Job No. 1: Keep IT simple

In IT, perception trumps reality from the front office to the boardroom

Eeek! Geek! Picture this: the CIO of a huge paper-products company is sitting in the boardroom surrounded by top executives. (True story, as recently told by the CIO.) He’s walking through a very complex presentation on the company’s latest application deployments when the vice chairman starts drawing squares in the air with his hands. The CIO asks, “What are you doing?” The vice chairman responds, “Boxes, dummy. I’m drawing boxes. We just make boxes. It’s very simple. Keep it simple.”

Harsh, yes. But it happened. IT executives need to understand that business users don’t have patience for all the mumbo jumbo. Your job is to make it simple. According to “The CIO Profile,” a recent Forrester Research report, CIOs are still perceived as techies, although they’re working more closely with the business than ever.

The report, based on a survey of more than 900 IT and business execs, notes that while CIOs continue to rise higher on the corporate ladder -- with 40 percent reporting directly to the CEO -- they come primarily from tech backgrounds and spend most of their time on tech issues, which can explain the common perception.

The result? “Business technology users report dissatisfaction with IT’s communication of IT priorities and new technology adoption,” says analyst Bobby Cameron, the report’s author. And what to do? “CIOs need to embrace the concepts, terminology, and processes of marketing: creating marketing plans, executing campaigns, and boosting IT’s brand equity within the firm,” Cameron writes.

That’s a little glib. I don’t agree that it’s all about marketing -- outcomes count -- but IT execs need to understand that when it comes to corporate power and influence, perception often trumps reality.

Life in the Slow Lane: The Pew Internet Project is out with a paper claiming that broadband adoption in the United States has slowed dramatically, with the number of high-speed home users growing only 6 percent (12 percent annualized) in the first half of 2005, down from an annualized rate of 20 percent in 2003 and 2004. Currently, 53 percent of home Internet users have broadband, Pew says. A mind-boggling 32 percent of the U.S. adult population does not use the Internet at all. Wow.

What’s causing the slowdown? Do the stragglers just like that squeaky modem sound? Do they want to block the phone line from incoming calls? Or is it the cost? Pew singles out none of the above, instead hypothesizing that today’s dial-up users -- who are older, lower-income, less-educated, and more apathetic about the Internet -- just don’t want broadband that badly.

Should we subsidize broadband -- like we did 75 years ago with telephone service -- as a “basic service” critical to individual opportunity and national competitiveness? Or should we just let free markets do their work? My gut says wait -- the technology’s moving too fast to start subsidizing.