Human Resources

DevOps is a CIO's theory of evolution

Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace’s scientific theories of evolution as a result of natural selection have shaped the natural sciences since publication in 1859. Their observations and studies demonstrated the survival of the fittest, a theory often corrupted to validate bullying behaviour patterns when in fact the eminent scientists were demonstrating that the survivors are those that can adapt. 

An ability to adapt and survive has become a key skill for the CIO community since the recession began in 2008 and remains critical, as recent trends demonstrate. As I write this month’s column, the UK’s national headlines are dominated by the demise of retailer, British Home Stores (BHS). This is a chilling reminder of the troubling economy CIOs exist within and a theme that has dogged the UK economy since the closure of fellow high-street stalwart Woolworths. Organisations in any vertical market have to be able to adapt. In the last 12 months I have got to know Tony Perks, CIO for BHS, and he was frank and honest with me about the need for a technological giant leap at the department store chain, but also, as a highly experienced CIO, he was well aware of ensuring that the giant leap was not a culture shock that would do as much damage as an asteroid hitting the retailer. 

Evolution is a constant though. Perks and his team were and are working against years of underinvestment that have seen BHS fail to become a prominent online retailer whilst rivals like John Lewis have become as much part of the UK e-commerce landscape as they are the high street. 

Constant evolution is necessary in every market sector. The global CIO of a major charity described to me recently how “born on the web, single-cause charities” are created every single day, competing for the attention and meagre spare funds of donators. ‘Born on the web’ describes the digital challenge today’s CIOs face when within four months an organisation can be formed, set up a web product and steal a slice of your organisation’s marketplace where once you were dominant.

These challengers are not traditional rivals. One chief digital officer (CDO) described to me recently how a key member of his team runs a digital business in their free time and how as a CDO you have to accept that, even though they may eventually steal some of your market. This is the dichotomy of the skills challenge CIOs face; as transformation advisor and former CIO Ian Cohen says, the skills shortage is more about the right skills than the number of skilled people. 

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Mark Chillingworth

Mark Chillingworth is a CIO and CTO journalist, ghost writer, moderator and advisor with over 11 years experience. From 2010 to 2016 he was Editor in Chief of the award-winning CIO UK. In 2011 he created the CIO 100, an annual transformation power list of the UK’s most influential CIOs and launched the UK’s first CIO Podcast in 2016.

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