Back in February, Com Bank managing director David Murray certainly caused a brouhaha when he took on Microsoft and - supposedly - IT in general at the World IT Congress in Adelaide. At the time, Murray garnered more than a few headlines (frankly, there wasn't much else that was interesting), and copped a fair share of flak because of his comments about Microsoft's white paper submission to Canberra and IT not delivering on its promise.
You know, I feel bad for David Murray. Not because his remarks are gonna haunt him, as journalists rehash his observations for the next 18 months every time they write a story about business being pissed-off at IT. Not because more than a few observers have "deduced" that Murray was talking about the bank's relationship with EDS. And not because some people said he didn't know what he was talking about.
Nope, I feel bad for Murray because almost no one seemed to understand what he was saying - or why. My guess is that Mr Murray isn't angry with technology because that weenie paper clip won't give him a clear, concise answer on how to consolidate worksheets in Excel. He's probably not even particularly ticked off at some short-term Yank telling his government how to run its business (well, maybe). My bet is that like many an MD, Murray is fed up with putting his signature on six-plus figure cheques to IT vendors and ending up with nothing but grief for it.
And vendors, you have no one to blame but yourselves. You decided to sell to the CEO.
Yesiree, the thinking went like this. First, cut IT out of the loop. Then whisk the CEO off to the golf course, with some big-picture business transformation, curing-all-ills discussion on the back nine. A week or so later there's the strategic meet between "peers" (that is, either the muckity-mucks from head office fly in for lunch at Level 41 or "Plan B" where the mountain goes to Muhammad, and the customer flies to head office on a fact-finding junket). Final scene: CEO signs the contract and gets the Mont Blanc pen.
The problem is that when CEOs spend bucket-loads of cash for something they expect it to work. For example, when Geoff Dixon buys a new 747 from Boeing, he a) doesn't expect to change the way Qantas does business ("Ah, Geoff, unfortunately we forgot to tell you that the purchase of this plane involves some change management regarding your business and from now on, well, exactly how good is Australia's rail system") and b) does expect zero defects ("Ah, Geoff, the plane pretty much works except for a few bugs, but not to worry, we'll send a patch for that engine thing, post haste").
Now, IT people never have and never will believe that IT works seamlessly. After all, they're the ones who have to staff and educate help desks (an interesting thought in itself), deal with vendor support personnel, countenance coveys of consultants and make that damn call to the US or Europe at 3am when all else fails - or when all is failing.
Certainly in this day and age, I'm not advocating that C-suite executives be excluded from strategic IT purchases or the selling process. I'm just saying that "you get who you sell to". And vendors should remember that , on the whole, CEOs get to speak to a lot more important people - and a lot bigger audiences - than most CIOs do.
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