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Views from the Lab

Advice on IT strategy from a one-year old

As a non-parent, I find it fascinating to watch the development of my nieces and nephews. My brother and his wife have been teaching my young nephew simple signs from American Sign Language to help him communicate. As I’m told, babies apparently have the desire and ability to communicate long before they can work out the words they need to say.

One of the most amusing (and useful) of these is when my nephew raises his hands and sweeps them forward in a gesture meaning “all done.” I like to think of it as his version of “Enough is enough!”

Like my nephew, most CIOs are looking down at their plates full of cobbled-together legacy systems (resembling half-eaten chicken nuggets) and trying to reconcile them with a whole suite of new technologies at the doorstep (dad hovering with another spoonful of something you can’t yet identify); and demands from leadership to help the business innovate (not exactly mom and dad, but you see where I’m headed with this).

Also like my nephew, CIOs need to know when to raise their arms and say, “Enough is enough!” Our desire to use technology to innovate and accelerate the business is rapidly approaching a wall - a wall created by the constant updating, patching, and jury-rigging of our legacy systems. As they’re currently constituted, our IT systems are reaching the limits of their capabilities, and holding us back from taking full advantage of the newest advances in technology.

We’ve just released the Accenture Technology Vision 2012, the latest report of our annual views on emerging technologies and their impact on business. While we highlight six trends that we believe will have a transformational impact on enterprises in the next five years (stay tuned for more discussion on these), there is a common theme that emerges - legacy constraints must be dealt with now or risk putting the brakes on the business.

While we make the call for IT to push for bolder steps to adopt new architectures, new services, and new platforms, we acknowledge that this won’t happen overnight. Some might see this as a way of softening the blow for the CIO - allowing them to stay in their comfort zone - but we disagree.

The fact of the matter is that there is no comfort zone left for the CIO. As we hear more of a call for IT to take a “seat at the table,” enable growth for the business, and increase the strength of the partnership with the business, high-performing CIOs are realizing that their job goes way beyond just “keeping the lights on.” IT is being forced to become more innovative. As a result, IT organizations a few years from now will look very different from those of today.

At the same time, let’s be honest - no company has the resources or the stomach for the level of risk to undertake such a massive transformation overnight. Thus, the CIO’s role is to create a roadmap to shed that burden and make sure that every IT project takes the organization a step closer to that goal.

As adults, it is often hard to accept that we can learn a lot from our children. With respect to our legacy systems, perhaps it’s time that we follow my nephew’s lead, throw up our arms, and sweep them forward - “All done!”

Scott Kurth is Director at Accenture Technology Labs.

Tags: accenture, applications, cio, cloud computing, infrastructure, innovation, it management

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