The CIO's Role

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 11-10-2008 Print Email
 

You write about "cognitive warfare"--how groupthink can often lead to better decision making. Do you find that top executives lead the charge, or do lower-level people tend to step up?

Herman: It's far more the latter than the former. There have been situations where we have the CEO of a huge entity along with IT services and infrastructure people who would never in the course of their careers have a conversation with the CEO.

Because of the wargame, certain things are revealed. We had a client doing an infrastructure resiliency scenario. The CEO came in, and they discovered a problem in their infrastructure. The CEO asked why it was so, and a guy from the back of the room said, "Because you didn't fund that thing we wanted to do last year."

The CEO was very gracious about it. He turned around and said to fix it. So a major IT investment--something like $100 million--was made right on the spot in the wargame with the CEO, because he had cancelled the thing that would have protected him from the thing he didn't want to happen.

Some investments in IT are cobbled together with others. For a lot of reasons, they aren't as clear: The business case might not be clear, or the perception of the risk isn't high. In the course of deliberations, some things land on the cutting room floor. They may have no impact on the life [of the business], but sometimes you find out it was a mistake. Wargames give you another angle for looking at all that.

What about wargames helps IT executives?

Herman: It's about information. It's not about information technology, per se, but about the information that IT can supply. Here's where the military and the corporate world really do intersect.

One problem the military has is that it spends a lot of money every year on command, control and communications. It's trying take all that data and produce actionable information. That's ultimately what IT is trying to do for corporations. IT is also the way you produce revenue and resiliency.

The same is true for the military. They are not as concerned with producing revenue, but they do need to keep track of their entire inventory. They have the same basic problems corporations have.

Let's say the military has $1 billion to spend. Do they buy tanks or information technology? One thing about tanks is you can literally kick the tires and see that it's real; IT is much more ephemeral. Understanding the value of information is the important thing.

One of the greatest commercials I ever saw for IT had a nerdy engineer-type sitting across from a corporate executive. The executive asks why he should convince the board to spend on IT. The engineer says that for every dollar you spend on IT, you get two dollars in revenue. And the executive smiles.

So you take a complicated thing and turn it into a very simple value statement. Wargames offer the context to take IT, which is very complicated, and make a simple comment about it that's very telling.

How often do you have wargames that require a CIO or someone with heavy technological expertise to be present?

Herman: In today's world, you can't do anything meaningful for a business without having the CIO present. I haven't seen or heard of anyone wanting to exclude the CIO from this.

At the very least, the CIO needs to hear the thinking behind the emerging requirements they would have to fulfill or think about. They need to be there to hear the conversation, even if they're not part of the problem.

So what do CIOs bring to table, from your experience? Is it more than just techno-babble?

Herman: There are many areas in business where being a black belt in areas like engineering or IT is a huge benefit. They are the ones who really know what they're doing.

One characteristic of a successful technical person is the ability to create telling and simple ways of describing complex things. The genius of Einstein was that he took the universe and boiled it down to things that people could understand.

In wargames, individuals who can take a complex set of circumstances and boil it down into something useful are the people who are successful and get a seat at the C-suite table. The guy who talks technical is going to have a harder time, unless the people around the table are also technically savvy. But most people are not.



 

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