Monday, August 15, 2011

The Power to say No

Over the years for the business dependence on IT has grown to reach a state that it is unimaginable to think of any business running without IT. I am sure that we can start creating a list of exceptions which may be different by geography or economic classification, but predominantly every business operation uses IT to sustain, grow, diversify, improve, analyse, and a lot more.

Over the years the IT Head also transformed through the journey working lock step with the demands of the organization providing the necessary solutions, sometimes wildly successful and challenged, delayed or unsuccessful. Through the era the IT leader kept moving outward from the glasshouse to the factory, warehouse, corporate office, and field and wherever the internal customer was present, and then beyond to where the external customer lived.

Over the years as the transition occurred to the CIO, the discussion changed from the nuts and bolts, three letter acronyms, servers, routers, hardware, software, networking, to business process, order to cash, procure to pay, customer analytics, increasing revenue, strengthening the bottom line, creating competitive differentiation, managing supply chains, collaboration with the suppliers and customers, new business opportunities, until the difference with other CXOs started blurring.

Over the years one characteristic that has not changed is the acceptance of demands = reasonable or otherwise, requirements - rational or not, time pressure to deliver - urgent or not, budget cuts - downturn or not, accepting everything business desired, spoke about, or demanded. The IT function was expected to stay subservient to cajoling, coercion, ransom, threats, with the proverbial sword hanging inches from the neck; if you cannot do it, we will find ways outside to get it done a la shadow IT.

IT was not expected to challenge, they were expected to deliver; whether it is a report that no one sees, a quick fix that stays in UAT for weeks beyond the deadline, systems that saw usage drop faster than the stock market in the downturn, one liners or vague or assumptive requirement definitions, or in recent times consumer devices to be connected to corporate networks. A challenge or denied service was sacrilegious and a pile of turndowns could lead to “lack of alignment” to what business wants.

With increasing comfort with business, conviction, and communication, CIOs have looked the other in the eye and engage in a non-confrontational debate which has germinated into acceptance of the CIO viewpoint and its intent only to the best interest of the enterprise. It’s a newly discovered facet that boosts confidence and fuels itself; the spark is now traveling virulently. CIOs have created the freedom to say “No” to the unreasonable and ill-defined.

When any discussion is based on data, facts, and sound logic, the outcome normally takes predictable route. The acceptance of the CIO into the “Inner Circle” is happening; the retention requires practice of democratic principles. CIOs should exercise this power judiciously and use it to create a better solution or paradigm that encompasses hitherto unused tenets. It takes some wisdom to differentiate between the need and the want and not play favourites; it is always a bad time for dictators who can be overthrown quickly.

Go and exercise this choice, you will be surprised !

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