I'm still catching up on my reading backlog after finishing up my vacation last week, so I just came across this article in Social Computing Journal touting the results of a recent Nielsen Group study on social media use in the enterprise. Nielsen confirms what many have long suspected; successful social media projects are generally efforts that begin on the front line and achieve results sufficient to gain acceptance from executives only after the fact. Driven primarily by business needs rather than internal politics or power-mongering, the projects are simply an outgrowth of workers looking for better ways to get their work done.
I imagine the results are somewhat biased by the fact that most of the companies participating in the study are technology companies, with a user base generally more technically adept than in the average enterprise. It's nothing new for disgruntled engineering staff to whip up their own solutions in contravention of centralized corporate planning, after all; now it's just easier to do so using third-party, web-based solutions than hand-coding it.
To counter-balance the perspective bias, Dion Hinchcliffe provides 14 Reasons Why Enterprise 2.0 Projects Fail. Doing his own research, Hinchcliffe comes to many of the same conclusions about why projects succeed by looking at those which have failed. His conclusions generally match the Nielsen study; bottom-up, business-driven efforts work best. He also illuminates another important point: patience is key. Many efforts bloom late and with the minimal resources involved in a bottom-up approach you can afford to let them; but managers used to more typical project timelines may find themselves itching to pull the plugs sooner than is really warranted.
All of this continues to add to the CIO's burden and to challenge the existing hierarchy. IT managers or CIOs of a certain age are sure to shudder when they hear the term "grassroots effort." For most of the history of the industry, it was something you wanted to see happening in a garage somewhere in Silicon Valley, not in your accounting department, where well-meaning but amateur geeks without a big picture perspective would build one-off databases and homebrew wifi setups which would wreak havoc and cost thousands of dollars to clean up the resulting data and security messes. There is nothing I can see that is inherently different in these new technologies, with the possible exception that they are better engineered. But if the best way for them to succeed is to keep the CIO out of it, what exactly are a CIO's prospects in the Enterprise 2.0 world?
I think there are a combination of answers to that question. The harsh reality is that for many CIOs, it's simply game over; they may not have the desire, the vision, or the capacity to react appropriately, and they'll be bypassed and rendered irrelevant in their own organizations. Others will react with more liberal policies to allow ground-up efforts, but they will still be marginalized once it's understood that a failure to quash innovation is not the same thing as encouraging it oneself. Why pay a CIO salary when your best new systems are coming out of the mind of Joe the mailroom guy?
Then there is the factor that not every corporate IT requirement is met by Enterprise 2.0. There will be, for the near future at least, a need for CIOs that make the trains run on time in more traditional IT environments, particularly in the enterprise. The extent to which this role will be outsourced remains to be seen, but as the commoditization of networks, computers, and support services continues, it certainly seems ripe for it.
Finally, there are those CIOs who will take a step up instead of a step back. They are the ones who already intuitively grasp the necessity of business/IT alignment, who are restructuring their departments to act as resources rather than traffic cops, and who are getting involved with the business operations to provide advice and assistance from the deep well of their technical knowledge. Their most important asset isn't that knowledge itself, but their ability to take it and transfer it understandably to line of business staff and executives, who can then use their business knowledge to apply technology to their day to day business problems in the most efficient way. If there exists a CIO role in the future of business, I have to think that is what it is going to look like.