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In building a mobile enterprise, CIOs are looking for trouble

Building the mobile enterprise is a tornado of conflicting demands and obscure interdependencies. Luckily, CIOs are programmed to sniff out trouble.

This week at the Gartner Catalyst conference on the "intersection of mobility, cloud and information technologies" in sunny San Diego, a subversive thought crossed my Boston, jet-lagged brain. What if CIOs and their IT teams just said, "The hell with building the mobile enterprise!"

I was in a session on the consumerization of IT. A Gartner analyst was laying out all the sneaky and scary ways employees (like me) get around enterprise data controls. His advice in a nutshell: If users are going to bring their consumer-grade, endlessly upgraded personal devices into the enterprise for work purposes, it's better for everyone if IT builds the infrastructure and administers policies to minimize risk. But importantly, IT must build the mobile enterprise in a way that won't tick employees off or, God forbid, assert total command of technology (as in ante-Apple days of yore). I wondered why someone would care to take on such a task.

As the Gartner sessions and some terrific case studies made clear, it turns out to be unbelievably difficult to strike a balance between building user-centric, open mobile enterprise systems and risking getting fired for exposing sensitive corporate data. "Mobility is a crosscutting function" requiring thoughtful input from every function in IT and from all corners of the company, Gartner's Paul DeBeasi explained. Building a mobile enterprise means sorting through a maelstrom of competing demands, in which any action by one group has implications (sometime very serious implications) for the other groups in the enterprise -- and potentially market-moving consequences for the company.

What if CIOs and their IT teams just said, 'The hell with building the mobile enterprise!'

Linda Tucci

It's hard to craft mobile computing policies that strike a balance between safety and suppleness. It is technically hard and often very costly to build the infrastructure for a mobile enterprise that will enable each and every user. And -- just to add insult to all that hard industry -- in the drive to get their jobs done, employees like me will try to circumvent these carefully laid plans, because (as Gartner put it in the nicest way possible) when it comes to users, it really is "all about me."

I wonder how many CIOs and their IT departments are tempted to just say, "Screw it." If users get around IT, if they flout industry regulations or jeopardize the market value of their company by causing a data breach, it's their jobs, their necks on the line. The official IT policy and supporting infrastructure forbids those behaviors, so it isn't IT's problem, is it? At least, that's what I was thinking in the session on the consumerization of IT. But when I ventured out to talk to other attendees, I found that nothing seemed further from their minds. To be sure, they were there because they had big problems to solve, but they were jazzed about that!

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Gartner: When architecting a mobility solution, expect tradeoffs

I'll be writing about some of these challenges in the weeks to come. But as I was talking to these IT professionals, I was reminded of a recent study from Berkeley's Haas School of Business that looks at the success factors -- the personal traits -- unique to highly successful CIOs. Among the traits shared by the CIOs interviewed by the study's authors (James Moffat Spitze, executive director of the Fisher Information Technology Center at Haas, and Judith J. Lee) were the same personal attributes that contribute to success in many jobs: These CIOs were industrious and self-reliant. They possessed a trusting and trustworthy manner and had developed emotional intelligence. They enjoyed an extensive network of friends, mentors and protégés.

The study -- The Renaissance CIO Project: The Invisible Factors of Extraordinary Success --also pinpointed three factors among these CIOs that were "unique to their role" as CIOs: They were lifelong learners; they had conceived and implemented a customer-focused, game-changing project in their industries; and they were able to build and motivate cross-functional teams and therefore marshal the collective intelligence (authors' italics) of an enterprise.

"They wanted to see all of the dots, not just those within their traditional domain. Far more importantly, they wanted to be proactively involved in developing the means to connect those dots, to see the potential interconnections, the existing disconnections, and thus, the inherent opportunities -- where others might see obstacles."

The enterprise is in the midst of a "mobility tornado," as one Catalyst session put it. It’s a good thing that CIOs are programmed to look for trouble.

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