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Long-term CIO Strategy

Frank Petersmark | March 22, 2011
CIOs must be more like the ant, rather than the grasshopper

In Aesop's fable, "The Ant and the Grasshopper," the frugal ant laid up food for winter and survived when it got cold. The grasshopper didn't and died when the food ran out. Today's CIOs must be more like the ant, but they need a bit of the grasshopper in them too. They must balance the need their organizations have for immediate and impactful value from IT, while at the same time building the business technology foundation that will insure long-term business value and capabilities.

In today's hypercompetitive marketplaces, CEOs, CFOs and CIOs have to be convinced that their business technology investments and environments will produce real business advantages for them, over the short and long term. These leaders increasingly recognize the value in employing a well-conceived and constructed enterprise architecture as a necessary prerequisite for the success of any major investment or project. In the same way that no builder worth his salt would erect a building without an architectural blueprint, no CIO should put their organization or themselves at risk without an architectural technology blueprint to serve as a guiding light. CIOs are under increasing pressure to manage the IT spend as an investment that will drive a business value return for the enterprise.

Early decisions important

As a result, the astute CIO is focusing more and more on making the right decisions and recommendations early in the program and project life cycle by employing sound architectural principles and governance as a basis for such decisions. The consequences for not doing so can be burdensome and perhaps even career-constricting. With such high stake risks in play it seems curious that many CIOs and the organizations they work in often give short shrift to their enterprise architecture for business technology.

Perhaps it has something to do with the theoretical nature and characteristics of enterprise architecture, rather than the practical application of it to the benefit of the organization. Or perhaps it is a consequence of building architectural teams that prefer to stay in the ivory tower rather than descend from it and tour the landscape they have created but others have tilled.

In any event it remains the case that organizations continue to invest many millions into business technology efforts, and a still-too-large percentage of those investments become write offs for wounded or failed initiatives. It is also certainly the case that CIOs face the pressures of critical decision making on a daily basis, and the factors that weigh on those decisions are not strictly related to technology issues. Such things as market pressures, internal politics, limited time and budget, shortage of technical resources, business partnering, etc. are all relative constants for today's CIOs. Given that, it makes good business and career sense that many CIOs choose to reduce the risk and complexities of what they do in as many areas of control as possible - including, and increasingly, in the enterprise architecture realm. The benefits of such an approach are many and manifest, and arguably, the most substantial benefits reach far beyond the shores of the IT department.


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