Job No. 1 for the first CIOs to emerge in corporate shops almost 20 years ago was to make sure the business goals of the corner office were being served by the technologies put in place by the IT department. They were to be the bridge between two very different cultures.
But during the past two decades, as technology has become inextricably entwined with a company’s core business strategies, many CIOs and, in larger companies, CTOs have been forced to spend an inordinate amount of time on the business side of the chasm.
And as the number of technology projects has grown, many CIOs and CTOs have pushed more decisions for individual technology purchases and their methods of implementation farther down the organizational ladder. Too often, those making product decisions have been purely focused on technology and so have made tactical decisions without enough regard for how those decisions will benefit overall business goals. “One of the top reasons I think some IT projects go off course technically and/or over budget, if not outright fail, is the lack of guidance from upper management on the technical side. Sometimes they shouldn’t be so fast with the rubber stamp until they get a better grasp on some of the technology they are asking their people to implement,” says Joe Johns, a LAN administrator at a large bank in North Carolina.
Well, so much for the myth that CIOs and CTOs need more business savvy than technical expertise. In fact, there seems to be some concern from industry observers that CIOs and CTOs need to spend more time gaining a deeper understanding of technologies and products, particularly emerging ones.
One of the major reasons CIOs and CTOs have been forced to focus more on business than on technology decisions has been the dot-com bust. With so much aimless spending on technology in the second half of the 1990s resulting in little ROI, many CEOs are demanding short-term if not immediate returns on any sizable tech investment.
“A lot of companies are in reactionary mode right now,” says Will Zachmann, president of market research companies Canopus Research and Agylity. “Now that we are in the dot-bust era, the pendulum has swung back hard the other way, and it has everyone afraid to do much of anything technically.”
But concentrating so narrowly on short-term financial gain forces the majority of CIOs and CTOs to defer the steady implementation of long-term technology visions until better economic times arrive. Such delays will only put them at a competitive disadvantage to those who are striking a more reasonable balance between ROI and high-tech investments.
“Those CEOs and CIOs who are joined at the hip and who want only short-term ROI are myopic about where IT should be going technologically. An organization that really understands IT technologies and what to do to turn [those technologies] into genuine competitive advantage can be in a great position right now,” Zachmann contends.