The Return of Unique IT

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Like many journalists, I was trained to write in an "inverted pyramid" style -- that is, put the most essential information first and then add all of the other stuff in order of importance, with the most superfluous junk at the end.


The problem with this style is that ranking information in this way is pretty subjective. I was reminded of this when reading this vnunet.com story about a new Gartner survey.


The writer led with what a Gartner analyst calls "some intriguing CIO hiring trends" -- the primary one being that a technology background just isn't going to cut the mustard. Companies are more interested in broader business experience, such as managing a non-IT business unit, the analyst says.


Yawn. Forgive me if I don't find this all that "intriguing." I'd put it squarely under the "Tell me something I didn't already know" category.


In a blog from April, I highlighted a CIO Insight survey in which respondents predicted that aspects of their jobs related to business growth would become more important, while those related to operational acumen would become less so. Just 8 percent of respondents said technical smarts was important to their success as a CIO, vs. 40 percent that tapped business understanding. Strategic thinking also got a vote of 40 percent.


As I blogged in November, a Gartner analyst advised attendees of a symposium in Sydney to downplay the IT aspects of their job. Gartner Fellow Andy Kyte, said:

When asked what you do for a living, do not say 'IT'; instead say 'I'm in retail banking and I'm responsible for IT'. None of us are in the business of IT. We are in transportation, manufacturing, government; you are all simply in business.

So yeah, I think everybody gets it. A CIO is a business executive, not a technology executive. What did intrigue me in the vnunet.com story was a reference to the importance of developing custom applications to drive new business. As Gartner Fellow Ken McGee says:

Executive expectations for IT will accelerate towards greater support for solutions that attract, engage and retain customers. Delivering on these expectations requires IT to create distinctive solutions that make the enterprise stand out. IT cannot accomplish this goal by relying on existing generic technologies which, although they work, do not contribute to a unique customer experience.

This struck a chord with me in light of my blog from last week describing how JPMorgan Chase swapped out its off-the-shelf Siebel CRM software for an internally-developed solution that certainly sounds "distinctive."


Though conventional wisdom has been that innovation comes at the cost of operational efficiency, that doesn't appear to have been the case with Chase. The executive who led the project said Chase gained cost efficiencies, more functionality and added flexibility for the bankers who use the system, and a consistent experience across all of its global units.