A break with tradition

If you think of your business as a car and your IT infrastructure as the road it travels on, then your business processes are the tyres that let the car move along the road. What we are seeing now, at an ever increasing rate, is CFOs asking CIOs to kick the tyres and check the air pressure.

Analogies aside, CFOs want CIOs to get more involved in process design across the company.

Every process flows through three levels, according to CD Hobbs, senior vice president at Meta Group. A package like SAP forms the backbone, the first tier. The second tier contains specialized functionality for the industry it serves. And the third tier is often a personal application running on a business analyst's laptop.

When processes become more efficient, applications can be consolidated. The fewer the applications needed, the more efficient a company becomes at driving process costs down and the more time there will be left to do other things.

Hobbs, a former CIO and CFO, told me that in Meta's latest survey of CIOs, 42 percent reported they have a nontraditional job that encompasses both business functions and IT responsibility. The reason they give is that they are involved in "business transformation accountability" -- another way of saying process redesign.

Of course, the fundamental role of a CIO is to make decisions about enterprise-wide standards, applications, and infrastructure; to approve the overall IT strategy; and to make sure the information highway is sufficient for all the tasks at hand. And if you are going to have an enterprise-wide architecture, it has to be enforced. One business unit cannot use SAP while another uses PeopleSoft.

"You may sacrifice some functionality with an enterprise-wide standard," Hobbs says, but in the long run it reduces costs and enables a company to leverage technology to increase efficiency. The alternative is to have multiple technology stacks and proprietary architectures, necessitating an increase in IT staff to support the numerous options.

Savvy companies, those that are leaders not followers, are willing to make dramatic changes in order to meet tough competitors head on. But changing the corporate culture to recognize a new reality is not always easy. Hobbs offers a way out of this dilemma when he says that "culture is process embedded in technology." If you want to change the culture, you have to change the process.

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