My last post focused on an apparent problem: that if the delivery of IT was a repeatable process, why were many corporates so bad at it? One commenter noted that many companies were still in business and therefore their ICT was probably good enough: this is a highly valid point.

A counterpoint dropped into my Google reader this morning, courtesy of Bankervision (James Gardner):

But, as everyone who works in a large company knows, you never get such an experience at work. Everything is a few versions behind, and even when it’s up to date, it all works so slowly. This, in part, is because of all the management, and security, and monitoring, and stuff that IT people feel they have to do to protect their assets.

What are the key changes IT organisations would have to make if they really wanted to deliver a decent consumer computing experience?

James then outlines 8 or so key things an IT department needs to do to reverse the trend. The key thing, though, that stands out for me is this one:

4. IT can’t only be about cost. I am so exhausted by the amount of effort we go to reduce cost. I mean, I’m not advocating that everyone should just go and spend anything they like on shiny gadgets, but really, this laser sharp focus on cost containment prevents you from moving things forward at a decent pace. IT is an asset, a strategic enabler. Do you ask a starving athlete to run faster and longer with less food? Not really.

Someone (not sure who, clue me in reader!) once said that a cynic is someone who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.  This could be said to describe the modern IT department totally: in my experience we are totally clueless about the value that the IT we support provides to the business.

The word “cynical” also describes the attitude of many IT staff when faced with a new business initiative. Let’s face it, we’ve seen so many failures. So many things were supposed to be the next big thing and disappointed us (at best) or near-bankrupted us (at worst). Vendors are only partly to blame – promising us the earth and delivering the same old mediocre incremental updates – but IT doesn’t help by only focusing on the nuts and bolts and forgetting the business outputs it is meant to deliver.

So what should be our priority? I would argue that focusing on ways and metrics to calculate the value of the ICT we deliver has got to be the way forward. How can our partners in the business decide which ICT investments to prioritise in an era of extreme cost-cutting? How do we know if the value of a particular system is worth the cost it incurs? Only by focusing on the value returned by a system can we know if it delivers a return on investment. We do it for other projects but why not for our ICT infrastructure?

This is not to say that James’ other points aren’t valid – they are. But they reinforce a view that ICT decisions are in some way something to do with the ICT department. They shouldn’t be exclusively so: we need a different set of competencies brought to bear on the ICT investment selection process.

We can’t solve our problems with the same thinking that created them. We need different competencies in the CIO role, and different supporting skills in those that advise the CIO.