CIO Revolution? Really?

InformationWeek has been touting the newest “Revolution” in the CIO job.
I read the GlobalCIO editorial in the December 21, 2009 issue of InformationWeek with a sense of shock. It was not the new developments that shocked me; these were little surprise at all. The shock was the word “revolution.” The implication is that the CIO has suddenly been given a seat at the boardroom table where none was vacant before. If the CIO did not have a chair at the table before, it was because the CIO had nothing of value to say to the board.
The technology industry has often promoted projects and products in a manner like drug companies advertise. ED drugs such as the “blue pill” promote themselves as an enhancement (upgrade) to an already adequate system. The original technology solved a very real problem. The advertisement creates a sense of dissatisfaction or concern and thereby, a sale.
The 70% or 80% of budgets that are spent on keeping the lights on and the hard drives spinning may fall into this category.
In another advertising paradigm, the symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease are used as bait on a line cast broadly in hope of finding a patient whom the medication fits. Broad pain definitions attempt to “catch” a prospect that has similar symptoms; in many cases they do.
Microsoft divides its marketing into TDM (Technical Decision Maker) and BDM (Business Decision Maker) appeals. An examination of the details of these appeals would reveal that the TDM follows the first advertising approach, while the BDM follows the latter. In each case, the better plan for the patient (business) would be to seek and receive a holistic examination by a professional.
CIOs and professionals in general are in a position to understand both business and information technology. They should not expect or insist that the businesses that employ or engage them know or even initially want the treatment that is most appropriate. It is—and has been—the professional responsibility of the CIO to maintain a toolbox that contains both tools of business diagnosis and technological solution.
If this is revolutionary, then the revolution should be dated not to 2010, but to 1979. That is the year John Rockart’s article Chief Executives Define Their Own Data Needs appeared in the Harvard Business Review. Rockart demonstrates that executives often do not implicitly know what tools are appropriate to their tasks.
This is even truer today than in 1979. Part of the IT toolbox must be a tool for determining how to align the IT portfolio with a business strategy that technology both supports and directs. Just as it is unwise to specify the IT portfolio wholly from the business strategy direction, it is unwise to specify strategy without taking IT capacity and developments into account.
Though the technology of 1979 is vastly different from today’s technology, Rockart’s method for business analysis and understanding continues to enjoy application and success. There are other methodologies for this same purpose, but Rockart’s article can certainly serve as a milestone in the development of the modern CIO’s toolbox.
If CIOs do not have or develop such a toolbox, I fear that the “revolution” which most certainly needs to happen, whatever we call it and however it is dated, will fizzle before it takes hold. And the CIOs place at the boardroom table will most certainly be filled by another, as in that case it should be.

Technology Forecast Cloudy??

Without going point by point through the issues raised in this article, I think there are some considerations that may be left out:
Cloudy Forecast for Information Technology
While Drake is surely correct that technology developments are similar to the historical development of electricity, he misses the fact that it was many years after the development of electricity before the technology found its most productive uses. There are some current developments in IT (discussed on this blog, by InformationWeek’s GlobalCIO Initiative, and others) that suggest that business has been more concerned with efficiency and productivty than information and strategy. Strategic applications of IT have escaped all but the most forward-thinking companies.
Drake’s statement, “However, with advances in computing the reverse is true, and jobs are being eliminated as companies streamline their operations.” Is true, but omits the issue raised by MegaTrends and MegaTrends 2000 that with the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation in the next few decades, the workforce MUST shrink, or find a new source of labor. Immigration can provide some of this labor, but developing countries in the midst of their own industrial revolution will find that they need this labor at home. Simply put, our economy to date has been based on the idea that the workforce will grow, but current birthrates simply cannot support growth in the number of employees.
Here’s the issue in a nutshell: New technology has driven much of the growth in the IT sector over the last few decades; the recession has created new demands that businesses drive technology innovation with strategy.
IT will change, but strategic IT applications will be SLOW (in Internet time) to migrate into the cloud. Business need to think strategic, not technology.

Rest in Peace S. Herbert Rhea

My uncle John S. Palmer (deceased) introduced me to Mr. Rhea when I was still a Junior in college. He told Herbert that I was a computer guy. We met at Uncle John’s house, in his home office. Herbert sat in one side chair, I in the other. He looked at me for a minute.
“What’s the best kind of computer?” Mr. Rhea asked.
I was scared to death. In those days, there were Apple computers (Mac came out later), IBM PCs, System/34/36, UniSys, etc. I had heard that people got pretty testy about the brand of computer you liked. So I sat there and thought for a minute.
“That depends,” I said, “on what you are trying to do.”
Mr. Rhea looked at me. I would say he raised an eyebrow, but I’m no longer sure.
“That,” he said–obviously referring to my answer, “That is the only right answer.”
I went to work for Rhea & Ivy. Herbert Rhea and Jack Ivy were long gone by then, but the firm was still one of the most reputable in Memphis.
After five years, I moved along; Rhea & Ivy is no more. Many of the people I knew and respected are no longer there. But the legacy lives on.
Go to your rest, Herbert Rhea. Memphis is impoverished by your passing.

An ERP Parable

C.H. Dodd once defined a (Biblical) parable as “a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its application to tease it into active thought.”
That’s what this is. It’s not about religion. It is a parable about ERP Software.
My neighbor is building an addition to his house. He called several builders, a general contractor or two, and finally his brother-in-law. He then (wisely) hired a general contractor with a good bit of gray in his hair to “help him build the addition.”
The contractor showed up and asked my neighbor, “Where are the plans?”
My neighbor pointed to his temple and tapped it. The contractor rolled his eyes.
“Let’s at least sketch out something on this graph paper,” recommended the contractor. So my neighbor got out his pencil and began to sketch.
“You’ll save some money if we design this like so, and move this unit over here,” recommended the contractor.
“Naw,” said my neighbor, “that would ruin the asthetics of the back yard.”
“Ok,” said the contractor, “I’ve got some men lined up to do the work. When do you want to start? I’ll line up the concrete.”
“I think you’d better show me how to use a hammer and a saw,” answered my neighbor.
“Why?” asked the contractor.
“Because I’m going to help build this addition.”
The next few days were spent with the contractor giving lessons on everything from 8, 10 and 16 penny nails to how to use a hand saw without getting “kick back.” Several times, the contractor recommended ways to cut corners, and said that it might be cheaper just to allow his men to do the work. Each time, my neighbor had a reason that the contractor’s suggestion wouldn’t work. Each time, the contractor said quietly, “Ok.”
Two weeks into the construction job, I heard my neighbor screaming in the back yard. I went out to see what was going on. He was looking at a piece of printed paper.
“We haven’t even poured the slab yet, and this is your bill?” he asked the contractor.
“Yep,” said the contractor simply.
“This is outrageous,” said my neighbor. “This is way over budget!”
“Yep,” said the contractor.
“How in the world can you be this far over budget and the construction isn’t even finished yet?” asked my neighbor.
The contractor just looked at him.