Secret CIO #3: Smartphone applications

Image of the Stig

Image: Nathan Wong.

As requested by our readers, we are continuing to publish interviews with Sven, our secret CIO.

Sven’s  monthly interview is intended to keep you up-to-date and informed of his views on current topics. Utilising your feedback and comments via the secret CIO section of the Innov8 website, we will challenge Sven with your topics. The idea is that you can pose questions and make remarks that you could not get away with in a normal business meeting.

Sven has been busy, but has promised to moderate the blog for at least another month, so let’s see what he is made of!

Some say he can herd cats with a single stare and that his tattoos are purposefully misspelt to confuse the observer. We just know him as Sven, the secret CIO.

We meet today on familiar turf. It would seem Sven either has shares in this cafe or is resistant to change and the risk associated.

This is a good segue into today’s topic which happens to be ‘risk’, specifically in emerging technologies such as smartphone apps.

It’s early and already the temperature on our sun-drenched rendezvous point is escalating past a level of satisfaction for normal player comfort. Sven is seated at his usual spot with the only difference being that after last month’s alleged incident, the table is attached to the pavement and covered in an abundance of napkins.

Sven’s ensemble is a loose t-shirt and loud board shorts that expose legs whiter than a rapper’s smile. “Betty Swollocks” he mutters under his breath as I approach. I guess it’s a Scandinavian weather reference or recognition of a female cafe patron. I decide not to enquire and take a seat. Ordering formalities completed, the waiter withdraws to fill an order of raw eggs and radish with black coffee in the chipped mug reserved for Sven and an ice tea for myself. The ice tea request induces a stare from him that makes me look for cats. I ignore the urge and continue.

Our original topic for today was meant to be managing the risk associated with emerging technologies. Realising this could take all day, I mention that feedback on our blogs has been heavily weighted to the ease of smartphone applications both in creation and deployment. I put this to him and elicit his thoughts.

“Yes, new technologies bring their own individual risk but do not necessarily create overall business risk. In fact, early adoption should create opportunity as well – or why bother? If you adopt new technologies for the sake of it then you are only increasing risk across the board and creating possible career ending issues.

“For my part, I enlist the business units affected by the technology in question, and ensure the risk and benefits are understood along with any additional costs.

“That’s all very good”, I reply and repeat my query re smartphone apps.

“Ok, I was listening but felt I needed to state the corporate line”, comes the snappy reply.

“These new smartphone applications remind me of days-gone-by where we lived in simpler times and IT was a mainframe behind blue doors and programs were akin to witchcraft. All controlled by people that spoke a language foreign to those that though they could be the third part of a binary discussion.

“I recall the halcyon times well and also the entrance of their Achilles heel: the PC.

“I mention this in an attempt to illustrate a point. When PCs first raised their heads they were somewhat misunderstood and used for games and office applications like word processing, spreadsheets and more games. Ok, some clever folk started to produce useful applications, but generally they did not handle mission critical systems. Size and the inability to network being a few of the draw backs. We all know how PCs and networks evolved and no one needs a history lesson; the point is that as a new technology, their apparent ease-of-use and small costs created some arguments in user meetings.

“I can recall both design meetings and project reviews where user management would kick and scream at the time and expense of traditional system development basing their argument on the fact that they had a teenager at home who could knock up a system on his PC without missing an episode on Neighbours.

“As a CIO, I had no choice but to applaud them for producing such smart offspring and to point out the fact that I had to look at the overall risk to the integrity of our current environment and ask how their offspring was placed to support their creation for the life of the program, understand how it interacted with other systems, how it matched our file protocols and all of the other governance and risk issues we were responsible for.

“Smartphone applications are not too dissimilar. They are cheap and readily available but do not necessarily comply with our standards.

“We face the same arguments today that teenagers can either write or utilise a crowd-sourcing environment and come up with a cheap app du jour, all without missing an episode of Glee.

“Sweet, you seem to have a handle on this. Now what?”, I enquire.

“You just do not listen do you?”, he barks back. “We are lucky to have this type of community throwing solutions at us. What we have to do is look at the risk benefit analysis and make a business decision. Losing the ego and using third party apps may save us money, increase our market, decrease our churn and increase our brand’s reputation as one that rapidly responds to our marketplace to name a few.

“If we decide to release an app, we could create its own environment and trial it under a unique brand to a targeted demographic. The business rules do not change, only we now have a technology platform that can be isolated from mainstream and released with less risk.

“From what I’ve heard, you are in favour of using the apps if the risk is assessed and business rules adhered to”, I venture.

“Quick, ain’t you”, he replies, lifting his fork for the first time. During his elongated response, the heat has turned his raw eggs into an omelette with radishes now stuck in the middle. He seems oblivious and devours the lot to the sound of what reminds me of a bulldog eating porridge.

I pay the bill and head back to the air-conditioned comfort of the car, wiser for the experience.

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