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We arrived in Oxford on Monday and took some time to wander around the university area in the middle of town. It is steeped in 750 years of academic endeavour. It was sobering to think of people like Thomas Huxley, J.R.R Tolkien, Johnathan Swift, Stephen Hawking, Edmund Halley and Joseph Banks walking these streets and working in these buildings.

We were made to think about the about the massive contribution this city and this academic institution has made with Arts and Sciences ? particularly in terms of how we understand the world and how world changing break-throughs and innovations have occurred. And, it is true to say that innovation, or more particularly digital innovation, was the key theme on the first day of the course.

The techniques and guidance we received around digital innovation is certainly one of the key learnings that we will seek to apply to the New Zealand government context on our return.

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The course we are on is the CIO Academy which is a collaboration between Gartner and the Said Business School, which is part of Oxford University. The business school is on the outskirts of Oxford, set in several hectares of lush parkland. There are 30 participants on the course from 17 countries. There are three Kiwis if you include the person from United Arab Emirates who is a New Zealand citizen.

The speakers on the first day included Michael Earl emeritus professor and former pro vice chancellor of Oxford, and Dave Aron, a Vice President of Gartner.

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The opening session built a theme of different directions for the role of the CIO and reflected whether the owner of a car in the UK with registration plates of CIO JOY, would still be so in the future!

Their central proposition is that the world has profoundly changed over the last year with the convergence of revolutionary technologies that allow people to create entirely new business models that were never previously possible.

Individually, Mobile, Big Data, Social Media, and Cloud do not create a new digital age, but the combination of these reasonably recent arrivals allows incredible new ways of doing business. In fact, Professor Earl said that the faculty and Gartner have had to substantially change the course material since last year to reflect these seismic changes.

The course leaders continually emphasised that the emergence of the need for digital business strategy covers all industries including government.

One example, among many, where digital business strategies and innovations have been successful include the City of Boston where an ‘Office of Urban Mechanics’ has been established. This office crowd-sourced a new mobile app for only $25K. The app automatically detects the smoothness of the ride when people are driving their cars around Boston. The data is fed into a mechanism that allows the city administration to prioritise their road repair programme. It combines new mobile and analytic technologies and has led to a considerable improvement in the quality of Boston's roads.

Part of the proposition is that for organisations to take full advantage of the digital age is to operate an IT department that has two distinct roles. The jargon they used is ‘Bi-modal IT’. Under this model, part of the IT unit continues to do the good work of ‘keeping the lights on’ and running the large technology based change programmes, whilst another part on the IT until concentrates on collaborating with the organisational leaders on establishing entirely new ways of doing business in terms of the digital opportunity. This latter activity is not something that the IT department can do by itself or the business can do by itself. It requires multi-disciplinary teams. It also re-uses some existing techniques of agile development and a principle of rapid development cycles and a fail fast/succeed fast mentality.

We are keen to learn more.

David and Craig.