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Business-Technologist Visions: Divine And Construct Competitive Value

Here's how to reignite sustainable growth: Get the world's CEOs and operational executives to connect the goals and assets of their companies with the role of IT, says Scott Dinsdale of the Motion Picture Association.

In searching for an end to the industry's malaise, InformationWeek editor-in-chief Bob Evans recently asked, "Will a rising tide in 2003 lift all IT boats?" Bob noted that Alan Greenspan believes half of U.S. businesses have yet to invest in "the latest productivity-enhancing technology," suggesting that fresher economic winds may stimulate latent demand. While I'm sure Mr. Greenspan will be relieved to know that I agree with his assessment of a widening gap in the application of business technology, recall that the sector's fall predates the current economic malaise. A sustained uptick, while helpful, will likely have modest lifting power across the industry.

At the risk of alienating my Silicon Valley friends, it's also unlikely that innovation, per se, holds the answer. While invention is fundamental, its unpredictable nature makes for an unstable platform for sustainable growth. At best, the next enabling technology or killer app can only offer a temporary fix. Pundits, looking for another explanation, have recently started suggesting that the sector has matured. Fair enough, if this description is meant to suggest that ludicrous valuations are a thing of the past. But for the sector to have reached a state of maturity implies that we're nearing the top of an effectiveness curve, a point where we've discovered the lion's share of the linkages between IT and competitive business value. Not even the most optimistic tech pundit could keep a straight face defending such a claim. Rather, the sector's unfulfilled potential is more likely a result of the inability of the majority of the world's CEOs and operational executives to connect the goals and assets of their enterprise with the role of IT.

Sustainable growth can be reignited if this critical chasm can be crossed. To accomplish this will require technology leaders across the board to become much more adept at creating meaningful frameworks in the minds of their nontechnology colleagues that make clear the potential and value of business technology. Technology executives who have nurtured their ability to create such compelling imagery, people such as Rob Carter of FedEx and Randy Mott of Dell, separate themselves from the pack by creating a mutually understandable conversational framework upon which they can divine and construct competitive value, day in and day out.

Try this exercise: Envision your enterprise as a living, sensing, adapting organism, rather than the sum of constituent functional components. Imagine financial, physical, and human capital as the tissue, muscle, and lifeblood of your enterprise. Now imagine business technology as the neurological framework of your enterprise, continually sensing the status of your customers, your prospects, your suppliers, your competitors, and so on, and then reacting and adapting, whether in an automated fashion or requiring some higher form of decision making. If you find this imagery useful, develop and share your thoughts with your nontechnical colleagues. Whether you decide to dig deeper into defining the neurology of your organization or employ a metaphor of your own choosing, keep in mind that the point isn't to merely better your understanding, but rather to create a common language that generates value through bridging the tech/nontech communication gap. This, in turn, just might open a wallet or two.

Scott Dinsdale is executive VP of Digital Strategy at the Motion Picture Association.

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Do tech stars like Michael Dell, Steve Ballmer, and Carly Fiorina see the future clearly? Check out what our complete panel of 32 visionaries have to say here.

Columns By Other Business Technology Leaders

Andrea Anania, executive VP and CIO at Cigna Corp. Dave Bent, CIO and VP at Acterna LLC
Scott Dinsdale, executive VP of Digital Strategy at the Motion Picture Association David Guzmán, senior VP and CIO of Owens & Minor
John Halamka, senior VP of I.S. at CareGroup Healthcare System Randy Mott, senior VP and CIO at Dell Computer
Ralph Syzgenda, group VP and CIO at General Motors Pedro Villalba, senior VP of I.T. and chief technology officer at HIP Health Plan of New York
Janet Wejman, senior VP and CIO of Continental Airlines

Is the author right? Or out in left field? Have your say on this column and the rest of our Future Visions package at

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