A recent post by Gartner caught my eye this week. A key topic at one of Gartner’s events will be their views on how applications are managed and the shift they expect from a mainly project-based structure to a more product-based structure. I think this is a great idea and I have already written and presented a conference paper about how the approach to software maintenance should shift from projects to product life-cycles. I would really like to provide a link to the paper but it was the UK Military Computing Conference in 1991 and you will have to find a paper copy of the proceedings somewhere! In the 20 years since I wrote my paper the advances in IT have been astonishing. If you had met me in 1991 and described the technology I would use to write this blog I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had also told me that a product approach to applications would still make conference headlines 20 years later I would have known for sure that you were crazy. But, 20 years on, a product life-cycle approach to applications is still the exception rather than the norm. What have we been doing all this time?
I am often amused by the heated debates about the future, or not, of the CIO. The fun comes from the combination of intense emotions, arguments heroically generalised from limited data and the dismissal of evidence which does not fit preconceived ideas. Before I attempt to set out my views on the role of the CIO let me try to eliminate some of the noise and confusion. Is the CIO really that unique?
There are many different definitions of Project Portfolio Management but at their core they share the concept of a business process for optimising a collection of projects and programmes. Projects are deliberately started, stopped, accelerated, delayed, split or merged to best achieve an organisation’s goals. Project Portfolio Management would appear to be a sensible management discipline so why would a CIO want to avoid it? The fundamental problem is that there are no IT projects and so the IT Project Portfolio should be empty. Nearly all projects labelled as IT explicitly include non-IT elements such as organisation or process changes and cannot achieve their objectives or realise benefits without these. Unfortunately, the remaining projects cannot be completed without risk or impact to the users or consumers of IT services and so also need to manage non-IT elements. Perhaps someone reading this blog will find an exception (in more than 20 years in this field I have not found any) but there will never be enough to justify an IT-only process.
Every few months the IT press is swept by talk of the “next big thing” and how it will totally transform the IT market, change how IT users work, shake organisations, batter IT departments and threaten CIOs. In reaction many commentators will post a wave of comments explaining that the “next big thing” is not new at all and has been a core part of IT for years. There are always a few that point out that IBM Mainframes were doing the same thing decades ago. The current wave of press hype seems to be focused on the combination of Social Networking, Cloud computing and Mobile devices and trends built upon these components such as “Consumerisation of IT” and “Bring Your Own Device”. In this case I think there is some substance to the arguments made by both camps but both seem to be neglecting what could be a slower acting and more profound shift - a shift in the application of technology rather than the technology itself.
If you were an artist, investment manager or a government minister you would describe a “portfolio” in very different ways. Even within the domain of the CIO the word has several distinct uses. Here is my attempt to summarise what constitutes the different portfolios that are relevant for a CIO. In subsequent blogs I’ll expand on what I have learnt about each of these from my research and my own experiences.