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7/8/2010
12:45 PM
John McGreavy
John McGreavy
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Secret CIO: Deliver Strategic IT ... And My iPhone On Monday

Did our CEO conclude that the iPhone can help our company deliver more shareholder value--and did I miss the memo?

I've just about had it with the iPhone, and not because of a reliability or usability issue. No, the issue I'm referring to is the fact that supporting Apple's consumer phone is the new corporate test for CIOs, administered by their bosses.

"John, thanks for the quarterly update on our strategic, business-driving IT projects and plans," my boss and the company's CEO, Sam, said to me during a recent review. "Now, I realize that our corporate standard is RIM's BlackBerry, but I want an iPhone by Monday. Can you do that for me, John? Consider me a test pilot."

It's not that I don't have time for this. Well, actually, that is part of the issue. I don't have time for this. This is a test, and I'm not the only CIO recipient of this test. I've heard the same from peers. Why do we need to be tested on our ability to quickly implement nonstandard technology for use by our most important user, with virtually no in-house technical support available?

Maybe everyone is a bit of a gearhead deep down, and our CEO is no exception. Maybe he wants to impress his kids. Maybe he thinks the iPhone will solve some business problem I'm not aware of. "Sam, are you having any problems with your BlackBerry?" I asked him. "No, the BlackBerry is great--no problems at all," came his reply. "I'll be in late in the morning on Monday. I can pick up the iPhone then."

I know what will happen if I agree to this request. The device won't do everything Sam would like it to do, and I will have to tap the best iPhone user in our IT organization, whoever that may be, for support. With my luck, that user will be someone like Al, who's not particularly comfortable discussing technology with the top exec in our company. This situation could become embarrassing.

I can hear Al now: "Gee, I don't know why John doesn't approve these, Mr. Sam. This is the best device ever invented. Ever. It never breaks, and it's a breeze to support."

But what choice do I have? Pushing back would be tantamount to joining the "resistant to change" crowd I frequently complain about. Maybe I am indeed the problem. Should I be looking in the mirror for the answer? Have I grown cynical, too focused on delivering IT-enabled change that's reliable, consistent, and cost-effective?

I happen to believe there's a time and place and priority for new technology. We look for technologies that deliver tangible additions to shareholder value--lower costs, higher revenues, increased customer satisfaction. Did our CEO already come to this conclusion about the iPhone, and did I miss the memo? I have no problem with trialing new options. In fact, it's a critical (and fun) part of my job. But I might choose someone other than my boss and the company CEO to be our test case, especially if we have security questions about a new device.

Don't get me wrong: I love Apple's products and technologies. But I'm not sure Apple really "gets" enterprise IT. In fact, InformationWeek editor Chris Murphy recently suggested that Steve Jobs hates enterprise IT. That sentiment's a bit strong, but a general feeling of apprehension may be mutual among enterprise IT organizations.

The author, the real-life CIO of a billion-dollar-plus company, shares his experiences under the pseudonym John McGreavy. Got a story of your own to share? Contact jmcgreavy@techweb.com. (Editor's Note: This ongoing series of Secret CIO columns is unrelated to an earlier series featuring Herbert W. Lovelace. You can access those archives at informationweek.com/secret-cio/lovelace.)

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