Should the CIO Set IT's Priorities?

Susan Hall
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Seven Major Projects CIOs Should Consider During the Next Three Years

I wrote last week about Gartner's predictions for 2011. Among them: that by 2015, CIO pay will be tied to new revenue brought in by IT. ZDNet's Larry Dignan pointed out that this would mean revenue-generating projects would get priority and that wouldn't necessarily be a good thing.

 

In a post on the CIO's role in focusing the company on customers, Paul Ingevaldson at the Center for CIO Leadership advocates for an IT steering committee made up of officers in the company and lead by the CEO to set IT's priorities. In an interview last week, Paul Miano of the job consultancy Harvey Nash told me IT leaders want board-level influence. This could be a step in that direction.

 

The reasons Ingevaldson lays out for the IT steering committee:

  • Officers are the only ones who see the big picture for the whole company and should be the ones to add, delay or delete projects based on resources, budget and plan.
  • The CIO should not have to set priorities, removing the CIO from the politics of rating one officer's project higher than another.
  • As a committee member, the CIO could lend technical expertise and should be prepared to defend any huge infrastructure project.
  • This should lead to better alignment between IT and business, since all the officers are involved.
  • This also should eliminate the "squeaky wheel" approach to project prioritization.

 

One participant from an October conference on making IT a growth driver had this to say about developing influence:

The key is engaging with the business to understand the pain points and get a shared view on the possibilities technology can bring to think about the business differently.


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Dec 8, 2010 3:16 AM David Homrighouse David Homrighouse  says:

The actions to relegate IT's direction completely to a committee may have short-term gains, but long-term will undermine any ability for IT to be a business strategy and go back 20 years and be pure support.  Quite bluntly, while most CEO's have great capacity to lead businesses, they don't have enough to know what IT can do for them.

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Dec 8, 2010 10:32 AM Paul Ingevaldson Paul Ingevaldson  says: in response to David Homrighouse

This is the typical IT reaction.  The committee is composed of all of the officers including the CIO who has a voice in the process.  It does not rely on the CEO only to have IT knowledge.  The CIO must be in a position to indicate what technology can do to help the company.  However, the officers have to reach consensus as to what technologies to use to help the company.  It is not an IT decision.

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Dec 9, 2010 1:58 AM Paul Ingevaldson Paul Ingevaldson  says: in response to David Homrighouse

It would be wrong to think that the CIO is present but hardly has a say.  If so, then they need a new CIO.  The idea of a steering committee allows the company to drive technology right down the middle.  Not too technology based for the sake of technology and not too technology passive where non-ITers make all the decisions. 

It is invalid to think that the CIO alone knows best what is best for the company.  That puts the CIO into a position that is way above his/her pay grade.  Technology is too precious to be left solely in the hands of the CIO.  It is a scarce resource that must be placed in the hands of the leadership.

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Dec 9, 2010 2:18 AM David Homrighouse David Homrighouse  says: in response to Paul Ingevaldson

I guess we technically agree.  To think the CIO knows what's best for the business would be the same as saying the other CXO's know what's best for IT.  After reading the article again, my initial comment was wrong, as I assumed it meant that business completely controls IT and weakening the CIO's position.  I see that it's not what it's saying.  Still, a business does have to be careful to use the steering committee as a means to  drive it to support-only, meaning IT becomes a servant rather than a strategy.  I don't think a business could survive long-term if it did.

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Dec 9, 2010 9:50 AM Paul Ingevaldson Paul Ingevaldson  says: in response to David Homrighouse

I completely agree.  I have the opinion that there is no such thing as an IT strategy, a marketing strategy, a financial strategy, etc.  There are only business strategies that the company selects.  It is then up to each department to develop the tactics to accomplish those strategies. 

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Dec 9, 2010 12:27 PM David Homrighouse David Homrighouse  says: in response to Paul Ingevaldson

While this article is to protect from one extreme, where IT runs themselves separate from the rest of the business, I'm posting about being on the far side of the other extreme, which is having the CIO present but hardly has a say.  I was involved in such a hierarchy once, and never again.  The so-called leaders thought they knew what IT should be doing, and put us about 10 years behind the technology curve.

Now I do agree that board-level influence and a consensus among them will do well, as long as the goal is the health of the business rather than who wins the proverbial peeing contest. 

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