Do we have a disconnect?

Back in the days of real information technology - say 15 years ago - many companies opted to deal with the frighteningly complicated matter of "machines and men" by creating a new position - the chief information officer. These newfangled executives, companies hoped, would protect and prepare them for the coming technology revolution.

But now the revolution is upon us, and as more and more companies integrate e-commerce into their corporate strategies, the role of chief information officer is undergoing intense scrutiny.

Should the CIO participate fully in strategy formulation?

As Thomas Jefferson said "I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past".

It may have taken 20 years for the personal computer to truly capture the imagination of the world, but these days, the first commercial Web browsers have only been on the market for four years, but already they are ubiquitous.

In a relatively brief period of time, every business model on the planet has been turned on its head.

Call for the Prozac

Is corporate Australia nervous? Are the rank and file starting to make a lot of noise about this World Wide Web thing - because it's not normal? It wasn't in the course work at business school? It has no proven ROI?

You may belong to one of those grand-old-man bureaucracies that requires three forms in quadruplicate to requisition a new coffee machine, but if that is the case you now face the task of educating your CEO - and it's not a lot of fun.

Perhaps you should drag all the executives from their corner offices for a week of Outward Bound training. Watch them learn teamwork while dangling over river gorges. See them face the threat of being left behind unless they acquire new skills in a hurry. How else will they learn that the Web is no longer an experiment but a competitive weapon.

Upper management still remains apprehensive about investing too much energy and (seed) money into this Web thing. Some see it as a flash in the pan. Some see it as hype only. Some see it as changing too fast for it to be a safe investment. Some just don't get it and hope it will go away!

Most managers these days find that the bigger the problem is that it's confusing up there plus they carry the additional weight that the livelihoods of hundreds may rest on their decisions.

Speed kills

The e-revolution has arrived at break-neck speed and has provided little time for top management to engage in the usual careful planning for fear that an unknown e-commerce-enabled competitor will capture market share, steal loyal customers and damage hard-earned profitability.

Little time is available for companies to research the issues surrounding "e"-technology and try to put it all into perspective.

Management today about the Internet-based e-cmmerce successes of such companies as Amazon.com and e-Trade, which have had a visible impact on business.

Companies are scurrying to defend themselves against these new Internet predators. They also seek to capitalise on the economies, efficiencies and productivity improvements that are the promise of e-business.e-business speakDuring several strategic review sessions with vendors, I have began to notice an interesting phenomenon. No presentation today is complete without a barrage of buzzwords: e-commerce portal, communities, portals, business to business (B2B), and of course business to consumer (B2C), wireless, mobile and so on.

The creative ways that marketeers string these words together are even more interesting. Consider this one "An e-commerce marketplace that provides target communities with portal e-commerce capabilities" WOW - they got all the terms in one sentence and it sounds pretty impressive!

But if you read closely, the concepts are either redundant or don't make any sense: a market is, by definition, a place where e-commerce happens and the term portal, as used, doesn't have anything to do with conducting commerce in a marketplace.

It's no wonder that in the complex corporate dance IT and the rest of the organisation are out of step. As one executive somewhat tongue in cheek recently commented: "information technologists are, in all too many instances, disconnected and peripheralised away from the direction-setting executive corridors".

I'm tempted to say the "current crises" in IT aren't crises at all, but simply reclect the nature of life in the IT world - if not the business world.

Back to the beginning

Businesses always demand new thinking and higher productivity from their workforce. If that sounds old, well, why should it be new? That's just how life is today.

Information technology professionals like to think they're old hands at dealing with change. After all, anyone who cut his or her teeth on an 8088 chip has already lived through many generations of technological innovation. But being comfortable with technological change doesn't necessarily translate into a similar perspective when the change is more personal - when it involves you, your responsibilities and your day-to-day work environment. And while change itself can be good or bad, natural response to change often includes fear and resistance.

With the current seismic shifts in markets business models are rapidly changing. In many industries today, the clarity of structure and value chains do not exist any more due to the emergence of non traditional competition.

Believe me, in today's industry. the prize won't go to the vendor or CIO who can turn nouns into verbs and adjectives in the same sentence. It will go to those who can communicate their vision in compelling language and preferably in plain English.

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