07 Mar IT can't be separate from core business
The focus of last week’s Fusion2006 was to make information technology work for businesses, and judging by the advice that presenters delivered, private-sector CIOs would be well advised to avoid the temptations presented by new technology. If there was a dominant theme of the second annual CEO-CIO symposium, it was that technology managers should practice linkage – linkage with their CEOs and linking information technology with the core competency of their organizations.
Several Fusion2006 speakers said CIOs should take the long view and avoid falling head over heels for the latest technological breakthroughs. Instead, technology managers would best serve their organization in three ways: by making sure it deploys only technology that supports its core competencies, by driving employees toward full utilization of existing technology, and by simplifying technology.
Koulopoulos said courageous business leadership involves making a necessary distinction between innovation and invention. “We’ve perverted the term innovation as invention; it’s not,” Koulopoulos said, offering several examples of absurd inventions that few would mistake for innovation. “Innovation is a process.”
The challenge of technology managers is to coordinate the pieces of the innovative process in a period where their window of opportunity is shrinking. Koulopoulos explained that as the rate of new opportunities increases, the duration of each opportunity decreases, meaning that business organizations have smaller time frames in which to act.
Linking technology to core business objectives will help ensure that decisions are made for the right reasons, and not in a panic mode. Despite these smaller windows, “it’s not about speed,” Koulopoulos cautioned. “It’s about aligning the core of the business with IT, and first defining what’s core. It’s amazing how few [organizations] actually have.”
Trying the curb the enthusiasm of employees that constantly crave the next technological toy, especially when they have not fully utilized existing toys, also is part of the job description of today’s CIO. The dizzying pace of change makes it more difficult to suppress their appetite, but there is something to be said for being a late adopter.
One of those late adopters is Alliant Energy of Madison. William Harvey, president and CEO of Alliant Energy, said CIOs that demonstrate “dogmatic” alignment with the corporate business model are the ones that establish credibility in the boardroom. “It [then] becomes something other than those ‘techie’ people that do something we don’t understand,” Harvey said. “Without that, IT remains a department, a cost center, something to be tolerated and not part of the fabric of the business.”
To weave technology deeper into the fabric, technology officers were advised to emphasize simplicity. Frank Albi, president and COO of Madison’s Inacom Information Systems, said studies indicate that human beings absorb only so much information at any one time, so his company has structured technology training to be a continual learning process. “We’re creatures of habit,” Albi said. “We’re going to absorb 25 percent and move on.”
In no uncertain terms, Koulopoulos stated that low technology utilization, particularly in the business environment, is one habit Americans must break. “We’re going to become buffet food for the rest of the world,” he asserted, “if we don’t get our act together.”
More Fusion2006 coverage:
• CEOs and CIOs must be ‘joined at the hip’
• CIOs could keep companies out of hot water in court