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
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.