Learning Opportunity

By Perry Glasser  |  Posted 03-17-2003 Print Email

Learning Opportunity

Susan Weiner, who covers Web governance strategies for Giga Information Group, suggests that a smart CIO might do well to view the ghost IT subculture at his or her organization as a "learning opportunity" to find out where the IT organization is perceived as falling short. This gives the CIO a chance to "find out what's broken and take back control," she says. Weiner suggests CIOs might ask: What problem is the ghost IT project solving? What barrier is being eliminated by doing it as a rogue project? What organizational processes are in the way of going through normal channels to get it done?

In addition, Gartner's Kitzis says, CIOs should not wait for help to fall into their laps. CIOs facing tough spending decisions should start inviting business input—and finding ways to share decision-making across the company. "There are wise CIOs and there are bumblers," says Kitzis. "The bumblers, the disconnected ones who rarely talk to the business side, are taking the biggest risk of all in this downturn because they are trying to make all the tough trade-offs in a vacuum. They're trying to figure out how to make multiple constituencies happy and stay out of trouble and keep their jobs at the same time. But these people, in the end, will not be successful. Wise CIOs will make business leaders partners in their decisions."

Of course, it can help a lot if the CEO is in your corner—or, even better, if you are the CEO. Yellow Corp. CEO Zollars, for example, is unusual in that he personally attends to IT governance discipline. In his company, IT is a distinct division, a business within a business. There are 10 executives, including himself, on what he calls the "One Yellow Team." The group meets for half a day each week without fail. "That kind of continuity of leadership is needed not just in IT. But for IT, it can be critical," says Zollars. "We avoid handing strategy off to technology. That's dangerous because intentions get misinterpreted."

But even when the CEO is involved in cutting technology costs, it's not easy to negotiate changes in the way IT spending decisions are made. Unisys' Carrow recalls three challenges when he pushed to centralize IT governance at Unisys: "Business unit presidents did not want to see their IT operations gravitate to central control. IT people suddenly learned they had to walk between business units and strategic demands coming from the executive committee that set policies, standardization and processes. Our unique systems in Latin America and Africa had to be shut down and people on the ground had to readjust their work life to standard systems."


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