A retail executive approached me with a question during a conference a few months ago: "Do the stock analysts covering retail or brick-and-mortar businesses on Wall Street ever base their opinions [buy/sell ratings] in part on the IT effectiveness of the companies they cover?" If so, we reasoned together, if IT prowess could move a stock's value, wouldn't that get the CEO, CFO and board of directors a heck of a lot more acquainted with IT strategy?We sort of went down this path almost two years ago in a chat with our friend Tom Davenport of Babson College, who got a good bit of attention when he started looking at analytical excellence as a means of competitive differentiation. His column in BI Review presaged his work in Harvard Business Review; his resulting book on the topic is a top seller right now and we'll talk to him later in this column. But the question that was posed at the top of this page takes things up another notch by implication: If, as many have said, the two highest priorities of a CEO are to move his stock's price - and stay out of jail in the process - then why not use IT the same way he uses other methods such as M&A or restructuring? Why leave such issues in the hands of middle managers?

It's an interesting thought even if there are a couple of obvious caveats. Stock analyst Ed Maguire at Merrill Lynch covers BI technology companies, but as it applies to mainstream businesses he could see where this question was headed. "What ultimately moves a stock is comfort in an outlook. Most investors aren't keyed into technology and so they judge on results."

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