The most innovative business strategies won't do much good if a company can't keep its network up and running.
That's one of the lessons contained in an interesting strategy+business article that describes how two CIOs, the National Basketball Association's Michael Gliedman and the International Finance Corp.'s Bill Piatt, became what the article calls "practical visionaries" at their companies.
"Practical visionary" is one of the best descriptions yet for what most companies seem to want from their CIOs: someone who builds on a foundation of solid operational performance to help craft effective business strategies.
Gliedman describes how he spent 18 months getting the NBA's operational house in order before tackling more strategic initiatives such as the league's highly popular Web site and a business intelligence effort designed to yield actionable data about the NBA's fan base. He says:
There's no way anybody in the business is going to take you seriously if it's taking your guys 20 minutes to answer the help-desk phone.
Yet CIOs shouldn't expect the business to automatically appreciate -- or even notice -- what it takes to supply tech services. The article stresses the importance of the CIO possessing the kind of communications skills that will help him or her interact with finance, marketing and other business divisions. I've written about the importance of business-oriented communication skills, as well.
Piatt's sharp focus on governance helps IT play a key role in business strategy at the IFC. One of the most important rules: No major business project can receive final approval without the central IT function's direct involvement in the planning process. Says Piatt:
We participated actively in the discussions about what the business is trying to accomplish to ensure that the IT implications in their planning would be considered, allowing my team and me to engage at the strategic business level. This also allowed us to identify consistent themes across multiple lines of business, so that we could weave them together into our own planning.
The IFC's experiences are exactly what Robert Stroud, international VP of the IT Governance Institute, was talking about in my interview with him earlier this year. Stroud says:
IT without governance is reactive, unable to plan, acquire or develop the correct skills or understand priorities. For instance, without a structured process, all projects are number-one priorities. With budgets being flat or minimally increasing, it is difficult to know where to focus. IT governance processes allow IT to understand and manage IT-enabled business change.