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The Risks of Being Risk Averse

The paradox of tough times is they usually call for dramatic measures, yet it's human nature to keep a low profile and avoid risk, both corporate and personal. This is the dilemma facing CIOs today.

As I wrote in a column a few months ago, incrementalism won't cut it for many businesses in this economy. But according to Paul Gaffney, former CIO and head of supply chain at Staples and current COO of Desktone, that's the path most CIOs will take.

I had lunch with Paul yesterday (Blue Ginger in Wellesley - if you go, you have to try the Alaskan butterfish). It seems to me the next few years would provide tremendous opportunities for his company, which provides desktops as a service. After all, that's one of the main areas this year's CIO Hall of Famers were enthusiastic about. Gaffney (himself a member of the CIO Hall of Fame) pointed out that this group represented not the market but the vanguard. CIOs like Blockbuster's Keith Morrow, PG&E's Pat Lawicki, Bechtel's Geir Ramleth and Motorola's (former) Patty Morrison might advocate and take bold action into uncharted territory, because they really do understand the new technologies and business models and can successfully calculate the benefits and risks. But the vast majority of CIOs will try to work within the parameters of what they know to ride out the current economic storm.

This is completely understandable - and even, I suppose, prudent. It would be foolhardy for a CIO to advocate a path that he or she didn't have a pretty good grasp of.

What this suggests to me is CIOs should be finding out as much as they can as quickly as they can about things like desktop virtualization, software as a service and cloud computing. Because in business as in the law, when it comes to missteps and missed opportunities, ignorance is no excuse.

Paul Gaffney

Gaffney has led IT and supply chain efforts at Staples and Office Max. He's now rolling out new desktop as a service capabilities as COO of Desktone.

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Comments

  1. Abbie, I am enjoying your new blog. After reading your columns in CIO for years, it’s nice to follow your transition to this new-fangled internet stuff. Those of us who spent years writing words that wound up on paper need to keep up with all this! :-)

    Regarding this post: Being a CIO is all about risk and reward. There are some clever compelling technologies being bandied about, and people are attempting to virtualize everything along the chain from the server to the desktop. However, compelling is not enough these days. Many CIOs were burned by jumping on the bandwagon too early with other technologies that never panned out. Once burned, twice shy.

    Given the current economic conditions, prudence is going to be the watchword for some time to come. Companies like Desktone will be challenged to overcome the heightened risk-aversion in the short term to make their case and close a sale. Like many other CIOs, I am open but wary.

    Chuck (author of The Effective CIO)

  2. Absolutely. So the key is to find low-risk, low-cost ways to experiment and learn (and vendors need to be able to provide that for potential customers), in order to be able to identify and take advantage of the big-win opportunities when they come along.
    p.s. Chuck: congratulations on hitting your year mark with The Effective CIO!

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