I didn’t agree with everything Gartner Research Fellow Ken McGee said in his keynote address at the Gartner BI conference in Los Angeles this week. A few attendees said he'd shortchanged overworked CIOs who really do understand their bosses' business goals, and he might have sent conflicting messages of success for the CEOs and survival for the CIOs he interacts with.
McGee did score points and caught the crowd square though, with a simple response to a longstanding question for many of us in and around information technology. It was an answer to the most common question he hears (and we all hear year after year) from flat or down-budgeted CIOs:
"How do I do more with less?"
Or, in the world of flat IT budgets he described, decide when entering a new or profitable area to make it easier by getting rid of what’s not really helpful.
Okay, cutting off the bottom while adding to the top is easier said than done. You can't unwind technology infrastructure the same way you create it, but the message deserves a thank you.
At a minimum, this is a good defense for IT, for enduring more years of flatlined budget status quo than we ever imagined was possible. Plainly, McGee defends IT in his call for a CIO manifesto to insist that business-mounted projects answer to the goals of CEO, and that the chief executive agree with the CIO that they be the measure of undertaking a new project.
He did blame IT for its habit of hoarding what it has built. “If we are very honest we know that most IT practitioners hold onto things. They accumulate stuff. They are encumbered by not being able to let go of things.”
Fair enough, but IT is also the shepherd of assets assigned. The way budgets are cut and sometimes freed (in unrenewed licenses, consolidation, sunsetting etc.) falls to a different process than new business initiatives that call for new projects. Business doesn’t look at revenue enhancement like it looks at cost cutting, and certainly doesn’t claim to do both things at the same time. But I'd agree that IT is usually in a better position to know what it no longer needs than the business does.
What could be carried over from McGee’s manifesto is that budgets could be incented and managed (in the same way he suggested CIOs ought to be compensated by project financial performance) by cutting elsewhere in a risk/reward kind of way. The results may not be apples for apples, but it is a start.
McGee said again and again that what CEOs want is organic growth, growth, growth. That usually calls for new projects requiring IT, and the preferred illusion for business is that a finite and shrinking IT resource should be endlessly elastic to demand.
To the CEO audience that wasn’t at Gartner’s BI event, McGee rhetorically suggested the CIO’s pitch to the CEO would include “freeing up time and money, using more than 50 percent of the training budget for new things that will be needed,” and 15 other things to just stop doing. They all make similar good sense.
Among them, quit putting the organization’s IT expenses in the CIO’s budget. Stop holding onto unfunded projects and send them back to the organization to come back next year and try again. Stop issuing RFPs.
It’s tough love and it’s not all realistic for all decisions that span IT's influence over core business competencies, even if it often falls to IT to execute those competencies. But it beats the weak diplomacy of IT and business whistling past one another in the hallways.