When Lou Gerstner was appointed to head IBM and turn the then unsteady behemoth around, he was clear that he was not big on the"vision thing". It was an admission that stunned analysts, competitors and not a few clients.
Turns out he was right. The vision thing may get headlines but it is the doing thing that delivers results.
Chief information officers have always understood this. They know that the hard yards come after an IT project has the stamp of approval from the board. It's then that technical skill, good communications, discipline, continual measurement, attention to detail and dogged perseverance are called for.
It helps boost new projects along if your base information system's infrastructure is up to scratch. It helps if your team understands what the business is trying to achieve. It is good to have seasoned project managers on the job who can recognise early any signs of the project faltering. But there is nothing that will replace perseverance, hard work and commitment.
Just days before the announcement of the spectacular fraud at communications giant WorldCom - which, let's face it, had the vision thing in spades - a book was published that explores the business of execution. Written by Honeywell chairman Larry Bossidy and management consultant Ram Charan, Execution: the discipline of getting things done notes that:"Everybody talks about change. In recent years, a small industry of changemeisters has preached revolution, reinvention, quantum change, breakthrough thinking, audacious goals, learning organisations, and the like. We're not necessarily debunking this stuff. But unless you translate big thoughts into concrete steps for action, they're pointless.
"Without execution, the breakthrough thinking breaks down, learning adds no value, people don't meet their stretch goals, and the revolution stops dead in its tracks," the book continues."What you get is change for the worse, because failure drains the energy from your organisation. Repeated failure destroys it."
For many organisations, the key agent of change has been their information systems. Yet no matter how elegant the change chart on the wall, unless you can execute, the blueprint is worthless.
Julian Wee, CIO of IBM in Australia, says that execution for most CIOs goes well beyond delivering a completed computer system."One definition would be the successful delivery of a business solution in line with business strategy and priorities," he says."In a typical environment with elements of outsourcing, matrix management, supply/demand models, the challenge can be less about technical implementation than with ensuring appropriate business procedures and information re-engineering are executed as well."
What Wee has noted is that it is not enough any more to overlay a smart technical solution and call the vision activated. CIOs need to ensure that the underlying business processes mesh, that the end users accept the changes, and that the changes comply with the overall business strategy. Wee admits that it is not easy and jokes that the only sure-fire way to successful execution is to buy a lottery ticket.
At PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), chief operating officer Leigh Minehan who has oversight of the information systems, agrees with Wee that it is important when considering execution to ensure that it takes place across both the matrix of the organisation where the information systems are harnessed and in supporting infrastructure."We are getting better at execution. We have now stabilised our core systems to a large extent, and where there are new systems going in they seem to be smaller front ends," Minehan says.
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