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The revolution is here, but is the CIO’s role about cleaning up the mess?

What would the CIO role be without all the hand-wringing over whether it will survive another minute? This week was the annual MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, “Piloting the Untethered Enterprise,” a one-day conference so crammed with provocation, bon mots, covert deal making and rubbernecking (who is that ready-for-TV techie in the next seat?) to make one’s head spin.

Of the sessions I was able to attend, the boldest one was the MIT academic panel, followed by an after lunch free-for-all on big data and analytics that was anything but a siesta. (Look for a piece soon on why CIOs might want to run away from big data.) The three MIT academicians who gave their take on the untethered enterprise are professors, but not exactly of the Mr. Chips variety — beacons of calm in the midst of unimaginable change. They were more like bomb -throwers, invoking all the forces — consumerization of IT, cloud, crowdsourcing, social networking, the voice of the customer, — that are blowing up the enterprise as we know it. In this brave new enterprise, agility trumps strategy and resilience trumps strength. Today, customers should be serving the company (think Facebook’s 800 million users generating content).

I was entranced. As I wrote in my CIO Matters column this week, however, I was also leery of — OK, confused by — how all this will impact the CIO’s role. There was some talk about how pruning and curating will be important as companies try out new things willy willy-nilly, so maybe the CIO role will be defined as master gardener. One of the profs mentioned a childhood friend now at eBay who does nothing but figure out the “checks and balances” between buyers and sellers. So maybe the CIO’s role will be akin to Founding Father. As someone who has done my fair share of time in the kitchen, I would only urge CIOs that the one metaphor you don’t want to embrace in this latest computing revolution is doing the dishes. Check out the column and you’ll understand.

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