The X Factor: The IT Department Matters as Much as the CIO
July 21, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Ever since I have been in the information technology publishing business, the publishers who I have worked for as well as the companies that I have run myself have all toyed with the idea of launching what is called in the lingo a C-level publication. Something for chief executive officers, chief financial officers, and chief information officers. The reason why publishers think about doing this is simple: They believe that they could charge a premium for either the content or the advertising that supports it–or a mix, if they use a mixed model–because these are the people who either cut the checks or approve the cutting.
In theory, putting together such a C-level publication would be a snap, and such a publication would be very profitable. Hooray! You will notice, of course, that IT Jungle does not have such an isolated C-level publication, and there are reasons for this. To put it simply, we understand how IT purchases actually get made and we know that the kinds of publications we put together appeal to CIOs and IT managers as well as programmers, system administrators, and maybe even a few end users here and there, not to mention the IT platform vendors, their reseller, software development companies, and other IT players. With limited resources, like IT Jungle has–and I must say, I am pretty proud of the level of consistently good content our editors and contributors put out each week, year after year–we really don’t have any choice but to do it the way we do.
What I have come to understand in my two decades in this business is that C-level executives don’t make IT decisions in isolation. C-level executives may cut the checks in all cases, but a good C-level executive asks the IT staff to help make IT decisions. The system analysts and programmers are part of the acquisition process, not just implementers of new technologies. At least at companies that are not dysfunctional, anyway. There is this perception among IT vendors that out there in corporate America and across Europe, decisions get made from on high, and that if you could just reach that one C-level person and convince him or her, then you could make a killer sale and cut out the whole rest of the acquisition process. This holds for IT as well as any other kind of capital investment.
This thinking is dangerous, and it is probably why so many IT projects fail. CEOs who do not know much about computing, except what they read about in Fortune, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal, can try to ram particular technologies into their IT organizations, but the results they are going to get are not going to be spectacular. If you don’t have buy-in on a concept or a product from your own IT staff, based on the technical merits of a concept or a product, I can guarantee you that this project will be delayed, will have cost overruns, and will make people cranky and inefficient. And those problems will cause an uproar in the end user base at the company, and that will spill over into problems conducting actual business.
At the risk of sounding new-agey, which I am not, good IT should take a holistic approach, particularly with IT since everyone from the CEO down to the end user has an opinion these days about what a good computer is or isn’t and what a good application should be like. Not many employees at a company will know much about a forklift, a conveyer belt, or a metal stamping press, but most of us, after 15, 20, or 25 years of using PCs and servers, and now Web-based applications, have an idea about computers–good or bad–and we want to be involved in the process of choosing the platforms that we sit at and from which we our jobs every day.
That means that any IT vendor has to get its message in front of the IT staff as well as the C-level people. Everyone at a company has to be sitting in a meeting and realize that when they have a problem, that they heard about this company called XYZ that might do this or that, and could fix said problem. That company’s name has to pop up during a Web search, which means it has to advertise in appropriate IT publications and it has to ensure that its announcements are covered by those same publications. People have to talk about XYZ’s products in its various forums, be they literally electronic forums online or old-fashioned things like local user groups, national-scale conferences, or two people playing golf on a Saturday morning. And I don’t just mean CEOs and CIOs who play golf, either. Programmers and system admins play golf, too, as well as tennis and hockey and football and baseball, and more importantly, they do other social things where ideas about technology are transferred from one organization that is using a bit of hardware or software (or is contemplating it) to one that is looking for an answer to a problem. I am going to a wedding tomorrow afternoon, and I know there are some programmers from banking giant UBS who will be there. We will talk about how beautiful and wonderful the bride is, and how lucky the young couple are to have found each other, and after a while the topic will turn to banking and systems.
This is the way the world actually works, or at least should unless you work in a totalitarian IT regime. It is not as simple as just a C-level executive making a decision, but it is more democratic and it is a whole lot healthier.