Naysaying CIOs may do damage

One of the casualties of the broad decline in the “attractiveness” of the IT business is the ability to think on a broad and integrated basis. It’s becoming increasingly rare, and just at a time when we need it the most. Subsequently, we’re seeing the rise of the non-visionary, “hell no” bureaucrat CIO.

Far be it from me to raise the flag for wild-eyed and crazy IT visionaries who forget that the technology exists for other reasons than to simply exist (take a breath here Ken), but I fear that too much of the IT field has been given over to the conservative and the fearful, those who define themselves as “business-oriented IT managers,” those who express themselves in homilies like “we’ve got to understand that we shouldn’t be spending $10 technology to solve a $1 problem.”

Thanks for the advice, since that was exactly what we were going to do, weren’t we?

Often this type of manger thinks of himself think of themselves as the “new sheriff in town”, and anyone who lived in the town/IT shop before must, by definition, be a little dim in making cost-effective use of the technology. “An IT project has to make economic sense” they’ll say “just like any other type of project, you know”. Thanks for that too. Yes, new CIOs, we are idiots in general, and thanks for that vital clarification.

Even worse, this new breed of IT management thinks that their new age of IT leadership involves prefacing answers to every request with “No!” and “Show me the business case!” Fact is, some of these guys wouldn’t know a good business case if it hit ’em between the eyes.

A knee-jerk, negative reaction is as short-sighted and unhelpful as a knee-jerk, positive reaction. Unfortunately, the timing of the arrival of the new knee-jerk no’s is really bad – just at the time we really need the visionaries who can see the need for integrated systems we’re instead getting the defensive bureaucrats and bookkeepers.

More and more, we’re seeing the need for applications, data and thinking that cross organizational boundaries – hell, that cross multiple organizations, too.

I suggest you help them to take a look at what the process-modeling types call the “process footprint” for the major processes that determine the success or failure of your organization. Do key parts of your process extend outside of your organization? Do others outside your organization affect your ability to be successful and timely with the process? Key question time: if you fixed everything wrong in the process inside your organization, are there still outside elements that could bugger things up? If so, you’ve got a process with an extended enterprise footprint. And when you need to address the extended enterprise requirements of an organization, it’s no time for the isolationist, nay-saying CIO.

It’s like Lucy in the chocolate factory – extended enterprise requirements mean that the bon bons are going to be coming at us faster than ever. And if we’re integrating across and outside our organization, we should expect an increase in speed, shouldn’t we? But the defensive CIOs aren’t going to even consider (“in this era of fiscal responsibility,” they’ll say) investing in new conveyor belt technology.

So let’s hear it for the brave and visionary CIOs who understand the numbers, but also understand the need to make investments for the future – for growth, for integration and for the extended enterprise.

And for the future.

Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at [email protected]

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