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Escaping The Circle Of Death, A.k.a., Rescue Plan For Overwhelmed CIOs

Wednesday, 14 January 2015, 04:55 Hrs

Essay in the ongoing series Confessions of a Cloud Guru by Martin McNicoll

Whenever I hear about a CIO going on vacation, I ask if their remote office will have a good wireless connection.

Too impertinent a question? Not really. Here's what I typically hear:

The CIO is having trouble controlling her IT infrastructure. Business units are constantly bypassing her, punching holes through the firewall with home-brewed applications and raising security flags. The applications fail, it becomes IT's problem, and she's perpetually on-call to put these fires out. It's the fault of the business units for not having any patience. So unplugged vacations remain a pipe dream.

That's what I hear, but that's not exactly what happens.

I tell them to brace themselves and get ready to learn about what I affectionately call the 'Circle of Death.'

Don't let the name scare you. We don't like to hear about bad things happening to the CIOs we love. You know, the ones who radiate passion and enthusiasm in a way that spreads company-wide. They embody the company's technology in their very cells and have become synonymous with the product. They make decisions that show how much they care. The sharpest minds you know.

So it hurts to see them stuck in a hamster wheel, supporting legacy on-premise technology without gaining any new functionality. Maybe they spend millions re-certifying applications to work from Windows 2000 to 2007. Whatever it is, they're running to stay in place.

Here's a drawing of the Circle of Death I used to keep in my wallet:

Over the years I've embellished the drawing to show an escape hatch. Multitenant Cloud technologies, enter stage left:

When an IT department is stuck in a rut, the requests pile up. Everybody needs help with an application, especially if it's specialized like SAP. The CIO has to secure the budget, get the requirements, and execute it -- if the project manages to fight its way through the top of the priority pile. There's a limited amount of money to go around. Can your project wait three years? Didn't think so.

Picture a hundred-person line at a standstill, growing more frustrated with every minute:

What happens next? Well, when you go to a club and see people snaking around the block, do you wait? I used to, but not anymore. Many of us have lost the luxury of time.

So people bypass IT. Rogue application, enter stage right:

Rogue applications look even more menacing than the Circle of Death! How easily they come into existence. Say the sales department needs a new application to calculate commission. It's tied to their sales quota. So they hire an outside programmer, a friend of a friend of a cousin, who does it in Microsoft Access or Foxpro. The issue isn't when this kluge jobs fails, it's when it works. Let's say after using the program, there's a sales boom and money rolls in. All of a sudden, this application is at the centre of the success.

But they can't support it anymore so it becomes IT's problem. And because it's a moneymaker, IT has to fix the mess.

In essence, when someone cuts the line and is successful, they invariably add something to the CIO's hamster wheel:

Not fair!

I have a feeling CIOs know there's a way out of this cycle, because I see them making changes. Go outside right now and you'l catch one carting an AS400 mainframe to the curb, along with a stack of hardware manuals. They know that by implementing cloud applications, updates get pushed to them every week and response time becomes lighting quick. Everything is hosted, backed up, secure, and properly connected to the back end. They can focus on fun projects instead of constantly patching things up.

More importantly, their customers are energized because they can place an order with a rep on a mobile application, it's cleared for shipping within seconds, and a forklift is already driving it to the loading dock. These days, the customer has to feel the wheels are in motion the instant they say "yes."

 When revenue doubles as a result, it's a damn good holiday party.

 No matter where you find yourself in the cycle, you have an important role to play in changing it.

 You can start by giving your CIO a hug.


  • The Circle of Death is a cycle of supporting legacy technology without gaining any new functionality. The quintessential 'running to stay in place.'
  • The cycle grows whenever a business unit bypasses IT with a rogue application and is successful with it.

Source: ERP Guru