Inside IT With Tech Visionary Charles Araujo

By Jack Rosenberger

When it comes to describing a future vision of IT, Charles Araujo often talks about a new style of leadership, one in which CIOs and IT leaders focus less on technical skills and more on business and personal skills, such as the ability to listen and learn from others, be open and accountable, and create a personal relationship with the members of his or her teams. As the founder and CEO of The IT Transformation Institute, Araujo has articulated this vision in his popular book, The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know is About to Change, and articles for CIO Insight like “The Courage of the Transparent CIO” and “Are You Brave Enough to be an Intimate Leader?

The role of IT in the enterprise has changed, Araujo says, largely due to the consumerization of IT, IT’s increased importance to the success of nearly every business, and the easy availability of IT services from outside service providers. Instead of being the sole source of tech resources for a company, IT departments are finding themselves in a new and challenging role, one that involves working with other departments to help their achieve their goals and drive the business, as opposed to supplying core technologies. To help IT adjust to these new conditions, Araujo urges CIOs to create a shared team vision for the future, and to develop “a next-generation IT organization”—one that is a learning organization, as well as disciplined, transparent, and intimate—and that can successfully adopt to this new, business-oriented role.

For Araujo’s latest thoughts on the future of IT, digital leaders and his new “Transform IT” web show with Intel, CIO Insight Managing Editor Jack Rosenberger recently interviewed him about these and other topics, plus his professional experiences, such as the time early in his career when, as a recently divorced parent, he brought his young children to the office on the weekend because he had to finish an urgent project, and gained a valuable lesson about leadership when he unexpectedly encountered his CIO.

CIO Insight: The opening sentence of The Quantum Age of IT is “IT as we know it is dead.” Why do you think traditional IT is kaput and how do you see IT to be changing?

Charles Araujo: In the book, I lay out three market forces that I believe have changed everything for IT organizations. The first market force is what we now commonly call the “Consumerization of IT.” As companies like Google, Facebook and Apple took technology into the mainstream, they fundamentally changed the perspective of IT’s customers in terms of how they expected to interact with their technology but also how they expected to interact with their service providers. Prior to this modern era of technology, the predominant technology experience existed solely within the walls of the enterprise, and the IT organization controlled it. But as consumer technologies proliferated, they took control of that experience and completely changed how our customers saw us and what they expected from us.

The second market force is what I call the “Criticality of IT.” When I grew up in the business, IT was important, but was relegated to the back office. Technology was used to drive efficiency and the speed of transactions, but it was pretty invisible to our organization’s customers. When technology failed, it was inconvenient, but that was about it. Today, technology has moved from the back office to front and center of everything. Technology literally powers every single business transaction, every customer interaction and virtually all aspects of the customer experience. On the one hand, that’s great. What we do is important and valuable. But the problem is that as this happened, our customers began to feel more and more vulnerable. They understood that they relied on this technology for everything and yet because of the historical relationship between IT and “the business,” it was still pretty much a black box to them. They came to realize that they were relying, for their very livelihood, on technology that they didn’t understand, which was being run by people that they didn’t trust. And that left them scared out of their mind and looking for ways to retake control of their own destiny

And this led us to the final market force, the one that broke the proverbial camel’s back. It’s what I call the “Competition for IT.” Until the last few years, if an enterprise needed technology to get something done, they had to go to corporate IT. They really didn’t have any choice. We were the sole source supplier of technology to the enterprise. But beginning with Salesforce, which was quickly followed by a small army of what we now call cloud providers, that all changed. Suddenly, our customers had what they had been seeking: choice. They found that if IT was being “uncooperative” or telling them no, they could simply bypass IT and purchase the technology solution they wanted from one of these cloud providers.

When I put these three market forces together, I came to the conclusion that there had been a fundamental sea change in the environment in which we existed. Our customer’s expectations had changed; they were relying on technology for everything, but they now had choices. And that meant we were going to have to operate differently if we wanted to remain relevant. We simply cannot keep doing things the way we always have and expect our customers to still be our customers. So, I believe that IT—at least as we’ve known it—is dead. And it’s going to be replaced with a very different type of IT organization. One that is smaller, more agile, more customer-focused—and one that spends a lot less time running core technologies.

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