Challenges for today's CIO: Global IT strategy

Having no co-ordinated approach to IT across your company is a great way to waste money without really trying, says John Handby....

Having no co-ordinated approach to IT across your company is a great way to waste money without really trying, says John Handby. A holistic approach to IT is especially important for global companies, even though many other aspects of management are better handled locally.

I have worked as a CIO within most styles of company governance. As received management wisdom - and, dare I say, fashion - has oscillated in its view of what makes a successful company, the approach to governance has similarly ebbed and flowed.

So we have had command and control from the centre versus the autonomy of strategic business units, and most variations in between. The approach taken to managing IT within the company has similarly reflected these seasonal changes - rather like the hemlines on dresses.

Reconcile IT governance with management culture
It is axiomatic that adopting an approach to IT governance that is at odds with the management culture of the company is unlikely to prove a winner. So many CIOs have been forced to live within a management style that makes their job even more of a challenge.

My conviction based on my own direct experience is that a co-ordinated approach to IT across the company is essential. To do otherwise is to waste money for no identifiable benefit. The issue becomes particularly acute within global companies where many aspects of management must be handled locally.

Corporate sales messages for example often do not translate between diverse markets and different cultures. But conversely managing global manufacturing and distribution of products requires a far more holistic approach. So it is with IT.

I have had many conversations with fellow CIOs where their real challenge has been not the
"It is impossible to adopt the consistent approach needed to systems and infrastructure if individual business units are not committed to the objectives of what is planned"
John Handby
technology, but rather the political barriers to its effective deployment. It is impossible to adopt a consistent approach to systems and infrastructure if individual business units are not committed to the objectives of what is planned.

Simple objectives such as global desktop consistency remain a pipe dream in some major companies even today for this kind of reason. While it is easy to criticise our suppliers for failing to provide in their products and services the consistency and ease of deployment we seek, often a greater problem lies within our own organisations.

Consistency is key
In my last corporate role as a global CIO I was fortunate to report directly to an executive chairman who had very clear views on global consistency - across all relevant activities, not just IT. Our strategic objectives were very challenging and he was concerned not to waste effort.

The head of each discipline was therefore on the management board of the company and issues were openly debated. Once agreement was reached decisions were clear and action followed swiftly. I found it possible to achieve a lot in a short space of time because of this uncomplicated approach to governance.

As technology becomes increasingly critical to company performance and the position of CIOs changes to reflect this, perhaps it is time to make more of an issue of IT governance and the importance of a holistic approach. As things stand we are wasting time and effort on barriers that prevent our companies being as successful as they might and/or getting optimum value for money from IT investments.

Of course one cannot (unfortunately!) wave a magic wand and remove politics from corporate life, but perhaps the time is right for a little more action and a little less conversation.

John Handby
is chief executive at CIO Connect
This was last published in September 2002

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