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June 26, 2007

Walt Moss (WSJ) on CIOs: "The most regressive and poisonous force in technology today."

As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Wall Street Journal columnist Walt Mossberg called large, central IT organizations "the most regressive and poisonous force in technology today." Central IT, he suggested, act as "impediments to the adoption of new technology...." Their inclination is they don't want to learn it because they don't want to support it."

Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine, shared the same general sentiments with me a couple of months ago, reflecting on the culture of centralization, control, and lethargy. 'Build me a secure and bullet proof network and then get out of the way...' was the general stream of consciousness during a car ride conversation.

In an upcoming column in Educause Review, I take on the "challenge". In many distributed IT organizations in higher education this line of analysis and reasoning is not unfair. Like all organizations there is an inertia and predisposition to reproduce the culture and service line offerings. There are few incentives (or even demands) within the higher education administrative apparatus to shift cultures.

Beyond the general "shot across the bow", I think the "web 2.0" debate on campus is where the proverbial rubber hits the road. By web 2.0 I mean the broad class of collaborative services whose DNA is explicitly meant to obviate the need for central decision making and control. Not only is the web 2.0 debate illustrative, web 2.0 marks an important moment in the evolution of the Internet and of the information technology revolution. For those of us with gray hair it is the software application tool version of the last "great debate" over surrendering control of the mainframe computer in favor of personal computing.

The forces of consumerization associated with web 2.0 are immutable. We can brace ourselves for a civil war, or central IT can get out in front of the curve. In Higher Education, we need to demonstrate our thought leadership, our organizational agility, and willingness to keep our customer's needs front in center in what will be a hybrid and converged set of offerings using centrally enabled platforms and tools sets but applications which will continuously and ineluctably move to the edge and closer to the customer/student/faculty/ staff member.

It is not a debate over dollars. It is not even an issue over efficiency. Security is a necessary but insufficient condition and needs to be contextualized to the realities of our environment. To be sure, resources, operational excellence, and economies of scale are important. But if we mistake the web 2.0 phase of the IT revolution for the "old" debate over central v. decentralization, we are, IMHO, missing the opportunity to bring enormous value to our students, faculty, and staff colleagues.

The universities that distinguish themselves in the next 25 years will be those that make the shift now to enable mass collaboration and embrace consumerization of the application and presentation layer environments. Twenty five years from now, the issue will be mute. Today, the echoing of the same debating points offered during the historic shift from mainframe computing to personal computing are being resuscitated by central IT in the University world. We do so at our own peril.

Lev Gonick
Cleveland, Ohio
June 26, 2007

Posted by lsg8 at June 26, 2007 08:31 AM and tagged

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