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August 27, 2011

CIOs are Responsible for the Central Nervous System of the Enterprise

by AlanSBPerkins

The Enterprise, Any Enterprise, can be likened to the human body, and the CIO is the architect, builder and custodian of its central nervous system.

A central nervous system provides an efficient means by which the body ensures that the brain’s instructions are followed by the periphery to the letter. It also ensures that any information received anywhere by the body is fed back to the brain in a coordinated way. This can mean that the body can act in advance as an early warning system, or act suddenly to prevent additional trauma. When there is a problem in the central nervous system, instructions become lost or garbled, resulting in poorly followed or ignored  instructions as well as signals that are meaningless, irrelevant or obfuscating. The results of a poorly functioning central nervous system can be catastrophic for the body concerned.

In the enterprise, this is no different. A utopian perfectly functioning nervous system means that the head of the enterprise is able to quickly find out exactly what is happening without prejudice or favour, able to act predictively and astutely with confidence. When such a system exists any instructions issued are carried out faithfully as intended.

Of course, reality is never close to the utopian perfection. Nevertheless, it is the task of the CIO to provide systems that are capable of coming as close the ideal as possible.

In a well-functioning organisation, the Central Nervous System will ensure that relevant, timely and accurate information is accessible when and where the users require it. This will include reports, alarms and other notifications, access to historic records and explanatory memoranda with ease. It will include pre-emptive action based on predictions of future behaviour, for example warnings to account executives that past behaviour on an account suggests that likelihood of future cash receipts is poor. Or notification that the behaviour of a prospect indicates that they are ready for personal contact, or notification to a Support Manager that a Case identified as urgent by a strategic customer is not getting the required degree of attention.

Autonomic systems – i.e. systems that should just take care of themselves (in the human body this would include the heart beating, temperature regulation etc) – will report their successes in a non-intrusive way so that someone can easily see a record of what has happened in the past (say for audit purposes), but will report failures in a way that is compelling.  For example backup drives filling up or security system power outages. (When planes are about to stall the pilot receives feedback in the form of his joystick or steering column shaking violently – this is compelling feedback).

A healthy Central Nervous System will allow proper circulation and all areas of the body will get the nourishment they need. Any area that is not well exercised or fed properly will atrophy. The same is true in enterprise information systems. Areas of the business that are not often accessed, for example infrequently run reports or ad-hoc batch programs that are run occasionally, lists of serial numbers for programs or equipment acquired, warranty documents, or perhaps a system that checks the accuracy of current employee phone numbers may not get used very often and if there is no way to easily access them they will be forgotten.

In a modern business, the rise of social media has changed the way that a central nervous system works. The axons that connect various components and people together are much more likely to take the form of Twitter subscriptions or Chatter group membership.

The role of the CIO in this changing world does not change in the sense that he or she is still responsible for ensuring the flow of signals is unfettered. However, the CIO must become more of a town planner, facilitating means of connectivity, and less of a bus network that provides scheduled bus services that get people and information between predetermined connection points.

Build a strong central nervous system and the business can be agile, responsive, run efficiently and avoid pain points.

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