Open Letter to CEOs [and their Geeks]

Dear Chief Executive,

Management is my passion, and it is through that architecture that we deliver functions as services.  My favorite service is information technology.  While it pains me to be seen as a geek, I appreciate that IT is only going to be more prevalent in our businesses and our lives.  If you doubt that, feel free to stop reading now… you need a deeper intervention.

My geek pain stems from the dreadful reputation associated with anything related to IT.  As in most of life, a good deal of that pain is self-inflicted by geeks who see technology, and not business results, as the end-game and who either make a total mess of things or don’t clean up the smaller messes quickly and effectively enough.  But many of the root causes of IT’s real and perceived under-performance trace back to you.  One of your fundamental responsibilities is to create the conditions of success for the people in your organization.  So if you’re going to get the greatest value from IT, what is it that you need to be doing?

  • For starters, fund it. Don’t approach every OpEx and CapEx proposal from IT with the mindset of ‘I have to make them cut back’. Stop forcing IT to be only tactical because that’s all they can afford in the budget. That tactical approach results in increased TCO (Total Cost of Ownership)... you’re actually making IT cost more, and more importantly, you’ll be delivering a lot less value to your customers and your enterprise. Be aware that unit costs for IT activities keep going down, but demand for processing/storage/networking is going up faster.

    • [Geeks: stop gaming the system. Deal straight with the boss if you want to be treated straight.]

  • I’ve heard CEOs refer to IT as the guys who play defense. Wrong… very wrong. Use IT to play offense (more in a subsequent blog), as an enabler that helps drive the business to higher levels of performance, top line and bottom line. Challenge both your business leaders and IT to collaborate to find ways to transform the value you deliver to your customers.

    • [Geeks: let go of the cost center mentality… it will be your ruin.]

  • Speaking of collaboration, integrate IT with your front office business. My fellow geeks are often masters of process who lack a deep understanding of the dynamics of the business. But they’re smart, so if you create an environment in which you expect business and IT to work together, they’ll see the challenges in new ways. Insist that IT learn the business drivers extremely well. Your business leaders will get a deeper understanding of how to use the technology to take their business to new levels, also necessary for your success.

    • [Geeks: technology’s transformation into a commodity just keeps accelerating… successfully applying it to the business: ah, that’s the value-added.]

  • Make IT a primary tool for innovation. Nothing else available to you is as democratic (that is, equally accessible to all) and simultaneously as powerful. The returns you can achieve dwarf any other risk-adjusted initiative. IT can foster the process of innovation, as well as the innovations themselves. If you’re stuck on where to start, just start thinking of how to make your products and services smarter, and thereby integrate them into your customers’ value chains. You’ll find about a zillion ways to do that, and IT is essential to implementing the majority of them. Be aware that nobody bats 1.000, and IT will occasionally swing and miss. Applaud fast, cheap failures… punish slow, expensive failures… or worse, keeping the bat on their shoulders.

    • [Geeks: get with the plan… it’s not about just keeping expense low… do that AND help build a revolution.]

  • Listen and consider IT’s POV. It isn’t easy changing the tires on an 18-wheeler that’s moving 60 miles an hour. IT’s first responsibility is to maintain your ongoing operations, AND tackle a long and growing list of projects, AND participate in improving the business, AND figure out what’s on the horizon that makes small improvements or could be a game-changer, AND… you get the point. It ain’t easy being a geek.

    • [Geeks: suck it up… that’s why they’re paying you the medium bucks.]

  • Give IT time. I know you want instant results, and IT has to up their game to deliver results sooner. But most of their time is spent understanding (at the level necessary) the business need and the change management process for introducing the new thing. In fact, change management needs to be a core competency for IT and the business units. If you’re not changing as fast on the inside as the world is changing on the outside, the end is in sight.

    • [Geeks: speed is everything… tick, tick, tick…]

  • Get everyone aligned on the values that are most important and the objectives that are fundamental for your success. It’s the only way you can have confidence that they’re all making the right decisions.

    • [Geeks: business-IT alignment the Holy Grail? Focus on mission, vision, values, and goals. You’ll be aligned.]

  • Finally, lest you think I’m being too easy on IT, hold them accountable for results. Not just IT results, but business results. Accountability doesn’t start with firing the culprits. It starts with being clear on exactly what it is you’re counting on them to produce. Then, make them aware that if they consistently fail to live by your values and deliver results, there are IT service organizations that get things done and can help you win. There is no reason to suffer poor performance in so critical a part of your organization. Think of your organization without information technology. You’d never scale, never grow, never get costs under control, and be less innovative. Now dream about what your life would be like if you realized the full potential of what IT has to offer. Nice dream, huh?

    • [Geeks: make it happen, or somebody else will.]

IT is but one service for management, no more — nor less — important than finance, marketing, sales, production, customer service, and the rest.  But unless you master this service, your business will be unlikely to reach its potential greatness.

You and your geeks have a lot to talk about, so get on it.

Best regards,