There are two types of business technology organizations: those whose main mission is to create and pursue opportunities, and those preoccupied with putting out fires and solving problems. Opportunities are the stuff of growth and success: more revenue, fatter profits, happier customers. Problem solving is more about upkeep and survival: system maintenance, software patches, security plugs.
All are critical responsibilities, of course, so it's a question of emphasis. What do you want your business technology organization to be known for: its five 9s of availability and spot-on remediation, or its bold innovations and ability to create shareholder value? Channeling Peter Drucker, a Wall Street Journal column recently observed: "When you solve problems, you end up feeding your failures, starving your strengths, and achieving costly mediocrity." Do you see any of your organization in that statement?
Prior to our InformationWeek 500 Conference, I sent a note to registered attendees, many of them CIOs and all of them IT leaders, asking them to list their top three or four challenges. Their responses were a mix of problems and opportunities. At the risk of sounding like a management consultant, I think many of their problems are opportunities--if CIOs and their lieutenants come at them in a different way.
Consider some of the examples from our conference attendees:
Problem: How do I get our iPhone-toting employees and my iPad-loving boss off my back? How do I make sure that they're not exposing sensitive company data and communications?
Opportunity: How can we make employees more productive--and perhaps cut costs in the process--by letting them use the tools they're most comfortable with? How do we embrace mobile applications to wow customers and make more money for our company?
Problem: How do we stop other departments from buying and implementing software, storage, compute, and other cloud services without the IT organization's expert input and assistance?
Opportunity: Where in our company might cloud services trump conventional software or systems, for reasons of functionality, cost, usability, ease of upgrades, and/or speed to market? How do we partner with other business departments to evaluate cloud services?
Problem: How do I keep our employees from running amok on Twitter, Facebook, and other public and private sites? How do we react to and manage negative comments about our company?
Opportunity: How can our company listen in on social media conversations to better serve customers and attract potential customers?
Problem: How do we tame (or slow) the growth and duplication of data at our company?
Opportunity: How do we turn our mountains of data into actionable insight, in order to make more-informed decisions in real time as well as anticipate customer and partner needs?
Problem: How do we lock down our systems to lower the risk of attack and data leakage?
Opportunity: How do we protect our most important information assets without making it difficult for employees to do their jobs and for customers to do business with us? How do we build an internal culture of information security awareness? How do we build a reputation for handling customer data with the utmost care and sensitivity?
Problem: How do we squeeze our IT operations budget and carve out the time to do more innovative work with fewer resources?
Opportunity: How do we align the hearts and minds of our IT pros with the mission of our business and the needs and aspirations of our customers? How do we go on the offensive--in the words of our magazine cover story, become innovators and rule breakers--rather than react and defend?