Recently, Patrick Gray blogged on TechRepublic that IT has a Chicken and Egg problem.  In his post, he describes two mechanisms that CIOs take to become recognized as strategic leaders: a) work in anonymity to demonstrate that the work that they are doing is aligned, hoping someone will notice, and b) wait for the business to take on the responsibility for ensuring that IT’s efforts are aligned.  He charts out a course that involves a) get the utility aspect perfect, quietly, b) speaking the language of business value, and c) pitch the strategic expertise of IT. 

Reasonable advice in some ways but, as always, the devil is in the details.

  1. Getting the utility aspect perfect is NOT a prerequisite.  Having IT to the point where it works reasonably well is sufficient.  Executive peers should not be distracted by bad service, but perfect service is an unattainable goal.  All services have tradeoffs, especially with respect to “time to market” and “cost.”  There is no one else at the executive table that has a perfect operational aspect.  Marketing sometimes runs an ineffective campaign.  Sales sometimes misses their targets.  Operations is not perfectly efficient and effective.  Customer support sometimes angers a customer or two (or ten).  Perfection is not necessary.
     
  2. Speaking the language of the business can be tough when “the business” does not speak the language of business.  Read that twice.  The “Language of business” is not just dollars and cents.  It is often influence, power, and politics.  This requires an understanding of not only the language of “value” but also the language of “power.”
       

    How many times has a “business client” of IT asked for a project without any rational reason for believing that the project is actually a good expenditure of money?  How many times has a good, valuable project been cancelled or poorly funded while a pet project moved ahead.  The language of “value” is necessary, but not sufficient, to get business peers to include you in critical conversations.  They have to believe that they need your resources, your input, and your power to deliver.  For the CIO to exercise power, he or she must first have it, and then must demonstrate it.  I’ve seen many who either did not, or could not, do that. 

  3. The strategic expertise of IT is interesting, but where exactly is IT exercising that muscle?  Why would IT have any strategic expertise at all, unless it is carefully developed and encouraged.  And what exactly would a strategic capability within IT look like?

 

Enterprise Architecture is a business function that allows the business to do a very important thing.  EA is based on the simple rule: “Do what you say you will do.”  Many a business executive will declare that they can’t actually get the business to do what they want it to do.  EA is part of the solution to that problem.  It is a necessary business function.  The leader who owns this function has an “ace” to play.  And if that leader is the CIO, then the CIO has a useful capability. 

Patrick Gray is right… you must not “live” with the hand you are dealt.  You must build a better hand.  Enterprise Architecture is one card that the CIO can build into his or her hand, and then play to great effect.