Business and IT: Making Music

As a musician and music lover, some of the cultural phenomena I have noticed recently are “tribute” concerts and CD’s. Often they pay homage to a recently departed legend such as Curtis Mayfield, George Harrison or Ray Charles.

A group of well-known and semi-known “names” get together and work their way through a particular artist’s or band’s songbook, mostly (but not always) doing a pretty faithful and heartfelt take on familiar tunes.

The thing I find really fascinating is the diverse mix of musicians who participate, and how out of context they can seem at first. The most extreme example is a recent KISS tribute CD. In addition to the usual lineup of rockers, you’ll also find country music star Garth Brooks and soul music legend Stevie Wonder.

While those two might seem incongruous to the whole head banging, hedonistic late ’70s/early ’80s experience that KISS was (and curiously is again) somehow they manage to make it all work—and work well.

It’s a lot like what’s happening in IT these days. Ever since the dot-com bubble burst the chorus has been “we need to align IT with business goals.” Many companies are still repeating it as though it is a future event. Yet, for a growing number of diverse companies from very different business contexts, alignment is happening.

A few companies are fully orchestrated, and many individuals are thriving in innovative IT departments and business units that are making it work, and managing it well.

This view was recently reinforced when I participated again in the CIO Forum. Much like a tribute concert, the CIO Forum brings together corporate technology end-user CIOs and CTOs with CEOs like me who represent technology vendor firms.

The venue is a cruise ship in the Atlantic, where people meet for three days, in one-on-one and small informal group sessions. There is a comfortable informality, and a passion and respect for the subject of technology. And like musicians, we stay up late.

In brief, here’s what I heard:

  • IT’s voice is healthy and stronger: There is a new harmony between IT goals and global business strategy and sharp IT leaders are taking their rightful seats in the rhythm section of the organization, if you will. IT is getting recognition by driving the tempo and the beat of the new analytics that are delivering breakthrough product and service innovations.
  • There is dissonance: While all CIOs complain about the critical lack of human resources to get things done, they are also adamant that technology laggards in their organizations, those that do not constantly update their skills, who resist cultural change and fail to grasp new arrangements, will lose their gigs. It’s about talent, and talent must always practice, acquire new skills, explore new ideas and practice some more.
  • It’s about the music: New lyrics and melodies are a songwriter’s core creative innovation. A creative IT leader’s role is to write and arrange new scores and scripts based on the company’s data, customer knowledge, business analytics and intuition.

    An IT department should not manage the record store, it should be on tour driving the companies’ performance before a live audience. All that is non-core to creating innovations that differentiate one company from another should be seriously reviewed for selective-sourcing. After all, someone played the flugelhorn on “Penny Lane,” but that person was never made a member of The Beatles.

  • I understand and fully appreciate there are those who enjoy music and musical genres that are full of dissonance and disharmony—atonal music, hardcore punk, free-jazz, to name a few—but, ultimately, it’s not the way to reach the critical mass audience.

    John Bostick is president and CEO of dbaDIRECT, which provides data infrastructure management services to Fortune 1000 and Private 500 firms, including Best Buy, Big Lots, Warner Brothers, Procter & Gamble, Booz Allen Hamilton, Brookstone and Alberto Culver.