Richard Worzel: What Canadian CIOs need to do

VANCOUVER – If you think it’s difficult as a chief information officer to predict the ways technology will change an organization, try being a professional futurist, Richard Worzel told the 7th annual CIO Association of Canada Peer Forum on Thrusday.

“Although I did have a computer science degree, it was in 1973, in the days when you had to shovel the coal into the furnace in order to get the computer’s CPU running,” joked Worzel, principal of and the author of Who Owns Tomorrow. “You can’t really predict the future, but you can prepare for it. Even here, deep in Nerddom, we are going to be caught by surprise.”

While most CIOs are probably focused on how to exploit cloud computing, social media and mobile devices like tablets for business benefit, Worzel talked about things like genetic programming, a form of machine learning that is being applied to solve highly complex problems. He showed videos of advanced robots that are already starting to be used in commercial, industrial and health-care scenarios. He also forecast an end to personal and corporate privacy as we know it, and warned CIOs to help their management team understand that anything they’re doing that isn’t above-board will eventually be exposed much in the way WikiLeaks has embarrassed governments around the world.

Worzel said CIOs will be able to prove their value to the organization by identifying the technological advances that will transform industries. He gave the examples of supply chain automation, which revolutionized manufacturing, and pay-per-click advertising, which continues to inform enterprise Internet strategies. “These are all things that gave some people a real first-mover advantage,” he said. “You need to lead the conversation of technology potential into real productivity.”

The biggest challenge to doing that, he added, is figuring out what people will want done with technology. Worzel was among the first bidders on wireless spectrum, and said his predictions about the future use of smart phones were dubiously received. “People said, ‘a pager and a payphone is all you need,’” he said. “Same thing when people first asked if we’d like to send electronic letters. The reaction was, ‘Well, why would I want to do that?’”

Worzel’s advice is to take a page from management guru Peter Drucker, who suggested in one of his books that any new technology needs to be 10 times better in order for people to abandon the money invested in the previous technology. He cited high-definition television, which has been possible for years but is only finally coming into the mainstream now. “You watch HDTV and you immediately see that it’s better, but in 10 minutes you forget about it because you’re absorbed in what you’re watching,” he said. “Compare that with the days of black and white, when colour TV was first introduced. People couldn’t wait to get out their wallets.”

Worzel was kicking off a conference whose theme was “The CIO Imperative: Creating C-Level Synergy,” or working more in collaboration with the rest of the business. “This is a very relevant theme for me personally,” said Jories Timmers, president of CIOCAN’s Vancouver chapter and a conference co-chair.

The futurist’s recommendation for creating C-level synergy was to focus on the other person’s goals in an organization rather than your own, becoming an expert in interpersonal skills and rejecting any application that isn’t user-friendly. “If your mother can’t use it, it’s not,” he said.


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