Rich IT Poor IT or Opposite Day?

Peter Kretzman is an active member of my Twitterati circle who I follow. Recently he blogged about a Gartner interview that I had already read. Peter got considerably more upset by it than I did ("an abandonment of common long-standing lessons in IT"), so I re-read it. I'm no more disturbed by it on second reading. The CIO is a business-facing role. Delivery doesn't matter... to the CIO.

One of the reasons I follow Peter is that he hovers on the line between saying stuff I agree with (sensible skeptical perspectives) and stuff I don't (geek cowboys ranging free across the IT prairie)

And so it is here.

Any Gartner analyst is going to be a bit waffly, by definition. Of course they paint idyllic pictures of "golden shimmer". This one - Mark McDonald - quotes numbers pulled out of an unexplained orifice, just like any other analyst. "Rich IT, Poor IT" isn't exactly original, but it is a very good analogy. Just like poor but well-meaning Dad in the book by Robert Kiyosaki [bejasus! I wish I'd read that book in my teenage, or somebody had taught me it, or that I had met a Rich Dad too] the Poor CIO is pottering along wondering why he can't get anywhere because he lacks insight. I've seen it often enough that I long ago formulated the principle that a CIO must be an outward facing business person who deals with his peers, and he needs a good Ops Manager to run the farm for him while he's gone. Just like Mark , I too think good CIOs can come from the business.

Equally, I agree with Peter that IT must not lose sight of the basics, and that a CIO must understand IT. Let's take the second first: a CIO must understand enough to make good strategy and decisions. That doesn't mean he must be able to configure Apache or install VMWare or cut Java code. A well-chosen person who previously didn't work in IT can have and can gain enough understanding - it is all about good lieutenants, just like any leadership role. Which brings us to the first point: the basics can and should be looked after by people who know IT very well. They need to advise the CIO wisely and they need to run a tight shipshop.

But, unlike Peter, I don't think Mark had lost sight of those points. What he said is that if that is all you do - run a tight ship as servant to the corporation - then you won't get half the money to spend as if you step up to the executive table as a peer. And that is so true. I've seen too many inept CIOs who came up through the IT ranks and are living the Peter Principle, far above the level of their own incompetence. They are all at sea in the world of business, and garner only the contempt of their peers.

Seen any of these?

  • CIOs who whine about not enough budget but can't get more money
  • IT obstructing a project because they "weren't consulted" when the project has been on the books for a year and was in the last Annual Report, as the CEO's pet strategy.
  • IT Account Management initiatives that fail because the customers engage for a while but can't see the value
  • IT departments that give themselves a good report while the business is so angry and frustrated they are hatching an outsourcing plot
  • ...

Need I go on?

I think Peter is unfair when he accuses those who promote a business focus for IT of abandoning common long-standing lessons in IT. We should indeed "lift the CIO above the standard oh-so-trivial concerns of delivery and technology", or rather the CIO ought to lift themselves. That's not to say we deliver information via technology with any less effectiveness or efficiency. It means that IT Doesn't Matter: delivery is becoming increasingly less arcane and more mundane - it ought to be delegated to competent lieutenants. Of course some IT people don't like that idea.

Nobody is "dismissing the importance of basic IT facets". They're saying that if that is all you do, then you are akin to a wage-slave who's never going to rise above the 9-5. I agree. And I think ITSM is the ladder up.


You guys need to all get in the same room

I have to admit I hesitated as I contemplated the idea of getting between two of my favorite bloggers/tweeters. It seemed presumptuous of me to suggest some mediation is needed, and even more so to offer it. It doesn’t help that I just arrived in Copenhagen from San Francisco and I’m fried. I obviously overcame my reservations and quite possibly, my better judgment, so here goes.

I think if you and Mark and Peter were discussing this topic live, you would find yourself more in line with Peter’s views than Mark’s. I am certain the first few minutes of conversation would correct your misconception that Peter “accuses those who promote a business focus for IT of abandoning common long-standing lessons in IT.” Peter Kretzman is one of the greatest advocates of business-focused IT and CIO’s who are leaders delivering business value. I am certain Peter would answer yes to your “seen any of these” bullet points and he would hold the CIO and IT accountable for each of them. He would then join me in showing how the business is just as accountable for these problems as IT – because they are not adequately governing IT.

What set Peter off (and many more of us), was Mark’s condescending and dismissive tone toward CIOs and IT and general. I am an “IT-guy” who has been railing against the IT/Business disconnect for years. I now dedicate myself to that one cause as an IT Governance Evangelist (I believe good IT Governance blurs and ultimately obliterates the line between IT and the business). I also have the thickest skin of just about anyone you would ever meet. But even I was incredibly insulted by Mark’s comments and assertions. I was very glad to see Peter’s response.

Though you are the quintessential IT Skeptic, it is hard for me to accept you would find yourself more in line with Mark than Peter. I just need to get you all in the same room to prove it.

Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist

take three

OK I read Mark's interview and Peter's blog a third time. I'm cool. Didn't change my mind any.

I agree that CIO is a business role. I agree that it is easier for a business person to understand enough about IT to be CIO than it is for a tech person to understand enough about business. Sweeping generalisation though. As McDonald said :"Growing up in technology does not preclude you from running a rich organization, though. They're a little more prevalent than people give them credit for."

I've read Rich Dad Poor Dad and Rich Kid Poor Kid. I like the analogy - it works for me. So you need to understand the use of the word 'rich' instead of getting all offended by it.

So maybe Mark is copping flak for others' offences? I read the other articles that Peter referred to - maybe they got him riled up before reading this one.

Dominic Barry says

When an organisation becomes an expert customer of IT - truly knowing how to create maximum value from investing in change and IT, and to optimise IT spending - then a separate strategy for IT no longer adds value. So the ultimate goal of a corporate strategy for IT is not to have one.

I 100% agree and have been saying so for years. My new book (which isn't about IT) says

At the highest level there needs to be an organisational strategy. That is outside the scope of this book except to say that if you need to have your own “service strategy” (or “IT strategy” for those in that industry) then this indicates your department is not integrated with the business. Do a “local” strategy if you have to, but optimally there is one strategy for all of the organisation, which includes service [and IT and HR and finance and...] considerations.

To think that IT strategy cannot be eliminated by being seamlessly integrated into the organisational strategy is a parochial and possessive view. Don't confuse IT strategy with IT plan.

I 278% agree with Chris Potts that IT projects fail

(a) Because they are too focused on timescale and budget.
(b) They are managed as implementations rather than investments.
Very often, the most senior project manager is measured and rewarded based on inputs, activities and outputs (e.g. project costs, process changes, organizational changes, technology deployments, documentation) rather than business outcomes (e.g. benefits delivery, architectural contribution, +/- impact on future operating costs).

How can you not get that? How many projects have you seen that went live because the project manager had a project to deliver, not because the project was finished and ready for livetime? Inside-Out vs Outside-In thinking again. A project should be defined and measaured and gated in terms of what it does for the organisation, and only SECOND on meetimg timescale and budget. If you are "too focused" then you lose sight of what it is actually for. Brilliant point. What's the issue with that?

Potts again on why "running IT is not a valuable use of [the next generation of CIOs’] time, talents and energy”

next-generation CIOs are now running the company - in collaboration with fellow corporate strategists - and are too busy doing that to run IT. That's what a CTO is for, reporting to an operations executive such as the COO.

Nearly 100% agreement here. CIOs are outward-facing and operate outside IT, looking in. Their Ops Manager or CTO or whatever runs the farm. I don't go as far as Potts to peel CIO off entirely and have IT run by a CTO who reports elsewhere - I've seen that not work. Maybe we can split IT in two, into the information and the technology, but I need more convincing. That doesn't change my basic agreement that CIOs who spend all day running IT are not the best CIOs (or they are good CIOs who have inherited a bad IT department and are still sorting it out enough to set it loose with an Ops Manager).

Sorry Peter and Steve. Three tries, still can't agree. IT has to break free of its inside-out thinking and come blinking into the light and join the gang.

So maybe Mark is copping

So maybe Mark is copping flak for others' offences? I read the other articles that Peter referred to - maybe they got him riled up before reading this one.

Good point !
Just read fruITion, Peter, and than assign your marks.

Thanks for commenting, but do reread McDonald's wording...

Hi Rob,
Thanks for commenting so thoughtfully on the piece I wrote. Obviously, we disagree on the McDonald interview, so I'd like to encourage you to go back and read through it yet again. McDonald never once softens his statements to say "if that is ALL you do." Had he done so, I probably wouldn't have been spurred into writing my retort. I think that you're reading a lot into his statements that frankly isn't there.

As for a couple of your own remarks: of course, any CIO "delegates to competent lieutenants." No one is plausibly suggesting that the CIO install Apache or cut Java code here. The important distinction is the level of oversight and end accountability that the CIO retains over actual delivery: I believe that it goes hand in hand with being business-facing and strategic, and that the two areas are separated at the company's peril. YOU may believe that IT delivery is becoming increasingly less arcane and more mundane, but I must say I'm puzzled how you can say that, being an active Twitter user and just watching THEIR delivery. In fact, I'd name Twitter as a marvelous case study of a company focusing, quite bizarrely at times, on incidental feature-related strategies while their users are regularly inundated with fail whales. There are, of course, countless other examples, and we both write a lot about IT failure cases and causes. If only, if only, that today's systems complexity could be paired with nothing but mundane delivery.

My piece, and ones that have come before it that covered similar ground, mentioned other sources besides the Gartner interview for my concern, such as the one that sneered at the notion of focusing on time frame and budget for projects. (Again, of course projects need to focus on business value from the start). Those kinds of remarks trivialize as almost inconsequential (in the sense of "oh, we've solved that already") many things that most IT professionals, not to mention the CEO of every company that I've seen up close, still care deeply about: predictable delivery and reliability. By the way, I agree strongly with your notion that "a CIO must be an outward facing business person who deals with his peers". My whole point here and elsewhere is that one shouldn't and mustn't rule out the other. It doesn't have to be an either/or.

Finally, while I thank you both for your comments here and for following me in general, I must admit to being pretty puzzled by your general reference to the stuff I write that you tend to disagree with: "geek cowboys ranging free across the IT prairie"? Eh? LOL, as the kids say.

The role of IT is not the same

The role and weight of IT is not the same for all businesses. The 22% rich and 50% poor CIO's can reflect the importance of IT. It sounds quite realistic that IT is strategic for 25% of companies and just one more necessary thing for 50% of companies.

There has been a similar discussion about CEO's. Do they need to understand the business or can a good CEO manage any business? I do not think there is a definitive answer for this but I have understood that the belief in "A good CEO can manage anything" has been shaken." It is better to find someone who understands the business and is also a good CEO. A good CIO should understand IT and be a good manager at the same time.

Succes stories can be misleading. It is quite possible that the former CIO has built a solid platform and the new CIO from business enjoys the benefit of this while he/she creates some shaky but popular applications and is promoted before the cracks become visible.


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