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CIO Unplugged 7/16/14

July 16, 2014 Ed Marx 2 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

Abdication of Authority and the Poets

I used to write a fair amount of poetry in my early teens. I continued writing for about 10 years, but stopped shortly after marriage and after the birth of our first child. Julie remarked one day that my poetry had lost its romantic flair and creativity, reading more like a stuffy business letter. As I re-read some of the stuff I wrote, she was absolutely correct. “Dear Julie,” I would begin, and then end with something akin to, “With all due respect.”

Actually, even as I review some of my earliest material, I become increasingly critical of my writing. I think of how I might rephrase specific stanzas using today’s vernacular. Then again, sometimes when you mix the old and new, the outcome is not all that much better. I finally came to accept that while imperfect with today’s eyes, the poems of old were indeed perfect for the time in which I originally wrote them. A zeitgeist sort of thing, I suppose.

As I rummaged through old online files, I found several presentations I’d done around IT governance. I was shocked to find myself in disagreement with many of my original suppositions. But, as with my retrospective with poetry, those governance models were possibly the best for that point in time.

Or were they? With this historical vantage point, I noticed a disturbing trend that not only led me into a long-term malaise, but many of my peer group as well. Subconsciously, we ceded more and more control of IT to our customers, unknowingly setting the stage for a silent yet unintended overthrow.

Today, we are scratching our heads and wondering where the power of the CIO has gone. As I’ve said before, many of us are downright impotent, and I’m ringing the bell loudly to awaken the sleeping spirit.

My findings were disturbing. At one point, I want to cry, and then in the next second, laugh. We often blame our customers for uncontrolled IT costs and say crazy things like, “There is no such thing as an IT project.” We load governance councils with individuals who are unqualified to help make technology decisions and yet complain about the insufficient funds for infrastructure. Giving away control only doomed us to the Tragedy of the Commons.

From a historical perspective, the pendulum has swung a full 180 degrees. I applaud inviting others into the tent. Absolutely it was and remains the right thing to do. But somewhere along the line, we left the tent. We maintained our responsibility but abdicated our authority. We abandoned our leadership rights.

Many are now outside the tent looking in, running IT by title only. Not influence. Not leading. Just reacting. Yuck!

Do we want to swing all the way back? No! I suspect for most of us we need to shift more toward center. The governance continuum will vary by the culture, organizational challenges, environmental factors, and ultimately our individual leadership capabilities. We need to appreciate the journey, learn from it, and modify.

Let’s reconnect to our mantle of authority and lead governance. Not be ruled by governance.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. IT people know IT. When we ask non-IT people to make IT decisions the outcomes are poor.

    Our customers know their business. Beware any IT effort to tell them what their business is, what the success factors are, or the pitfalls to be found therein. When that happens the outcomes are poor.

    Therefore I always come back to this touchstone: The best systems always come from a marriage of IT and the business folks. If that partnership is working well then each party is contributing from their area of expertise and all the concerns are getting answered.

    The strategy flaw Ed identifies is when IT backs too far into “the business is the boss and we are customer-driven” corner. If all you are is customer-driven then you’ve become a passive partner and will be relegated to an order taker. “Customer-driven” sounds great and every organization needs some of this but it’s possible to go way too far and that’s a trap.

    In my experience the average business manager is looking at their feet and where to place their feet for the next step. It’s largely tactical and often short-term gains that they look for. They rarely have the time and the skills to approach their business strategically.

    Apologies to business managers to whom this does not apply; of course there will always be some exceptions.

  2. Hmmmm…..seems like someone took his eye off the ball and is now wondering why he struck-out! For such a “visionary” and “strategic-thinker” how could this happen? Could be that too much time is focused on patting yourself on the back about your personal achievements. Ed, maybe it’s time for
    you to take your own advice and move on to a new professional challenge….like a CEO
    position….or maybe a staff position so you can
    learn how an IT organization really works!







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