October 31, 2008

Weapons or Troops and The Total CIO

Should the CIO focus on day-to-day operational issues or on IT strategic planning and governance issues?

From my experience many are focused on firefighting the day-to-day and putting some new gadget in the hands of the field personnel without regard to what the bigger picture IT plan is or should be.

In many cases, I believe CIOs succumb to this near-term view on things, because they, like the overall corporate marketplace, is driven by short-term results, whether it is quarterly financial results or the annual performance appraisal.

The Wall Street Journal, 30 October 2008, had an article entitled,
“Boots on the Ground or Weapons in the Sky?”—which seemed to tie right into this issue.

The debate is to which kind of war we should be preparing to fight— the current (types of) insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan or the next big war, such as potentially that with Russia or China.

Why are we facing this issue now?

“With the economy slowing and the tab for the government’s bailout of the private sector spiraling higher…lawmakers are signaling that Pentagon officials will soon have to choose.”

And there are serious implications to this choice:

“The wrong decision now could imperil U.S. national security down the road.”

The two sides of the debate come down to this:

Secretary Gates “accused some military officials of “next-war-itis,” which shortchanges current needs in favor of advanced weapons that might never be needed.”

In turn, some military officials “chided Mr. Gates for “this-war-itis,” a short-sighted focus on the present that could leave the armed forces dangerously unprepared down the road.”

From war to technology:

Like the military, the CIO faces a similar dilemma. Should the CIO invest and focus on current operational needs, the firefight that is needed today (this-IT-itis) or should they turn their attention to planning and governing to meet the business-IT needs of the future (next-IT-itis).

But can’t the CIO do both?

Yes and no. Just like the defense budget is limited, so too is the time and resources of the CIO. Sure, we can do some of both, but unless we make a conscious decision about where to focus, something bad can happen.

My belief is operations must be stabilized--sound, reliable, and secure—today’s needs, but then the CIO must extricate himself from the day-to-day firefighting to build mission capabilities and meet the needs of the organization for tomorrow.

At some point (and the sooner, the better), this-IT-itis must yield to next-IT-itis!


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