One of the most urgent debates in our field today is: how do we ensure that the IT plan is consistent with the company's strategy? We attend conference after conference grappling with just this question. I think this is one of the most important issues that IT faces, and it is at the heart of how IT is accepted within an organisation.
Here's my answer: if you want to make sure IT is consistent with company strategy, you must put the responsibility for portfolio management where it belongs - with the executives who manage the business units. It is not the role of IT to determine which projects should be given IT resources each year. Nor should it be IT's responsibility to justify and develop the ROI on projects. I believe that all of this is the responsibility of those managing the business. It must be the user managers who determine what systems they need to get the job done. In other words, IT is everybody's business.
It really gets down to the question of who is held responsible for the development agenda. At Ace Hardware, no one ever comes to me and asks why IT is not working on their system. Everyone knows that neither I nor my staff make that decision. It's the responsibility of the IT steering committee and the particular officer who represents that particular area. Several years ago, one of our most senior executives indicated that he was expecting IT to complete the last two years of his plan, which included critical supply chain enhancements. I told him that he should work hard to develop the cost justifications before the upcoming meeting of the IT steering committee. Otherwise he might not get the right amount of resources assigned to his projects.
Perhaps, at first reading, my handling of this senior exec sounds obvious. Isn't this the way all IT shops operate? I don't think so. I think that there is a strong tendency for user management and the CEO to give this kind of responsibility to the CIO "because IT is not something I'm comfortable with". CIOs also have a strong tendency to assume the responsibility, either because they don't want to question management or they are convinced they know best about what should be automated.
This issue really gets to the point: What is the role of the CIO? Is the CIO's role to evaluate the company and then develop an automation plan to digitise the company, or is it to be a member of the management team who has technical and strategic input during the process of determining how the company should be digitised? I would argue strongly that it is the latter.
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