Solving IT’s Identity Problem

Corporate IT, and the CIO at its helm, seem to be suffering an identity problem as of late. While Marketing and Finance look for ways to gain competitive advantage in uncertain economic times, IT is still talking about “alignment” and by all indications battening down the hatches and preparing for cost-cutting mode.

Just as IT was starting to act like any other business unit, dark economic clouds have us retreating to the icy confines of the server room, budget and red pen in hand. So, how does one sail through difficult seas, and simultaneously navigate IT out of the commodity and cost-cutting mode?

Try these three tactics:

End the IT/HR Morass

Of any corporate entity, IT is perhaps the most dysfunctional user of human resources. We have put extensive, yet misguided efforts into streamlining a critical process, seeking to automatically mine databases for skills and outsource the interviewing process rather than using old fashioned due diligence to ensure the right people are working in IT.

“Certification surfing,” the practice of seeking out dubious certifications culled from resume databases fills IT with one dimensional characters that are quickly disposed of when a new technology comes along. While engaging “one trick pony” specialists on a consultative basis is fine, filling the ranks of IT with these types creates an inflexible organization and furthers the stereotype of IT being the refuge of socially dysfunctional techies.

Hiring people who are excellent communicators and show a strong ability to learn first and foremost, and placing technical competence a distant second will give your IT organization an arsenal of diverse talents to draw upon, irrespective of economic conditions or evolutions in technology.

Align This!

Pondering “alignment” is like standing around wondering if you should be holding a golf club when you’re playing basketball. Understanding your business, its products, markets and opportunities, is a baseline expectation. It is knowing the rules of the game and the best strategies and tactics to win. If you are in the C-suite wondering how to win the game, or worse yet, unsure which game is being played, there is a serious problem.

If you are still pondering alignment, take this simple test:

– Can you articulate your company’s products, markets, competitive advantages and opportunities to C-suite colleagues?

– Can you articulate your company’s strategic and tactical initiatives?

– How much of your time is spent considering the above, versus firefighting operational issues? If it is less than 50%, then there is trouble afoot.

– Is IT proactively deploying technology to further the above, or are you stuck in a utility morass, quietly waiting in the wings for requests for new technology while you keep the exiting infrastructure up and running?

Rather than focusing on alignment, focus on making the operational aspect of IT seamless. Much of the talk about alignment is due to so many CIOs getting stuck in an operational morass. At the CIO level you should not be worrying about networks going bump in the night, and if this is a routine occurrence, assemble a task force to fix the problem, then build an internal support organization to manage the ongoing operational tasks. This makes your life easier, and builds your staff’s talent.