If you want to hear a big number that sums up a key conundrum IT leaders face today, it\u2019s this: The Consortium for Information and Software Quality estimates that the annual cost of poor software quality in the US has grown to at least $2.41 trillion, or 9.4% of total GDP.\n\nThe big picture implication is that, if CIOs were to \u2018do IT right,\u2019 we could save on a macro basis trillions of dollars. But here\u2019s the rub: Despite the CIO title having existed for 42 years, what CIOs should be doing continues to be the subject of heated debate. Can we \u2014 living in the digital age, working in an information economy \u2014 say unambiguously, \u201cCompany X is managing IT right and Organization Z is managing IT wrong?\u201d Is there a spectrum of measurable \u201cIT rightness\/IT wrongness\u201d?\n\nThe reality is that, in an economy where every task, process, and outcome hinges on the proper functioning of some combination of technology components, the responsibility set for the CIO is potentially infinite. As such, so much of what constitutes good IT leadership today is determining where IT\u2019s effort should be directed given the limitless possibilities.\n\nWinnowing the IT estate\n\nBowing to the pressure of the contemporary zeitgeist I could not resist asking ChatGPT, \u201cWhere should CIOs be spending their time?\u201d\n\nChatGPT surfaced 10 areas where IT leaders should focus their efforts:\n\nThat\u2019s a pretty good, touching-most-key-bases list. But as you might expect from our generative AI friend, it lacks urgency and the human juices of organizational politics. It lacks soul.\n\nConcerned that my job as a CIO Whisperer is under threat from an AI chat interface, I decided to get some non-algorithmic direct evidence. I asked a group of executives to complete the following sentence, \u201cCIOs should be managing\u2026\u201d Then I posed what I thought might be a clarifying question, \u201cWhat are CIOs accountable for?\u201d\n\nThe always practical and down-to-earth Cheryl Smith, former CIO at McKesson (Fortune 7) and West Jet (2nd largest airline in Canada), author of The Day Before Digital Transformation: Unlocking digital transformation for business leaders,and guest lecturer on Digital Transformation Execution for the IT Masters Degree courses at George Mason University in Virginia, believes that in situ CIOs can save their organizations millions of dollars by doing the basics of IT right.\n\nIn the late 1990s \u2014 when Smith was in charge of internal systems at Verizon, reporting to CIO Ralph Szygenda, who later went on to become CIO at General Motors \u2014 she instructed her people, \u201cDon\u2019t print out any reports. Stop printing out any reports.\u201d\n\nBack then there was nothing online. When an executive came in and yelled, \u201cWhere\u2019s my report?\u201d the team would figure out what the application was and who was the person in charge. \u201cWe discovered tons of stuff nobody cared about,\u201d Smith says.\n\nThis experience, she adds, underscores one of the richest sources of low-hanging IT value: shutting down unnecessary applications. Organizations have too much software.\n\nWhile we may never have a universally accepted IT metric, we can, as a starting point, stop spending money on IT we don\u2019t need.\n\nDealing with the glut\n\nIT financial management \u2014 sometimes called FinOps \u2014 is overlooked in many organizations. A surprising number of organizations do not have a very good handle on the IT resources being used. Another way of saying this is: Executives do not know what IT they are spending money on.\n\nCIOs need to make IT spend totally transparent. Executives need to know what the labor costs are, what the application costs are, and what the hardware and software costs are that support those applications.\n\nThe organization needs to know everything that runs \u2014 every day, every month, every year. IT resources need to be matched to business units. IT and the business unit need to have frank discussions about how important that IT resource really is to them \u2014 is it Tier One? Tier Two? Tier Thirty?\n\nIn the data management space \u2014 same story. Organizations have too much data. Stop paying to store data you don\u2019t need and don\u2019t use. Atle Skjekkeland, CEO at Norway-based Infotechtion, and John Chickering, former C-level executive at Fidelity, both insist that organizations, \u201cDefine their priority data, figure out what it is, protect it, and get rid of the rest.\u201d\n\nA general rule of thumb used by the information management community \u2014 think AIIM, ARMA, NARA \u2014 is that around 68% of stored data is junk, approximately 25% has value, 5% is subject to regulatory retention requirements, and 2% is subject to legal hold.\n\nWhy are you paying a 200% premium for data storage, let alone all that is required and management and maintain it, if more than two-thirds of your data is irrelevant?\n\nBottom line\n\nI was not totally surprised that the responses to my CIO straw poll were broad, varied, and situationally dependent. After all, CIOs at top performing enterprises do not suffer from Group Think. They are aware of general trends but focus on crafting bespoke strategies and tactics optimized for their particular situation.\n\nBut if there is a common thread among their responses, it is that IT leaders cannot fall prey to the potentially infinite responsibilities of IT today. Rationalization is a core IT action. Their stakeholders must know where and why IT resources are allocated \u2014 and what the cost is of maintaining a status quo that fails to produce adequate value.