The Return of Unique IT

Ann All

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.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 13, 2008 10:16 AM Abraham Mercado Abraham Mercado  says:
Following the line on your article, I am a Business Administrator specialized on computer technology.Since 1975 I focus the use of computer technology in response to the business needs of the Organizations. Because businesses run different on every organization computerized solutions might need to be different. This matches entirely with the statement "Delivering on these expectations requires IT to create distinctive solutions that make the enterprise stand out." If this is a tendency it will be very healthful and productive for the organizations that adopt it. Reply
Feb 13, 2008 3:20 PM Jed Simms Jed Simms  says:
Innovation does not need to come from 'specialized systems' so much as specific use of existing systems. For example, we've installed SAP into several utilities and each implementation was quite quite different and allowed that utility to run in its unique way.The trick is to know what is critical to YOUR orgnaization's success in the future and design your processes and then systems (in that order) to enable to meet your customers' needs effectively and as planned by you.Forget the claimed "Worlds best practice" what you need is to know your firm's best practice goals and plan to deliver that and you can use most standard software's configuration capabilities to acheive most of itSimple really. Reply
Feb 14, 2008 1:45 PM Charles Lugemwa Charles Lugemwa  says:
I agree with you 100%, we are all business problem analysts trying to use IT to address these problems. IT is a tool we use to bring the business to another level of service. Its wrong then to call IT our proffession.Charles Reply
Feb 15, 2008 12:52 PM Andrew Peterson Andrew Peterson  says:
But what took you and Gartner so long to really understand that strategy and solving business problems are what it has always been about? IT is just another tool in meeting the markets needs and delivering goods and services. If an off-the-self product does what you need, and enables you to be the low cost provider, great, if not then you probably need a customized tool. Unfortunately, I still see too much focus on finding staff that knows the latest tool, with little or no real focus on solving the businesss problems and delivering on the strategic and tactical goals.Look at Google. Sure they have some great technology, but their real focus is on solving the business problem with technology. Business first. They get it and always have. Reply

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