My old CIO at BT, Al-noor Ramji had a most delightful and endearing way of describing just how unimportant and disconnected IT Infrastructure is from reality by describing us as “The toilet cleaner’s toilet cleaners”. Like other successful CIOs Al-noor had the ability to cut through the noise and explain things as they are.
In every business conversations start at the CEO level who is focussed on understanding his customers’ needs and executing on a plan to service them better than the competition. This is where business value is created and strategic visions are formed. It is here that CEOs deploy capital to create business value, revenues and EBIT that eventually translates into shareholder returns. This is the engine room of capitalism and it is here that many businesses win or lose.
The strategy and vision typically filters down, layer by layer in the organisation, through marketing or product management who work out how to combine products and services together to deliver a compelling answer for the customer. It is also here that the first glimmering of an idea for supporting IT Services are formed and it is here that the first washroom attendant is called in, the CIO. Typically the CIO gets a briefing that she needs to deliver some changes to the CRM system and some new workflow for the call centre.
Already the layers of filtration have dulled the vision and strategy formed in the CEO’s office suite.
Usually the first that IT Infrastructure get to hear about this new initiative is when it is a few days away from deployment, too late even to properly introduce it into service properly. The washroom attendant’s washroom attendant is used in a purely reactive way, responding in real time to seemingly disconnected and random acts of violence to the IT estate.
We can all recognise this behaviour, repeated time and again in the largest enterprises and always leading to a sub optimal outcome. As consumers, we have also experienced business initiatives that have the CIO and IT Infrastructure fully integrated into the initial conversations that have enabled a competition crushing solution to be deployed. Google has wiped out the 20th century advertising industry and outperformed their digital competition by being joined up. Apple took on the music industry with iTunes and now own the space. There are many other examples but unfortunately they are swamped by the normal, broken approach that delivers these frustratingly sub optimal outcomes.
To engage in the initial conversation that forms strategy and vision, IT must become a trusted advisor that stops talking about IT return on investment and starts talking about business return on investment. Only when IT can’t help the CEO kill the competition does it need to be cheap and silent. Otherwise we serve our companies badly if we don’t speak up and become part of the initial conversation.
Being part of that conversation is all about delivering business agility, reduced cycle times to deliver products and services, reduced business risk and more certain outcomes. All deliverables that IT was set up for in the past.
We forget this lesson at our peril and will certainly be consigned to being cheap and silent forever.