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4/5/2002
02:08 PM
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Business Technology: Madness Or Pertinency?

Early last week, a couple of unusual things crossed my path: On April Fool's Day, I saw a news report saying that a restaurant in Seattle was offering for that day only a new salty-and-sweet dish called Hamburger Ice Cream. Sure enough, the screen soon showed people eating vanilla ice cream with chunks of hamburger integrated seamlessly into the frozen infrastructure. One woman remarked, "It didn't taste like I thought it would," but I changed the channel before I had to hear the other half of that frightening comment.

Almost as surreal was getting to hear on that very same day a lunchtime motivational talk given by Dick Vitale, the college basketball evangelist and self-promoter whom Carrot Top will grow up to be if things work out well for him. On about six different occasions, Vitale--or Coach V. or Dicky V. or, if you're his wife, Richard--told us how unimportant money is, but on about eight other occasions he talked about how he makes a ton of it. He mentioned several times that he doesn't consider himself special, but twice as many times he talked about his limo driver, his Web site, his mansion in Florida, and, most of all, his relentless hobnobbery with the great, the near-great, and the merely grateful. But blended in with his personal infomercial was an unmistakable regard for young people, and it was heartening to hear him describe the ways in which he uses his celebrity to encourage them to work hard in school, avoid self-destructive behavior, set productive goals, and strive to reach them. As King Lear's Fool said while his master raged on the heath during the storm, "Madness and pertinency mixed."

And I had to wonder if maybe, set against this strange brew, a recent report from Forrester Research was also released on April 1, and if perhaps it very intentionally carried with it some of the otherworldliness typified by that day's hamburger ice cream and Coach V. Forrester predicts that companies will shift the focus of their technology projects and strategy from the idea of something called IT to the new concept of business and technology--well, we can't argue with that, since we've been pushing that concept for almost three years. Forrester is floating the name "exT" for this concept, short for "external technology." On that one, I think I gotta quote another April 1 type of guy, Ross Perot: "That dog don't hunt." The point is not external or internal, infrastructure or applications, management or security, hardware or software; the point is, simply, business. As in business technology.

Where King Forrester drops all pretense of pertinency and steps into the madness patch is when it further postulates that the new model will drive technology ownership and procurement away from the CIO and IT department and into the hands of the CFO and business managers. This concept also calls for the IT organization to be disbanded, with its members sprinkled among business units.

Pardon me, but I think we went through this exercise a few years ago as executives who swallowed the "new economy" nonsense bulldozed their way over and through their IT organizations and strategies and claimed control of initiatives and purchases, and in so doing contributed mightily to the glut of unused or useless junk now scattered around so many businesses. At a time when a joint research study by InformationWeek and Morgan Stanley shows that 73% of all companies still face major application-integration obstacles, is it even vaguely reasonable to think that companies will dump those responsibilities on the CFO and business managers?

But bear in mind that it was this very same Forrester that released in January 2000 a report called "The Death of IT." Of course, on page 2 of that report, it backpedaled and said that death will come to those IT organizations that don't evolve to meet newly emerging business requirements--this is insight? (For more, see informationweek.com/814/14uwbe.htm.) Or does somebody maybe have a death wish?

In our April 22 issue, we'll be exploring the issues of governance, the CIO-CEO interplay, the credibility of IT departments, and related matters. Until then, steer clear of hamburger ice cream, guys who refer to themselves as Dicky V. and/or Coach V., and projections of the death of the CIO.


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Bob Evans's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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