by Abbie Lundberg

The CIO’s Choice

Mar 02, 20083 mins
IT Leadership

I miss Peter Drucker. He was both visionary and pragmatist: a Wise Man for the dawn of the information age. Brilliant, with an amazing historic perspective, he was nevertheless approachable and down to earth. Business and business leaders owe him a debt of gratitude. His death at 95 two years ago was a huge loss.

I had the priviledge of meeting Drucker a few times at CIO conferences, and we ran a number of articles about and with him, the last being a conversation between Drucker and Tom Davenport about 10 years ago.

The reason I’m thinking of him today is that a) I recently received another book about him, which I’m looking forward to reading, and b) a few nights ago I attended a dinner of the Boston SIM chapter where one of his predictions from at least 15 years ago was presented as having finally arrived.

The talk was given by Alex Cullen, vice president and research director at Forrester. What Drucker said back in the early ‘90s was that there would be a bifurcation in the CIO role. What Forrester is saying today (to paraphrase Yogi Berra), is “There’s a fork in the road. Take it.” I.e., bifurcation. Split.

The paths of Forrester’s fork lead, on the one hand, to a retreat to traditional IT, “getting stuck in the technology engine room,” and on the other, to a focus on dynamic, differentiating technologies, working as part of the business. I’ve written about this work of Forrester’s before. This is not an either/or for the profession as a whole; there is, in fact, a place for IT execs down both forks; you just need to decide what it is that you really want to do.

One audience member argued that all this talk of business technology, agile business and competitive differentiation did not take into account the spaghetti mess of many organizations’ current systems; that there’s still a lot of work to be done before we can get to that higher level state.

Cullen replied, and I agree, that business can’t wait. What each CIO needs to decide for him or herself is do you want to be the person cleaning up that mess (a perfectly reasonable and legitimate choice – there’s a lot of satisfaction in such work) or do you want to be the person leading the merging of business and technology from a strategic and differentiating position? Whichever path you choose, there’s clearly work to be done restructuring your organization so both get the attention they deserve.

Have you begun this restructuring at your company? Which fork are you taking, and what does this mean for your future and the future of your business?

Forrester’s right on this one; CIOs have a choice, and the decision point is now.