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Secret CIO: Five Rules For An Effective IT Strategy

Making The I.T. shop a strategic business partner isn't that hard.

Karen Lovell, our VP of planning, leaned her head into my office, a big smile on her face, clutching the door frame with both hands. It was an odd pose, and I laughed. "OK," I said, "what tidings of corporate gloom do you bear today?"

I've known Karen a long time, and when she's whimsical it means she's a little embarrassed by whatever she's about to ask of you. "My mission is one of paramount importance from our beloved maximum leader and CEO, the right honorable Philip T. Whitestone. He's going to a CEO conference and wishes a paper delineating in copious verbosity an information-technology strategy that impresses fellow CEOs with his acumen and strategic vision."

"So how come Phil didn't pick up the phone and tell me to do it instead of ripping you away from plotting our next great leap forward?" I asked.

"Because he said you'd just jot down a few sentences, and he desires it gloriously wordsmithed so he will look very good in front of his buddies."

It was my turn to smile. Phil was right about what I'd have done, and Karen was the perfect person to give him what he wanted without turning our IT strategy into something that would look silly to other CIOs.

As she settled into a chair by my desk, I started:

"Our strategy is nothing more than doing the most we can with technology to help the business achieve its goals. While we're at it, we do our best to make sure the business strategy incorporates the potential of IT. What's critical, though, is our approach. There are a few rules I follow, and I expect everyone in the shop to do the same.

"1. Respect people. If individuals know that you will treat them decently and not as a resource, a characterization I hate, they'll work their butts off to achieve a task. And that goes equally for someone in IT or the user community.

"2. Encourage communication. Most projects fail because bosses don't make sure everyone knows what's happening in a timely manner. Likewise, if you're going to flip out at someone for telling you the truth, why would you expect them to be open with you the next time around?

"3. Talk to the people on the front lines before and during a project. I can't tell you how many times I had what I thought was a good idea only to get a better one when I paid attention to the individuals, both in IT and in the business, who use what we develop.

"4. Drive down the cost of operations and software maintenance so money is available for new projects. I want to lower the expense of ongoing services--without hurting quality--so we have more dollars for improvements. By trying to simplify, you improve reliability and lower cost. If you don't operate like that, you wind up with ever-increasing expenditures and an unhappy Executive Committee.

"5. Do only what might ultimately help the company's bottom line. When I first got this job, I got a lot of flak because I stopped some IT research projects. But we've managed to win more than our share of IT awards because what we implement is relevant to the business, and we deliver when we say we will."

I stopped talking, and Karen said she had enough for the paper she had to write. Looking at her watch, she invited me to lunch. I wonder if I can get her to buy, or do I owe her?

Herbert W. Lovelace shares his experiences as CIO of a multibillion-dollar international company (changing most names, including his own, to protect the guilty). Send him E-mail at [email protected].

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Herbert Lovelace's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Herbert Lovelace, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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