Back from the BRINK?

By Tom Field, CIO |  Business

SINCE THE IS organization's inception in the 1960s, predictions of its demise have been outnumbered only by the death wishes of IT users who know all too well the group's hard-earned reputation for being quick to spend, slow to deliver and hopelessly out of touch with business needs.

At least, that's what users perceive to be the case. And the reality of IS's fortunes has always been shaped by the perceptions of internal management, users, the press, the gurus and the analysts. Unfortunately, IS has always stubbornly refused to acknowledge that the best way to combat perceptions is through good marketing of its successes. Instead, IS has always retreated into its culture of self-effacement and quiet hard work, which has done nothing to alleviate perceptions rooted in ignorance or misunderstanding. Yet if the rest of the organization doesn't really understand what IS does, how can it value IS's services?

This long legacy of lousy "brand management" by IS organizations and the frustrated demands of users have snowballed over the years into a more or less constant IS death watch. Users root for their IS departments to get outsourced. CEOs don't see the organization adding any value, while IS employees work long hours delivering long lists of supposedly urgent, but ultimately undervalued, technology projects.

Responsibility for this sorry image paradox sits squarely with the CIO. And now with the possibility and the capability to actually begin to move complex systems out of the depths of IS and into the hands of outsourcers, ASPs, portals and other external providers, it may be too late to sell the virtues of this tarnished brand -- unless CIOs can radically restructure their departments and their messages to the business.

The challenge is extreme and unfair because success depends not just on dealing with current market realities but also on correcting these long-held perceptions -- justified or not -- about the way IS does business. Here are some of those perceptions.


CEOs Don't Believe in Their IS Departments

At a time when chief executives finally seem to get it -- they understand IS's potential as a strategic business driver -- they also betray an alarming lack of confidence in their own IS organizations and leaders. In a recent survey of 650 CEOs and senior business executives worldwide, Compass America, a Reston, Va.-based management consulting firm, found that 75 percent of CEOs expect IS to make a significant or at least an average contribution to bottom-line business results, yet only 25 percent feel IS currently measures up to these expectations.

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