the politics, which are typically a part of any large company.

However, in many organizations the role of CIO has resolved itself as the person who keeps things running, not the agent of change. Indeed, when I speak with CIOs they typically tell me about uptime statistics and productivity metrics, and almost never how systemic improvements in the architecture will add value to the core business. If you look at the way their performance is measured and compensated, you can understand why they have this kind of behavior.

Personally, I've been offered the role of CIO many times over the last 20 years within large organizations. I balked at the opportunities when I found out that the roles came with no real power, thus no real ability to drive change. As one executive put it: "Dave, all you need to do is keep your head down for 20 years." I passed.

When considering SOA, the role of the CIO is even more important. Someone needs to focus on the business processes and the culture, and good CIOs should be masters at those tasks. Indeed, their ability to do that leads to SOA success, according to Burton. However, most CIOs either can't or won't step up and make those changes in order to clear the way for SOA, thus SOA dies on the vine.

If you're in this state, perhaps it's time to look for a new CIO: an executive that can be an agent of change and put a plan in place to improve the business going forward. Moreover, someone who can change the culture from a "won't work," or "not in my department," to a "can do," and "will do." Thus they provide a clear path for change, or clear the way for fundamental architectural changes that will be painful and disruptive, but will drive much more value from the IT infrastructure. There are proven metrics and methods around the value this change can drive.

The trouble comes with pulling the trigger on a change. You must have leaders within the company who are innovative about systemic business improvements, and make the tough calls in terms of who will drive that change.

CIOs play a critical role when considering any change in IT, especially holistic changes required when doing SOA. If they can't drive change, then perhaps you should change your CIO. Or, perhaps they are not empowered, not just for SOA, but for the future health of your IT infrastructure. Either way, change is often the best remedy.

More Stories By David Linthicum

Dave Linthicum is Sr. VP at Cloud Technology Partners, and an internationally known cloud computing and SOA expert. He is a sought-after consultant, speaker, and blogger. In his career, Dave has formed or enhanced many of the ideas behind modern distributed computing including EAI, B2B Application Integration, and SOA, approaches and technologies in wide use today. In addition, he is the Editor-in-Chief of SYS-CON's Virtualization Journal.

For the last 10 years, he has focused on the technology and strategies around cloud computing, including working with several cloud computing startups. His industry experience includes tenure as CTO and CEO of several successful software and cloud computing companies, and upper-level management positions in Fortune 500 companies. In addition, he was an associate professor of computer science for eight years, and continues to lecture at major technical colleges and universities, including University of Virginia and Arizona State University. He keynotes at many leading technology conferences, and has several well-read columns and blogs. Linthicum has authored 10 books, including the ground-breaking "Enterprise Application Integration" and "B2B Application Integration." You can reach him at david@bluemountainlabs.com. Or follow him on Twitter. Or view his profile on LinkedIn.

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