IT as we knew it is down but not out

"Eighty per cent of the problems we have in our personal and professional relationships are due to misunderstandings. Eliminate those and 80 per cent of the problems go away".

Dr. Jim Wetherbe, University of MinnesotaA topic of discussion at a recent Rust Roundtable was how the notion of leadership in the IT industry has been challenged by the growth of e-business and related technologies, and how e-commerce is redefining life in the IS professions.

The drive to conduct more business online has engendered a new business model -- one that facilitates transactions between many participants (partners, customers and suppliers). In this model the organisation becomes the centre point of multiple transactions -- almost a broker -- as well as the producer and deliverer of goods and services. It is a model that is spawned and driven by pure e-business concerns.

The journey to the new digital horizon promises a lot of excitement, unlimited potential and unimaginable rewards. But the CIOs around the table have experienced pain and peril along the way. They suggested that many pioneering organisations will find a lot of resistance amongst the pilgrims before they take the next step. They also noted that traditional leadership styles have become too lethargic and unresponsive to the rapid response action needed in the battlefield-like conditions of today's business.

From platform to commodity

During the 1990s, the advent of client/server technology changed the focal point of IT strategy. Until the last few years, platform and system software decisions were the foundation decisions of most IT organisations. Companies identified themselves as IBM or HP shops and the ensuing IT decisions, (application software etc.) were driven by their computer platform vendor. People were also labelled IBM, HP or Unisys people. Now these platforms have approached commodity status and have become secondary to today's e-business applications.

In the past, the IT department was the last place you would go to find a (business) strategy person and vice versa. Now technology and strategy are inextricably linked.

Technology has always created and destroyed jobs, but what's more significant today is not the multitude of new jobs associated with the Internet, but rather the new organisational structures they are imposing on traditional companies.

Frankly, this is an exciting time to be moving into this new e-business environment. It is not often you get an opportunity to be involved with an innovation on such a radical scale. Yes, millions will be made, as there will be millions lost. No risk, no gain!

Good business

In many ways this new online business world will still depend on the fundamentals of doing good business no matter who you are or where you are. This is not about how much money you have or can throw into this new domain. This is about how you plan and the strategies you devise for your new e-business world. These will drive results. Preparation is the key -- well thought out business strategies for developing an e-business venture will determine the difference between success and failure.

In the best of all possible worlds the CIO is already proactive, focusing on the future. Nobody knows more about a company's technological and business underpinnings than the CIO. Those that have stood up and been counted have taken a leadership position and are spreading their ideas far beyond the traditional IS department.

Once alignment with the business people has been established the CIO is viewed as a partner rather than a techie, but none of this ever happens overnight. Corporate boards have committees responsible for overseeing critical resources and processes like finance, people and strategy, but few today have committees overseeing information technology. Within the next few years, most boards will be forming technology committees, and they will be recruiting new board members with a special eye on the technological driven environment.

Business first

More than ever before, the needs of the future are encouraging CIOs to think and behave as strategists and business leaders. To survive in the future they will require an enormous ability to master information and knowledge both as key elements of the infrastructure and as assets of the enterprise.

CIOs must now focus on key issues, such as:

Defining the core capabilities, skills and competencies of the IT organisation; Defining the non-core capabilities, skills and competencies that need to be outsourced to other business partners and third parties; and Defining electronic affinity groups that will jointly target markets of common interest.

The paradigm in the new age corporation involves a new style of understanding the total business environment and planning from the outside in, instead of from the inside out.

As information becomes the new currency of business, IT will play an ever more critical role in helping companies add value and create wealth.

Forrester Research recently commented that not only today's market leaders are facing deep-seated company-wide change driven by e-business imperatives. But as e-business moves from discrete initiatives to pervasive impact, all companies must address change issues within and beyond their own walls.

Savvy CIOs will facilitate collaboration between traditionally separate business functions to make sure their organisations are well positioned to capitalise on the information-based economy of the future.

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