Business-based planning bodes well for the future

Perhaps the meek really will inherit the earth, but the optimists are the ones who’ll know how to enjoy it. Or maybe I should say the planners – those eye-on-the-future types who translate their faith in tomorrow into action plans today.

Tony Romero, CIO at Mitsubishi Motor Sales North America Inc., has been using the economic doldrums as a time to reassess his company’s IT plans and design a road map that unfurls to 2007. “We can plan now so when things get better we’re ready to go,” Romero says, explaining how he built both “big steps and baby steps” into his plan. “How fast we go depends on the size of the recovery.”

“The IT spending slowdown is a gift for CIOs,” says George Lin, CIO at Documentum Inc. “It helps us realize that sometimes the right thing to do is take a couple steps back and look at the big picture.”

Discussing road maps and envisioning compelling tech projects certainly can provide a surge of hope for your weary IT staff. Equally important, however, is keeping that live connection with the business side.

Romero, for example, holds the attention of his non-tech types by continuing work on the IT projects they care about – like a call centre system for car dealers or a consolidated financial reporting and analysis system for Mitsubishi’s divisions. “Those are things we can do with the resources in hand,” he notes. “We look for quick hits to maintain awareness that IT is still here.”

CIO Tom Murphy recast an ambitious but sidelined CRM/supply chain project at Royal Caribbean Cruises into a smaller, more financially viable effort. Even with a staff downsized dramatically three years ago, Murphy has taken advantage of modest rebounds in the travel industry to revive a few key efforts, such as a Web upgrade and some database and data warehousing work. To keep his IT head count stable, he outsourced certain Web skills and tackled other work in components rather than with a “big bang” project approach, which no longer works for most organizations.

While a genuine economic recovery still eludes us, it’s a relief to see some optimism taking hold again. Surveys consistently show that CIOs and IT executives are laying plans to launch new Web portals, expand wireless pilots into full-blown rollouts, upgrade staff skills and explore new outsourcing relationships. And the IT spending wish lists all identify the same stuff: customer initiatives, security improvements, supply chain upgrades, integration projects and infrastructure consolidation.

Yet what’s clear from our conversations with senior IT people these days is that the success of their organizations is just as critically linked to business process and people changes as it is to advancing technology.

The optimists and the planners understand that, and they’ve got it covered.