IT leadership is not just for CIOs anymore

    October 25, 2004

We live in interesting times. Not so long ago, we IT practitioners may as well have dressed in capes and pointy hats with stars and moons on them. What we did was a mystery to the rest of the company and had a whiff of magic. Then like a magic trick gone bad, there was a huge puff of smoke on Wall Street and voila! We were standing in our underwear for all the world to see.

Somewhere in all of that, most companies acquired chief information officers or vice presidents of IT who were charged to make IT work for the business. That brought on a period of almost parental supervision with business cases wrapped around every IT project like a 9:00 curfew and cost effectiveness shadowing every IT shop like your Aunt Gladys keeping order at school dances. What makes for interesting times is the frequency with which the guy in the tattered moon and stars cape and Aunt Gladys seem to be wrestling for control of IT.

No CIO with any sense is going to get between those two without some help. Part of the hue and cry around strategic IT is just an attempt to get that help before climbing into the ring as referee. Whether IT is strategic or just really, really important to operations is not as interesting as the impact IT has on businesses every day. You’ve heard it. I’ve heard it. Part of the reason the returning economy hasn’t been matched by returning jobs is increasing productivity, built on technology foundations. That only makes Tattered Cape Guy and Aunt Gladys more obsessed with gaining the upper hand.

CIOs have to send Cape Guy and Aunt Gladys to their respective corners, or even better yet, get them working together to a common end. To achieve that end, the CIOs of the world will have to follow their IT into business and recruit the assistance of everyone they find at the point of impact. For their part, other executives have to be willing to get more involved in technology decisions, committing sufficient attention and understanding to ensure desirable outcomes for technology efforts.

Whether it’s strategic or operational, technology has too much financial, business process, and cultural impact to be left to a single executive. CIOs have to lead, but the rest of the executive team can’t just stand by and watch.

We’ve seen significant recent investments in teaching IT the ways of Business. That was a necessary beginning, but that’s all it was, just a beginning. It laid the foundation, the language for an on-going discussion at all levels of the organization. Another necessary step is for the various parts of the business to take more ownership of the impacts technology will have on their work. That means getting smarter about the technology, but also sharing more broadly the deep smarts that each of us has about how we work.

Those conversations can’t be all Cape Guy or Aunt Gladys. All leaders, not just the CIO have to get better at pulling Cape Guy into business value discussions and Aunt Gladys into the technology capability and constraints conversations. Leadership will have to establish the climate that expects a little less moon and stars from Cape Guy and a little more imagination and flexibility from Aunt Gladys. Then and only then will technology begin achieving it’s full potential.

Byron Glick is a principal at Prairie
Star Consulting,
specializing in the organizational impacts of technology. Prairie Star
Consulting is on
the web at”

This column was previously published on the Wisconsin Technology Network. (”