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1/13/2005
01:50 PM
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IT Professionals Must Be Business Brokers

Aren't you amazed when very smart people sometimes say really stupid things? Maybe they were misguided or misinformed or just having a bad day. Maybe they wanted to make headlines and fuel personal ambition. And maybe, just maybe, they absorbed all the correct data, knew all of the issues, and just still got it wrong.

You know them as well as I do, but here's some of the all-time classics:

"I think there's a world market for maybe five computers." --Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

"There's no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." --Ken Olson, president, chairman, and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

"IT doesn't matter." --Nicholas Carr, June 2003

I know that last one really got a lot of people riled up and, deservingly so, has gone the way of the Edsel. Carr's and the other comments were spoken by very bright people, and we sometimes like to think that really smart people just might actually be ... correct. Thankfully, a lot of other smart people ignored these comments and pursued further innovation.

But recently, another quote was shared with me that brought the same myriad feelings that Carr's comment did: First laughter, then intrigue, then angst, bringing on a state of confusion, and then downright anger, frustration, and a few heart palpitations. But it went a step further, ending in the worst emotion possible: fear. For this comment crystallizes and tests the fundamental issues all of us are battling in today's corporate environment: relevance and respect.

The quote from John Gantz, head of research at IDC, was made at the most recent Raymond James Conference. Gantz stated, "IT has become too important to be left up to IT people. IT today is driven by line-of-business executives."

Now I know that you know that this isn't true. In fact, I would even agree with Gantz's quote if he only stated the first sentence.

IT has become essential to the fundamental DNA of any successful company, and without the proper application of IT, a company is most likely doomed or, at the very least, will be left picking up the scraps. If today's IT professionals don't evolve into business-technology professionals, understanding the overall business issues, then IT, in the traditional sense, is not only irrelevant but will become extinct. Ralph Szygenda, CIO and VP at General Motors, in "The CIO: From Caretaker To IT Broker" (December 2004), calls this new role "innovative business IT broker," where the job of the CIO and IT organization is to broker IT capability to drive business change.

But when Gantz adds that second sentence, my head just spins. For sure there are some companies that might operate in this manner. And I'm not knocking on the importance that line-of-business executives play in an organization. But experience shows that companies that maximize their IT investments best are the ones that break down barriers and collaborate. Don't take my word on it. Dan Phillips, Wal-Mart's VP of operations, says that "the fun part about working with Wal-Mart [Information Systems Division] is we're treated as business enablers, not computer nerds." (Wal-Mart was recently named InformationWeek's "Team of the Year," Dec. 13.)

We have come way too far to have one comment slow us down. IT's role has never been more important to the success of a company. But if we decide to stay on the sidelines and continue to just rely on technical expertise, we'll ultimately prove Gantz correct.

What do you think? Is IT just serving the business master or is it part of the game? Also, please share some of your favorite inaccurate quotes with me. The reader who sends me the one I like the most will get a complimentary pass to InformationWeek's Spring Conference from April 10-13 at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Fla.

Michael Friedenberg
VP and publisher (mfrieden@cmp.com)


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit the Talk Shop.

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