Business Technology: Pertinent Questions -- Are Your Answers OK?
Bob Evans has some questions for you to consider on such subjects as business-process optimization, supply-chain strategy, patch management, Barry Bonds, customer-data privacy, and publicly funded outsourcing, plus a thought for the people we remember on Memorial Day.
A few questions about your organization:
Who's responsible for stewardship of business processes? If you can't answer that, is your lack of knowledge a problem? And are those stewards supposed to make sure nobody messes with those processes, or are they charged with evaluating, improving, and optimizing them? Does your compensation package have anything in it about business-process improvement and optimization? If not, should it? Does your CEO pay enough attention to building best-of-breed business processes? Do you?
What part of your organization is responsible for supply-chain planning? Given where your company's going, does that answer make sense? Who's in charge of supply-chain execution? Is it the same group? If not, should it be? Supply chains are becoming more strategic in market-leading companies--does your CEO pay enough attention to them? Do you?
You have a nightmare in which evil aliens kidnap you and force you to watch 10 straight hours of television. Because they're mostly but not completely evil, they give a choice of two programs to pick from: network news coverage and analysis of the Michael Jackson trial, or network news coverage of U.S. senators discussing their integrity and courage. Which do you choose?
Although some people still think patch management is about only bicycle tires and little boys' pants, failure to execute it properly has been widely identified as a potentially disastrous security problem. So if the Patch-Management Police swarmed your office tomorrow in a sudden raid, how would your department or division or entire organization fare? When the CEO or CIO or CISO saw the results, would your personal stock go up or down?
Your CEO installs a huge scoreboard outside of his office exclusively to show the percentage of the IT budget you have spent, on an annual basis, on legacy/maintenance stuff in each of the past five years. This scoreboard might or might not have a Jumbotron showing sneak peeks into the offices of various members of your team throughout the day, but in addition to those annual figures for the past several years, it definitely has a real-time counter that shows how much is being spent right here, right now on keeping the lights on versus what's being invested in innovative, customer-centric projects. So how do you feel when you walk past this scoreboard and the latest numbers flash into place: Proud? OK? Wary? Skittish? Or ready to dash desperately to the restroom?
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tracking technology is used in only a tiny slice of the supply chains that carry the stuff companies make to the shelves where we buy it. Despite that narrow application, companies such as Gillette, Levi Strauss, and Wal-Mart are getting data they've never had about where goods get stalled on the way to shoppers.
Salespeople from Oracle and SAP have been camping out in your office for the past few months, trying to sell you a suite of enterprise applications, and at the rate the competitive price-slashing is going, by mid-July their approaching-zero prices will have officially gone into the negative and they will be paying you monthly maintenance fees plus a one-time "perpetual friendship license" of $1,000 per seat. SAP promises to throw in a ski trip in the Austrian Alps for you and 24 of your closest friends, while Oracle offers to take you boating with Larry Ellison and then to a Giants game where you can sit in the Oracle luxury box next to Barry Bonds for dinner and the entire game and then ride around SF with him in a limo. You shake your head and say it's not enough: You tell SAP to let you double it to 50 friends, and you tell Oracle that the deal is dead if Big Barry comes within 500 feet of you. Both sides huff and puff, but eventually give in. So: Whose software do you pick?
Your general counsel comes in and shows you a news story about the latest customer-data security breach, totaling hundreds of thousands of files of confidential customer information now out there on the Internet for the world to see. She asks you, "If this were to happen to us, what's our policy for alerting the customers whose data has been exposed? What are we obligated to do to help them? And what should we do to help them?" What's your answer? And if you were on the customer side, is that an answer you yourself would accept?
On primary day, you go into your polling place and one of the items up for referendum says this: "Should our state outlaw the outsourcing of any work paid for by tax dollars, regardless of whether money will be saved and citizens will be better served?" How do you vote?
Finally, happy Memorial Day, folks. While we all enjoyed this long weekend, we must remember to think of and thank the many brave men and women of the American military who've given their lives so we can contemplate questions like these in peace, safety, and comfort.
To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Bob Evans's forum on the Listening Post.
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