From One CIO to Another: Focus on the Fundamentals

Facts are stubborn things. In today's global enterprise where technology continues to experience dramatic changes and the role and responsibilities of the CIO further evolve, there are a set of basic tenets for success that have remained the same for CIOs. Those tenets can be summed up easily: we must keep our eyes on the fundamentals. CIOs today cannot deliver the services required for the enterprise without intensively focusing on the basic fundamentals.

The intent of this article is not to deal with all fundamentals, but to deal with those most critical to our success that can have the most profound impact on the enterprise and the role of the CIO.

My 30-plus years experience as a CIO of global for-profit, private and not-for-profit enterprises has helped me formulate some thinking which, I believe, has created success at every level of the enterprise. First, CIOs and their leadership teams must dissect and truly understand what the fundamentals are and where they can be applied to cultivate success. It is easy for all of us as CIOs to be distracted by the evolving technology - the shiny new things that can cause us to take our eye off the fundamentals - an oversight that can have negative repercussions, both to the enterprise and to its leaders. So, how do we elucidate the fundamentals? As a starting point, it is important to remember that as CIOs, our job responsibilities can be broken down into three areas: planning, implementation and operation. Examining the fundamentals in this spirit will help refocus our attention on driving enterprise efficiency and, ultimately, achieving success, both personally and also for the organization as a whole.

Planning

Historically, effective planning has been a challenge for us because it is a front-end activity and is more of an art, while many CIOs prefer exact science. With the expanding office of the CIO, there is no reason we should shy away from the planning process.

As corporate America continues to try to stretch a dollar and do more with less, one fundamental planning aspect that hasn't changed is the absolute criticality of having a very tight and disciplined process for investing. Investment management is the idea of assessing the total enterprise requirements and its opportunities, aligning those with the business goals and mission and analyzing the trade-off of the relative value. This can be accomplished by implementing a rigorous investment methodology and process to establish priorities for the enterprise.

Alignment management is a fundamental planning ingredient in a successful investment plan. If the investment process works as it should, we will have natural alignment of our focus where it will make the most difference for the business. As CIOs, we often fall into the trap of believing that the world revolves around IT and the investment in its infrastructure but, as mentioned earlier, IT needs and decisions must align with the mission, core strategies and business processes of the enterprise. At the same time, however, it is our job to continuously make the enterprise aware of what is possible outside the existing technology. After all, even slight adjustments to business processes may result in increased revenue or competitive advantage for an enterprise.

A final word of wisdom - think about the IT strategic plan as a plank in the enterprise's plan. It is the enterprise that drives the business, not the technology.

Implementation

In the transition from planning to implementation, we have the opportunity to create a healthy and managed environment by concentrating on the basic fundamental of project management. First and foremost, today there is an evolution within the enterprise to build project management offices. The emergence and proliferation of this office provides more visibility to project management and the opportunity to establish company-defined processes and services to more efficiently govern the basic variables of implementation, cost, schedule and scope. Every aspect of successful implementation is based on how well these interdependent variables are managed. While technology and procedures have changed, effective project management remains a key fundamental for the overall efficiency and success of an enterprise.

In examining implementation, we would be remiss to overlook the importance of security this cannot be adequately accomplished as an add-on. It must be built into all facets of an IT plank. The key phrase here is "built in." Obviously, it is crucial to protect assets and the integrity of information, as well as maintain continuous security and data management. Security must be part of the infrastructure, not an accessory.

Operations

Once you have mastered the planning and implementation fundamentals, it's time to focus on operations. In today's world, IT has become much more mainstream - enterprises are reliant on IT on a day-to-day basis and it penetrates the fabric of how business is conducted. Ultimately, you must be consistent in delivering reliability, responsiveness and security in the operations.

As we address the operations fundamentals the importance of testing cannot be underestimated. Adequately testing new components being put into production must be a priority, whether individually or enterprise-wide, to eliminate the chance of disrupting the business.

Traditionally, in the development of new technology, the rule of thumb is that half of the development time is dedicated to testing, however, testing is often overlooked or shortened. You must know and understand what testing shows you - basically, you must know what you've got - which leads us to configuration management.

Configuration management forces you to inventory the infrastructure, which is crucial with the advancement and expansion of the global enterprise. There are two thoughts here: 1) we must periodically inventory our IT environment so we can 2) track all changes to the environment to maintain a perpetual knowledge base for future reference.

The operational fundamentals do not end there - one final step remains on the path to success - portfolio management. Portfolio management, previously known as "keeping tabs" on your installed base, confirms that all technology systems in place add value to the enterprise. If the installed base of technology is not adding value, it only makes sense to phase out the old and implement new technology, which starts brings you back to the planning fundamentals. Portfolio management is an ongoing evaluation process that will add tremendous technology savings and efficiency to the enterprise when effectively managed.

These are iterative elements and once you have successfully managed the key fundamentals of planning, implementation and operations, the most important aspect of all is left: people.

We are not as good at managing or dealing with the human-centric side of business as we were 30 years ago. At the end of the day we must continually strive to recognize the human dimension and involve people who are impacted by our decisions as well as those helping us to achieve our vision. It is not profound to say that "people are still people," but people have potential far beyond what they offer to the workplace, and it is not being leveraged to its capacity to meet the needs of the enterprise today. Without proper planning and management skills, we run the risk of tethering people to technology that inhibits their creativity, problem-solving skills and professional growth. To avoid this, we in the office of the CIO must work with our management teams to foster a culture of continuous positive and constructive feedback and avoid pushing unnecessary technology on our fellow employees. This way of thinking extends beyond the internal needs across the extended enterprise, reaching partners and customers as well.

What Next?

You can agree or disagree, but the reality is that if we do not keep our eyes on the fundamentals, success may be hampered. Every CIO needs a comprehensive roadmap for managing fundamentals, including which fundamentals can be managed within the enterprise and where he or she can reach externally to fill gaps that exist. While every enterprise may not be able to have the depth and core competencies around every fundamental, they are able to open the door to outside capabilities for help. You must continue to evaluate, determine and pursue what is needed to keep your enterprise focused and competitive. That hasn't changed in 30 years and will continue to ring true for at least 30 more.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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