New roles for both CIO and CEO in Internet of Everything era

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CIO Interview

[Part one of a two-part Q&A series]

As we become more dependent on technology at work, at play, and in all aspects of our lives, both CIOs and CEOs are facing new, transformational questions about how technology challenges and changes legacy ways of working and operating. The Enterprisers Project recently asked Dr. David A. Bray, an Eisenhower Fellow who recently traveled to Taiwan and Australia to discuss the Internet of Everything with industry and government leaders, to share his thoughts on what strategic actions executives should take now to prepare for the future ahead. Dr. Bray is also Chief Information Officer for the Federal Communications Commission, though his 2015 travels abroad as an Eisenhower Fellow were in a personal capacity only.

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): As a 2015 Eisenhower Fellow, you recently met with industry and government leaders in Taiwan and Australia about the multi-sector impacts of the Internet of Everything. What did you see occurring abroad that might apply to organizations globally?

Dr. David A. Bray

Dr. David A. Bray: The “Internet of Everything,” the predicted near-future state in which almost everything in our lives can be connected to the Internet – and one that I distinguish from what some call the Internet of Things, since there are several things already connected to the Internet beyond desktops and laptops – will challenge the abilities of established organizations in both the private and public sector to “keep up” with the exponential rate of change. Established organizations in any sector will have to overcome legacy investments in infrastructure and embrace new models of collecting, sharing, and making sense of data both collected and shared by Internet-enabled devices to recognize the positive advantages offered by the Internet of Everything in terms of greater effectiveness and efficiency.

Most established organizations in any sector probably will face the challenges of information overload, information fragmentation, and strong organizational resistances to shift away from an application-centric model – where legacy applications were built for specific mission purposes – toward a new, data-centric model that encourages remixable, modular services across the organization. In several cases, for established organizations to survive, both CIOs and CEOs will need to recognize that the exponential impacts of the Internet of Everything require the organization to be open to transforming how it works with both internal and external stakeholders in a way that's much more nimble, resilient, and responsive than ever before.

Organizations will have to embrace change, and encourage positive “change agents” across an organization, if they are to remain relevant in an Internet of Everything era.

TEP: You reference the Internet of Everything as impacting more than just the role of CIOs, but CEOs as well. Why do you believe CEOs must also make organizational shifts? What challenges do you foresee for both CIOs and CEOs?

Dr. Bray: With the Internet of Everything, Internet-enabled devices will be present in our cars, throughout our workplace, our homes, our clothes, and even optional implants embedded in our own bodies. That will require CEOs to encourage all elements of their organization, not just the CIO-led elements, to rethink how they work together to achieve results. Completely new business models will emerge and challenge established organizations.

Beyond CEOs and CIOs, currently very few corporate advisory boards for private sector organizations or legislative oversight bodies for public sector organizations have the in-depth knowledge necessary to ask the right questions of C-suite leaders. These include questions about an organization's plans for leveraging the Internet of Everything to make their organizations more nimble, resilient, and responsive. Historically, few CIOs have gone on to become CEOs, meaning CEOs of established organizations may lack the strategic knowledge of how the Internet of Everything will allow their organization to transform. Equally, since most CIOs aren’t groomed to be future CEOs, CIOs may lack experience to strategically think about how the Internet of Everything will impact their entire organization beyond their “just IT” impacts.

TEP: What recommendations do you have for CIOs and CEOs seeking to embrace the exponential changes ahead with the Internet of Everything?

Dr. Bray: We’re going into uncharted territory with Internet of Everything – there is no rule book. The best way for a CIO or CEO to operate in this undefined future is to create a space for creativity to blossom into innovation. That means allowing bottom-up “change agents” within the organization to freely bring forward ideas for tackling new challenges and sharing their insights with peers. Further, CIOs must embrace social media to encourage ideas from the outside as well. With the pace of change that the IoE will bring, if you try to take a top-down approach and assume you have all the answers, you’ll quickly become obsolete in this new world. Leaders will need networks across their organization to be effective.

Over the next decade, the massive changes in how we work, play, and live may favor startups only because established organizations often lack the agility to shift business models at a speed relative to startups. Yet if every global organization becomes a startup, we will have massive market and employment disruption.

In a period of exponential change, organizations are going to have to encourage internal and external “IT experiments” alongside intentional shifts in their approach to IT. All of this needs to be done in such a way that if the experiments don't work out they can pivot to additional experiments. Several established organizations in both the public and private sector may have challenges with this way of thinking. If senior executives have too many experiments that don’t work out, their oversight boards may replace their leadership. This is why the best thing CIOs and CEOs can do is champion bottom-up change agents to try ideas at the “edge” of organizations, close to the different mission needs and priorities across the enterprise – and if these ideas prove successful, then scale the ideas across other parts of the organization.

Jump to Part 2 of our interview with Dr. David A. Bray, in which he discusses how CIOs can be leaders in the shift toward the Internet of Everything.

Dr. David A. Bray serves as Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the Federal Communications Commission, overseeing the Commission's efforts to modernize legacy systems and transform technology partnerships in telecommunications, broadband, competition, the spectrum, the media, public safety, and security. He was selected to serve as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and as a Visiting Associate for the Cybersecurity Working Group on Culture at the University of Oxford in 2014.

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.