Stop The Presses! IT Is Strategic

And if the <i>Wall Street Journal</i> says it's so, then it must be true. Meanwhile, the CIO takes on the role of "unusual savior."

John Soat, Contributor

December 4, 2007

3 Min Read

And if the Wall Street Journal says it's so, then it must be true. Meanwhile, the CIO takes on the role of "unusual savior."Sorry, I don't mean to be inordinately cynical about my brethren in the mainstream business media, but the Wall Street Journal has a tendency to be more than a few years behind the curve when it comes to covering information technology. That wasn't always the case, but it certainly seems to be true now.

A few weeks ago, the WSJ featured an interview with the CIO of General Motors, Ralph Szygenda, that described the role of the CIO in terms that were insightful and relevant ... if you were reading it in 1996, as my colleague Bob Evans pointed out in a blog.

On Tuesday, the Journal featured a story with this headline: "The IT Factor: Tech Staff's Bigger Role," and this subhead: "Increased Input Helps Products Debut Faster, Deals Become Successful." (You can find the article here, but you'll need a subscription to the online service to read the whole thing; it was on page B4 of Tuesday's newspaper.)

The story is based on interesting, if somewhat predictable, results from a research survey by Diamond Management and Technology Consultants of Chicago. The most pertinent survey result is this: "83 percent of business and technology executives predict IT will either increase competitive ferocity, enable new market entrants, or both." I wonder about that use of the future tense: Haven't most of these companies found that to be the case yet? And what about the 17% of respondents who don't agree with that statement? If your competitors are among those 17%, guess what? You win!

A more controversial result is this: "A mere third of CEOs champion technology and include CIOs in strategic planning." Diamond says its survey is based on interviews with "456 C-level business and technology executives at large companies." InformationWeek recently completed its "CIO Effectiveness Survey 2007" and it is based on interviews with 724 execs -- CIOs, CEOs, CFOs, COOs, as well as IT managers and staff and line-of-business managers -- and reached a very different conclusion: 67% say their CIO is a member of their company's executive council and 72% say their CIO is actively involved in, or consulted on, significant corporate decisions.

My intent is not to start a "my survey is better than yours" argument. It's to point out that the Wall Street Journal is treating Diamond's survey results, and the most superficial conclusions that can be drawn from them, as if this was new news. For example, there's this breathless statement in the Journal's story: "For those companies that work closely with IT, one result can be more revenue."

Oh, you mean companies like Wal-Mart, FedEx, and Procter & Gamble, right?

As for the bit about a CIO being an "unusual savior," that has to do with an anecdote about Laboratory Corp. of America's need to accommodate a difficult request from a potential partner, and the IT challenge it presented. The writer said this: "So LabCorp turned to an unusual savior: its chief information officer."

Is the word "unusual" used here because CIOs aren't generally thought of as corporate saviors, even though they very often accommodate challenging requests with alacrity and aplomb, just like every other trusted, high-level executive in most organizations? Or is it because it would be unusual for a CIO to succeed in accommodating a difficult request, given that most CIOs fail miserably at their jobs?

While the first explanation is most likely the reason the writer used the word "unusual," the second is probably closer in spirit to what the writer was actually trying to get at. Both explanations are patronizing, condescending, and just plain wrong.

Here's hoping the Wall Street Journal can find its way back to 2007, in terms of business technology coverage and its take on CIOs.

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