The innovation-hindering IT organization?

Tim O’Reilly and Paul Kedrosky are both pointing to an article in Financial Times about how many private users now have access to much better equipment and services from home than at work, because the IT department has locked down the infrastructure and are slow to upgrade (for very financially sound reasons, I should say.)

This is not new. I remember interviewing IT executives in the late 90s who sheepishly conceded, when I asked them to send me an email, that they had to go home to do that. The corporate email was within-company only (this was a large international oil company).

The job of an IT department is to act as an intermediator between technology and business, and in doing so, it frequently takes on the role of UN soldier – insulating the two sides from each other to keep the peace, in the process inadvertently limiting the degree of interaction and integration between the two.

I think this is a continuing challenge for CIOs – they are expected to be the technology expert, but their day-to-day information needs leeds them away from the rapid and chaotic innovation that happens in the consumer-oriented market. It used to be that the military developed technology, which then companies bought. Then companies drove the evolution, during the mainframe and mini-computer era. With PCs and then with the Internet innovation became first individual and then consumer-oriented. Now the consumer-market drives innovation, and the traditional CIO better take a study tour to the nearest electronics store.

I am just waiting for the first CIO to implement an entire infrastructure on, say, MS Xboxes running Linux. With iPods instead of dictation machines and corporate accounting done in Quicken (don’t laugh, I have seen departmental accounting done that way.) How about corporate email on Gmail, online office solutions, and the corporate web page via Typepad. It is not only possible, it might in fact be the future. As soon as the consumers have been served….