If as a CIO or a business technology leader you are struggling to get your organisation or team to understand the value of information and the CIO role I have a suggestion. Take them all for a day out and visit Bletchley Park.
Bletchley Park became the Government Code and Cypher School in 1938 as the heads of military intelligence expected war with Germany. Today it's a museum to the work of the code breakers and their seminal steps in the creation of computing. During the Second World War Bletchley Park and its team of talented problem solvers cracked the German Enigma and Lorenz cipher codes used by the Nazi forces, which it is now widely believed shortened the Nazi reign of terror and the war by two to four years.
Bletchley Park was set up as the heads of military intelligence realised that information would be central to the fighting of the Second World War and ciphers meant the allies had an information problem. Having founded the cipher school at Bletchley Park, Commander Alistair Denniston formed a team of experts, the most famous being Alan Turing. With the team in place and working on breaking the cipher codes – and I'm simplifying this brilliant story – they developed a processes for breaking codes, analysing the information and providing that information to the relevant organisations to deliver outcomes (battle victories). In developing these processes this team found it needed technology and built what is now widely accepted as the world's first computer, Bombe, and then its sibling, Colossus.
As you walk around the hallowed grounds of Bletchley Park, through the lovely mansion, the rickety wooden huts and squat brick units where code breakers, WRENS, analysts, initial computer developers and an army of very important support staff worked - you cannot fail to be impressed by the vision and the leadership that took place at Bletchley Park. Information and a constant focus on the final outcome – to end the war – were always first and foremost at Bletchley Park.
Like the transformational CIOs this title applauds in its annual CIO 100, everyone at Bletchley Park worked on a strategy to deliver a result. Just as with leading CIOs, it just so happened that the best way to get to that result was to develop some truly ground breaking and amazing technology.
If your organisation is struggling to see the value of technology, or that technology can or will be the way to transform itself or the roles of its people, then I recommend a visit to Bletchley Park.
There are lessons at Bletchley Park, once known as Station X, that align to every facet of modern business technology leadership: workforce development, architecture, security, data management, research & development; networks, supplier management, strategy and change management.
Bletchley Park was the original "tech hub", its location chosen as it was on the Varsity train line between Oxford and Cambridge and therefore attractive to the "professor types" it sought to recruit. Denniston was a master at soft skills and ensured the code breakers were able to focus on the job at hand.
The digital disruption affecting so many organisations and sectors today has nowhere near the privations or suffering that the Blitz and the War inflicted on the people of this island and those across the world, but what stood out to me at Bletchley Park was that despite the difficulties, using information, everyone at Station X focused on the future and worked towards it.