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Sun 20 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Revelations and aspirations

Secret CIO explores the hinterland of a rival's office.

For those of you just tuning in, last month I conned my way into a rival (and more successful) CIO's office through the use of a disguise and some especially smooth talking. I was last seen descending down a very long lift to the basement, thinking up all manner of wildly imaginative scenarios about what sort of treasures lay within.The doors clanged open and I emerged into - well, an office really. Only it wasn't like any office I'd ever seen before. Normally, one expects some sort of bullpen-style affair with sheets of paper scattered around willy-nilly and people in rolled up shirtsleeves churning away at the desks. No private offices of course - only the CIO gets one of those, while everyone else gets to enjoy each other's company without even the benefit of half-height cubicles. This is after all, how I do it.

Colour me surprised then, when I walked in to see - well, nothing at all really. No receptionist, no waiting room, just a red button on the wall and an arrow on the wall that pointed up towards a ceiling mounted camera.

Upon pressing said button, a bored voice inquired, "IT. If require assistance, call extension 999, ask for Leonard, hang up and then in exactly 28 seconds ring back and ask for Justin. He will give you an international phone number which you must ring at 6pm Ecuadorian standard time. The person answering the phone will use the name Mark and will then give you the name and number of an IT employee who will be available on alternate Fridays."

The message droned on and on, and soon I twigged onto the fact that there was no end to its absurdity. The whole thing seemed pointless so I turned to leave - but my foot thwacked loudly into a cordless telephone lying on the floor.

Picking it up, a disembodied voice asked (for real this time), "IT?"

It was about then that I realised I had no real plan for entry. Thinking through every permutation of scenario and coming up empty, I used the only words that pop into a man's head in times of crisis.

"Pizza delivery?"

"Turn around and walk through the door marked Electrical Set 1."

That door turned out to be right next to the lift I came down in. It led through a very narrow doorway into a frankly huge room filled with every boy's toy known to humanity. Model railroads, paper airplanes and bean bags lay scattered around the room, while the walls featured "tasteful" photography and giant LCD screens which showed the status of many - er - other screens. At the bottom sat the CIO completely by himself, crosslegged in a pair of cargo shorts featuring a badly-faded photo of Tom Cruise, working on a dinky netbook.

Of course, the ruse was up immediately when he looked up and recognised me. But far from being angry, he welcomed me into the premises and sat me down. After exchanging greetings, he then gave me the secret of how he was able to run an entire enterprise in his underpants. And unsurprisingly, the answer could be summed up in just one word: outsourcing.

It was possibly the shortest lesson I've ever learnt in my life, but the most revealing by far. With the money saved from not paying salaries and bonuses, he said, the company had more than enough left over to pay to outsource every IT function. On top of that, he never had to worry about HR issues or retraining employees.

But what about new projects, you ask? His answer was simple - they hadn't done any for years, since they were still trying to finish the ERP one they started in 1988. Everything else was done "on the web" - a cynical way of saying that most apps were now cloud-based.

The only real drawback, he noted, was that you couldn't give boardroom inputs or use the executive washroom (mainly because of the underpants). Apart from that, it all seemed like solid gold to me. I had to get back to my company and make some changes, ASAP.

Would I pull it off? Not quite, as you'll see next month.

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