Someone Should Get Fired

Check out this opening paragraph to an article titled How strategic is our technology agenda? in McKinsey Quarterly:

“The CEO of a leading consumer goods company was unhappy with his CIO. An important competitor was gaining market share at a disquieting pace by using social media and data analysis to target customers more effectively. When asked about these developments, the CIO outlined some potential responses, but he didn’t follow through on them. Instead, according to the CEO, the CIO remained preoccupied with “keep the lights on” IT projects and was therefore unable to gain traction with the business leaders and others within the company who would be critical in helping to address the new competitive challenge.”

My take: Someone should get fired. I’m just not sure if it’s the CEO, the firm’s CMO, or the authors of the article. But I’m pretty sure it’s not the CIO who should get canned. 

Why should it be the…

CEO? If IT isn’t “strategic” within an organization, it’s not necessarily the CIO’s fault. I’ve worked with plenty of CIOs who have tried to make IT more strategic, but find that the processes, the org structure, and the management mentality required to make IT strategic aren’t in place to make it happen. 

In a report I published a while back called Bank Performance: Why IT Management Matters, I found that it doesn’t matter which technologies a firm uses. What matters is how a firm manages IT. The “how” of IT management is comprised of three dimensions: 1) Tolerance of IT risk; 2) Senior management support of IT; and 3) Coordination between IT and business functions.

What my researched showed was that firms (in this case, banks) that have a high tolerance for IT risk, have strong senior management for the use of technology as a business enabler and differentiator, and demonstrate tight coordination between the IT department(s) and lines of business are more profitable than other banks. 

In other words, for IT to be strategic, it takes more than just a bottom-up drive from the CIO’s organization. 

Another [big] reason why the CEO is a candidate to be shown the door: Why is going to the CIO with a problem related to social media and data analysis? 

This takes us to the second candidate to get the axe…

CMO? If a CPG firm is losing market share because it isn’t leveraging social media or successfully executing data analysis, the fault for this doesn’t lie with the IT organization, it lies with the marketing organization.  

The McKinsey article also contains the following passage:

“Vocal business unit leaders at a North American insurance company, for example, insisted that sluggish times to market for new products were an important factor behind its eroding market share. They also believed that poor IT systems—specifically, the software that supported pricing and helped adapt insurance products to local regulatory requirements—were responsible for the lagging product-development performance.”

Hogwash. I believe full well that IT systems might be a negatively influencing factor in the firm’s time-to-market for new products, but the fault in this situation lies with the inability of the lines of business to effectively make the case for investing in an makeover or overhaul of those applications. IT can help the business understand the technology implications of investments, but it is the business’ responsibility for making the business case for investments that improve its performance. 

In the case of the CPG firm referenced at the beginning of the article, the CMO would appear to be seriously derelict in his or her duties to not be included in the CEO/CIO discussion. 

Which takes us to the third candidate(s) to be fired…

Authors? I don’t want to call anybody a liar here, but I don’t believe the CEO/CIO conversation actually happened. “Leading” CPG firms (McKinsey’s adjective) are generally marketing-driven firms. I don’t believe the CEO of a “leading” CPG firm would turn first to the CIO — and not the CMO — to discuss an issue with social media or market share. 

Maybe the authors took some poetic license for the purpose of the article. If so, I’m OK cutting them slack and not firing them for this relatively minor offense. 

See? I can be a nice guy.

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2 thoughts on “Someone Should Get Fired

  1. Sounds like mutual culpability. Who’s left if we shoot them all? 😉

    CIOs that are solely responsible for prioritization of business projects are set up to fail. The CEO and CIO should both support a transparent process that puts business units at the table for prioritization and funding. This process should also give the business insight into IT performance against run-the-factory and strategic initiative-related goals. A once-a-year look at IT priorities around strategic planning season isn’t going to get it done.

    Indeed, the CMO should have been building a case for change–but the CIO should have someone squared off with that business unit to assist in building that case and shepherding that initiative through the prioritization process. In my world there are no “IT projects”, there are only business projects and business units sponsor business projects (rational people can debate how to treat infrastructure/risk/security projects)

    I agree with the “capability review” recommendation mentioned in the insurance example. No less frequently than annually, companies should assess the fit of IT systems/process/org with business needs. Understanding external industry and technology trends is key to this assessment. Regular benchmarking vs. peers is a great exercise too (when used properly, another subject for another day…)

  2. As Moe, Larry or Curly might say, “poifect!”

    Blaming the CIO is such a cheap little game. Even if you accept in your assumptions that the CIO isn’t up to it the reason the wrong CIO is there is because the CEO didn’t understand what was needed.

    Neat little stories are usually just that….

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