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Secret CIO: A Simple Scoring System For Complex Times

Our IT group scores its accomplishments (or lack thereof) according to three simple numbers: -1, 0, and +1. That's it. Here's how it works.
Don't Be Perfect

The -1s are a bit like getting traffic tickets: Eventually, they get erased from your record. As time goes by, over the course of, say, a couple of months, a -1 slowly becomes a 0 and fades into the background. The best outcome, of course, would seem to be to incur no -1s at all, but I believe that if a CIO has no -1s, he or she is spending too much money on something. Every aspect of IT is a balance between dollars spent and results received. If no one is complaining somewhere down the line, you're giving them more than they practically need. I'm sure this rule isn't universal, and I hope it doesn't apply to certain healthcare and airline applications, but in most companies it just does.

We have had very few +1s in the past 18 months as we kept our heads down during a rough recession. Any we have had are more like 0.5s. We cut back, we saved money, we preserved our financial health as a company. During this time, we completed three major system conversions, with unbelievable dedication and hard work from a team of IT and business people who had their salaries frozen and bonuses cut. Generally, however, these qualify for a solid 0.

Time For Wow

No question, +1s are what it's all about. They're why most of us got into the IT profession in the first place--to create new capabilities that wow the organization, that everyone talks about and brags to their peers about. The competition envies these solutions. Vendors want to highlight them in white papers.

We recently launched a customer collaboration Web site, which allows secured access to important technical information specific to each customer's unique needs. Combined with a consultative selling approach, we're now providing value our competitors don't match. Our company is proud of this differentiator, and I hear about it in casual conversations. Definitely a +1.

+1s engage our people in ways they may not have thought possible. Often these changes are the beginning of a new future for some part of our business. Our internal implementation of GPS tracking of key mobile assets has helped us improve the utilization of those assets--and we're now considering selling this to our customers as a service.

Keeping Pace With Change

But we can digest only so many 1s. In fact, some IT solutions that should be 1s end up as 0s, because we can't absorb the pace of change, so we slow or dilute the initiative. But this is clearly where my colleagues and I prefer to spend our time.

Most IT organizations either a) need fixing, because things aren't working; b) are doing OK because nothing's on fire; or c) are enabling competitive advantage by boosting revenue, cost savings, customer satisfaction, and overall business value.

With the economy finally showing signs of life, it's time to get back to scoring more +1s and delivering on c).

The key to keeping the +1s flowing is staying connected with our business strategies. +1 initiatives reverberate throughout our management team--even Vic can recognize a strategic IT lever when he sees one. But equally important is to minimize the -1s, which undermine our IT organization's credibility and shake management's confidence in our ability to execute on +1 ideas.

The author, the real-life CIO of a billion-dollar-plus company, shares his experiences anonymously to protect the innocent. Got a Secret CIO story of your own to share? Contact [email protected].

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