In resourceful times

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned about managing IT as a result of this down economy? That’s a question I posed to several IT and business executives I recently interviewed. Happily, all could identify something good that came out of this time of trial-a lesson, a new perspective or a streamlined process. Most of their responses trend toward a greater appreciation for IT thrift, a sharper focus on value and a new, permeating mind-set of resourcefulness. So it’s appropriate that in the summer of what is hopefully the final blasted year of the blighted economy, we dedicate our annual CIO 100 Awards to honouring resourcefulness.

Governance has proven to be the key to enabling IT resourcefulness and perpetuating a resourceful culture. At CIO 100 honourees and among many other companies I’ve encountered in the past several months, portfolio management, project offices and gatekeeping, business case templates, and post-implementation audits have popped up like the mushrooms in my yard after a spring season in which it rained two out of every three days. One CIO I interviewed says that thanks to new and sundry governance mechanisms, there now exists an organizationwide transparency of IT costs. “Everyone can see where every dollar is going,” he says, with barely concealed joy.

Another boon from the bust has been a pervasive mind-set of thrift. A mid-tier company CIO says the best thing that’s happened to his IT department is that people down at the lowest levels routinely think smarter-they try to be creative, to figure out ways to save money. For example, a PC jockey found a better way to dispose of old inventory: find an organization that will pay to take it instead of the company paying someone to haul it away. “That’s a $28K employee figuring out how to creatively save a thousand dollars,” the CIO says. “That’s a good thing.”

The question that remains is whether these good things will stick. CIO Senior Editor Elana Varon, who on a part-time schedule deftly managed the nine-month CIO 100 project from concept to finished issue, observes the following in her introduction to our awards coverage: “For our honourees, resourcefulness transcends the state of the economy. Resourcefulness is an ethos, a guiding principle for a corporate culture that continually questions whether there is still more value to be gained and more and ever smarter ways to invest precious assets.”

For the rest of us, we should cross our fingers that when the economy turns around, we will not go back to buying new boxes (and storage) for every new application. We won’t approve projects with fuzzy business rationale, with no apparent accountability and with no intention of measuring the results. And business sponsors will not resume their insistence on funding pet projects, regardless of redundancy or standards non-compliance.