As a newly minted CIO in the early 1990s, I attended a Gartner CIO conference and wondered if I had made a huge mistake by going back into IT. Although I forget the name of the conference, it should have been called “CIO Whining: Perspectives on Incorrigible Users.” The ’90s were an ugly decade for IT: CIOs (actually, many were IT directors) were, by a long mile, a bunch of poorly dressed, middle-aged white guys who could be found hiding in their offices. The world had changed around them—both in terms of business needs and technology capabilities—and they were strangers in a strange land.
Today, CIOs are a different breed. Although the demographic hasn’t shifted a lot, CIOs aren’t whining anymore. They understand the principles of good IT leadership and are working hard to bring theory into practice. Most CIOs have good relationships with senior executives and are involved with major business decisions. They understand the importance of strategy alignment, value, efficiency and service. They are building their relationships and organizations so that they can implement improvements in governance, portfolio management, architectural road maps, change management and process discipline.
We have turned the corner, and the future is bright for IT and its leaders. For this reason, I was taken aback when Forrester contacted me recently to discuss research titled “CIOs Struggle to Make the CIO Job Live Up to Its Promise.” I don’t see most CIOs struggling—just working hard. I also don’t think the CIO job has failed to live up to its promise. The fact is, organizations are at varying levels of maturity in their use of IT.
Overall, the state of IT research is disappointing. It’s voluminous, in some cases incomprehensible, and repetitious. The promise of IT is real. The research organizations need direction so that they can serve the interests of the hands that feed them.
Forrester didn’t ask, but I think research titled “The C-Level Focus Necessary to Exploit IT’s Full Potential” would reflect today’s reality and provide much more useful insights. I would love to see research that leverages lessons from other disciplines and shares experiences from companies that are mature in their use of technology. To realize IT’s promise, you need answers to the following questions:
1. How can IT be fully incorporated into the business-planning process? IT needs to be included as a component of business strategy—as are markets, products, pricing, supply, finance and organization—and not as a follow-on plan developed by the IT function. This is a particularly difficult challenge because many companies develop high-level plans using informal processes that don’t provide the level of detail necessary to drive the IT agenda.
2. How can IT value be made real and practical? CIOs need business justifications for IT projects beyond financials, such as cycle time or customer retention. These metrics are essential to optimizing the IT project portfolio and positioning IT-enabled business investments to compete toe-to-toe with other business opportunities. These justifications should be used to guide the focus of IT initiatives and hold the business and IT leaders accountable for seeing them through.
3. How can business users understand IT infrastructure and the associated economics? They must do so to make responsible decisions about opportunities to increase business agility and reduce costs. IT is still using suboptimal approaches for infrastructure investments: building infrastructure by project or banking on the goodwill of the CFO. Neither approach leads to the steady, consistent reinvesting necessary to build and maintain rational infrastructures.
4. How can the business side address its day-to-day IT needs without heavy involvement from IT? IT capacity is a bottleneck in most companies, from a resource and/or financial perspective. Approaches that enhance IT self-sufficiency—such as solving operational issues, accessing data, modifying screens and reports, redesigning business processes and managing projects—help the IT group focus on higher-value activities.
5. What organizational models protect the long-term IT interests of the enterprise? You risk the future of the enterprise’s IT competence when you perform organizational surgery—such as sourcing—on a piecemeal basis. CIOs need to go beyond the centralized, decentralized and federated models, and define new models that integrate business and IT, reflect the networked nature of today’s organizations and address the needs of the future workforce—while at the same time leveraging externally sourced technical and operational capabilities.
Edit the list above to your needs and tell your research partner that you want relevant, focused and actionable research that reflects the bright future of IT—rather than yesterday’s ills.