Less talk, more action

When it comes to IT, actions speak much louder than words...

Mark Samuels

The Doctor's Surgery: Dr Mark Samuels, editor at advisory organisation CIO Connect, examines the future role of the IT leader in his monthly column.

JLT group CIO Ian Cohen pointed to a Harvard Business Review Blog Network posting via Twitter recently, which suggested IT leaders need to start doing things differently. The first piece of advice in the HBR posting is as follows: "Don't talk IT. Talk business."

Cohen's response to the piece on Twitter was concise: "Wow! Never though of that." His summary, as well as demonstrating a good sense of acerbic wit, is spot on any technology chief who isn't already thinking in business terms is probably doing the wrong job. No senior executive contributes to a wider organisation if they only think in tightly defined, departmental terms.

Get a series of non-IT leaders in a room and they confirm the democratisation of technology purchasing means the business can finally start buying the technology it needs, rather than what CIOs think users require.

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The sentiment became pertinent during a briefing with Tibco senior executives at the firm's recent Transform user conference in London, where the spectre of marketing chiefs taking responsibility for IT was considered. Murray Rode, COO and CFO of Tibco, suggested increased CMO power means technology spending is now targeted, more than ever before, at business outcomes.

Yikes, that analysis sounds like a pretty bad comment on the abilities of CIOs. Ian Cohen might have been talking in terms the business can understand, but what have other IT chiefs been doing for the past decade-or-so? Simply buying software, systems and services, and hoping that somewhere down the line line-of-business professional find a use for the kit?

That is a difficult question to answer. But get a series of non-IT leaders in a room and they confirm the democratisation of technology purchasing means the business can finally start buying the technology it needs, rather than what CIOs think users require.

Rode confirms that departmental bosses are, indeed, angling for on-demand solutions: "There's more line-of-business executives buying directly via software-as-a-service," he says. So, where does that leave the senior technology executive? Rode says there is no need for huge concern yet.

"The CIO is still really important in regards to the purchasing strategy. But responsibility for buying technology is broadening out," he says. CIOs must recognise that such decentralisation of power means the time for talk is over.

More than simply considering the needs of the business, CIOs need to concentrate on governance that allows departmental executives to purchase technology resources for wider strategic objectives, such as growth and profit. In short, don't talk IT. Full stop.

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