In an episode of the TV drama The West Wing, President Josiah Bartlet uses chess as an analogy for geopolitical strategy. Bartlet, locked in a global game of brinkmanship with the Chinese, observes that in both chess and foreign relations, it's dangerous to focus too narrowly when considering your next move. "You've got to see the whole board,"he tells an aide.
Seeing the whole board is exactly the challenge that CEOs and CIOs face in guiding the use of business technology. In a world of seemingly unlimited technology fads but limited investment capital, it's unwise to rely on consultants to do the thinking for you. After all, they have a vested interest in creating more work for themselves. CEOs and CIOs need to develop their own sense of the future technology needs of the enterprise. And that requires vision that's tempered with discipline, a focus on value and a healthy dose of scepticism.
Here are four ways to achieve IT thought leadership, based on lessons we've learned at Vanguard.
Create a disciplined process for evaluating technology. It's easy for CEOs and CIOs to become so consumed by the day-to-day demands that the future of the business doesn't get the formal attention it deserves. If you truly want answers to the questions Are we using the best processes? and What could we be doing with IT? you must establish a disciplined process to identify and evaluate strategic technology opportunities.
At Vanguard, our disciplined approach to technology has three key elements: 1. Senior managers devote several hours a week to major technology decisions; 2. We have a group of people dedicated exclusively to thinking about strategic technology; and 3. We tap into the perspectives of vendors and clients.
Our technology steering committee - of senior IS and business staff - serves as a high-level focus group with a business-needs perspective. We've learned that you have to invest time to let bold ideas bubble up. When we meet, it takes an hour to get through the business at hand; only then do we get to the what ifs and why nots so important to the company's future.
Our in-house R&D team approaches these what ifs from a different perspective. The group is assigned to assess the potential of technology that's still two to four years away from widespread adoption. Group members scan the environment to identify technology opportunities and then pitch innovative ideas to the business areas. They expect to sell the business on just 20 per cent to 25 per cent of the ideas they pitch.
IT thought leaders must cast a wide net to identify opportunities for innovation. At Vanguard, we seek insights from multiple perspectives. We routinely ask the frontline people who interact with our clients: "What should we be doing differently?"We also solicit ideas from our best IT vendors - who, after all, are themselves in the business of R&D.
The CIO should tap into the knowledge base of vendors. She must be plugged into the IT industry to recommend which vendors can truly be key partners in developing a particular technology. The CIO can then bring those vendors' scientists - not just their salespeople - to the conference table.
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.