Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
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1/4/2013
01:50 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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How IT Can Keep Its Strategic Role In 2013

A columnist says this is the year IT may lose its seat at the strategy table. A focus on the end customer is key to avoiding that outcome.

Galen Gruman at InfoWorld is offering a dire warning: 2013 is the year IT may lose its "seat at the table" in helping set business strategy. Gruman's warning is worth a read, but he ignores the most important remedy: an IT focus on a company's end customers.

Gruman is downright gloomy in asserting that IT organizations have failed to become a strategic asset:

"IT didn't fundamentally change in the last decade -- and has largely lost its chance to claim its spot at the strategic executives' table. Sadly, despite all the talk about being strategic, IT's focus in most companies has remained on core transactional and financial systems, and where its role has broadened has been in security enforcement, not enablement."

He cites as evidence IT's resistance to trends such as consumer-friendly smartphones, tablets and cloud services:

"IT organizations largely resisted, first claiming doom-and-gloom scenarios, then raising security objections [that] didn't even apply to the desktop. The pace of consumerization only accelerated, as it became clear that IT's claims were of the Chicken Little or Boy Who Cried Wolf variety -- not Cassandra's warning of the Trojan Horse."

Gruman's right that IT whiffed on the mobile revolution, too often reacting instead of leading. In a recent column on 6 Ways IT Still Fails The Business, I included mobility high on my list. But BYOD policies aren't the difference-maker between relevant and irrelevant IT organizations today. The difference comes from whether IT is helping the company provide services that are highly relevant to its end customers.

Gruman also rightly points out that IT too often uses security as a reason to say no. But he doesn't put much emphasis on the flip-side opportunity: IT's deep knowledge of transactional systems is one of the essential assets it must exploit to provide new, tech-powered services to customers.

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Consider what Sears is contemplating. It's now analyzing petabytes of customer data and trying to provide real-time offers via smartphones to shoppers while they're in its stores. Sears can't do that data analysis and marketing without a deep understanding of its transactional systems -- such as knowing what's in stock in a store so that it's not promoting a treadmill that's sold out.

Look at UPS's new My Choice service, which lets customers reroute a package that's already out on the road in a driver's truck. CIO Dave Barnes describes the service as easy to imagine but hard to engineer. UPS's customer database, its package-routing technology, its Web interface and its billing systems all had to be modified or accessed in a new way to deliver the new service.

Look at the CUNA Mutual Group smartphone app that lets people apply for a car loan while they're standing on a dealer's lot. Building that app took a couple of IT pros, working with the business manager of that process, who understood the loan documentation and compliance process and related (cloud-based) software.

IT leaders should heed Gruman's stark warning that IT isn't guaranteed a place in strategic discussions simply by the fact that technology is becoming more essential to the company. But to be relevant, IT pros at every level must spend 2013 improving their understanding of the needs of the company's ultimate customer.

For more, see: A Proposal For IT: Set Just One Goal For 2013.

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ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
1/9/2013 | 3:27:22 PM
re: How IT Can Keep Its Strategic Role In 2013
Lots of great points, Terry. Looking at competitors and other industries can be hard to make time for but it can be a great way to provide that proactive piece you mention -- looking outward and being the expert who brings in new ideas others haven't spotted.
Terry Bennett
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Terry Bennett,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/9/2013 | 2:40:08 PM
re: How IT Can Keep Its Strategic Role In 2013
It seems that the issue here is IT's focus. Infrastructure & security are extremely important Without sufficient security, for example, the very existence of the company can be put at risk. That said, in far too many companies, IT has a naysayer reputation. We need to overcome this by finding a way to get the job done while still taking security and operational efficiency into account.

We in IT should understand & enable the business. We need to become more proactive than reactive. We need to constantly be looking for how to improve business results through both processes and technology. We have to regularly explore how our competitors - and those in other industries - are improving their business and bring that information back to the table while speaking in language that others easily understand. We need to create an environment in which our staff displays increasingly more creativity and innovation.

Do you think the relevance or contribution of IT would be questioned in companies where IT does this?
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
1/8/2013 | 2:41:37 PM
re: How IT Can Keep Its Strategic Role In 2013
Your focus on application development is a good one. If companies are going to use technology as part of their effort to get closer to their customers, guess what they're going to need? Great software fine-tuned to their business needs. Did you see NY Times just reported Disney is doing a major effort to embed tech as part of the theme park experience? That's going to require creative app developers who understand the Disney brand and business goals, and can write software that performs at a level that meets Disney's high standards.
TechYogJosh
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TechYogJosh,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/8/2013 | 7:11:59 AM
re: How IT Can Keep Its Strategic Role In 2013
The problem is definition of IT. Authors are conveniently assuming IT to be "infrastructure and security" manager. We should not forget application developers who create all cool applications, are also IT. When ill informed analysts talk about "corporate IT" or "enterprise IT" or "business users are increasing their say in IT", they have no clue about either corporate IT or what a business-user is. IT's role if seen as a gatekeeper is surely under stress, however, the same IT does all kind of application development as well. The need is to become more agile, which as the author rightly said, IT has failed to do. How can IT become more responsive, certainly not by being a "yes" department of every random business request. IT needs to start better billing and charge-backs. As businesses, with all their tall talks, balk when they have to pay for the service IT is rendering. So IT becomes a convenient whipping boy that should silently provide service without raising voice or concern. Anyone heard of indentured labor?
lgarey@techweb.com
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lgarey@techweb.com,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2013 | 7:39:43 PM
re: How IT Can Keep Its Strategic Role In 2013
There's a lot of grousing about security teams being Mr. No, yet our Outlook 2013 survey shows "improve information security" as the No. 1 to-do list item - for 55%. Everyone thinks security is a killjoy, until someone leaves an iPhone with the customer list in the bar at a conference.
Lorna Garey, InformationWeek
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