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CIOs Take Note: Future Projects Rest On Strong Foundations

In the latest on the ever-shifting IT landscape, Windows 2000 is up, CRM is down--and don't forget those soft skills.

CIOs and other IT leaders have a lot in common with the ancient Greek hero Odysseus, Gartner researcher Christopher Goodhue says. They're caught between a latter-day version of Scylla and Charybdis, as they grapple with corporate requirements to reduce IT costs as well as with the need to demonstrate the business value of IT to key stakeholders: the CEO, the executive team, and maybe even the board of directors.

There's only one way to meet both goals. "Spend the budget wisely--and make it visible," was Goodhue's advice to a group of 100 CIOs and other IT leaders gathered Wednesday for a CXO summit at Advanced Micro Devices Inc. headquarters in Silicon Valley. That means concentrating in the near term on core projects that lay the foundation for business, such as Windows 2000 deployments, which are picking up speed. On the other hand, customer-relationship management and other externally focused projects are becoming secondary or are even being pushed aside, he says.

At least one CIO gives a resounding yes to the observation that such projects are going onto a back burner right now. "Even though they're critical to what people are asking for, there's more focus on the core business and cost reduction," says John E. Kolb, CIO of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "Because of uncertainty, there's a tendency to retreat and regroup."

But IT execs mustn't retreat too far. They've got to develop the so-called "soft skills" considered crucial to leadership--patience, solid judgment, and superb communication--and use those skills to engage the key players on their own terms. They've got to show how the technology projects they want to undertake now will reward their executive colleagues, whether the reward they're seeking is an improved share price or an operational achievement.

Helping those execs meet their goals now will help IT managers achieve their own ends when budgets are flowing more freely again. Goodhue says that by 2005, there will be a return to CRM, strong interest in managing knowledge capital, and decreasing lead time for new IT capabilities.

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