Time for a little 'era awareness'

Here's a news flash from the world of futures research: The best days of IT are upon us. This will be true for your IT department only if you realize that the IT decisions we make in 2010 really matter, if you are fully cognizant of the technical and psycho-political realities of the era that commences in 2010, and if you publicize and enumerate the value IT can create.

Far too many of the fine men and women working in IT today lack a sense of history (that is, where we've been and where we are) and the ability to imagine the IT-enabled opportunities of 2010 and beyond. In a way, they are nearly medieval. The people who inhabited what we now call the Middle Ages did not know they were living in the Middle Ages. Most of them had no sense that they could make their lives better. They had no expectation that the day that followed would be any different. Middle Agers were locked in time -- and so are many IT leaders.

The most important developments in the coming year will be associated with redrawing IT's attitudinal map -- bringing how we think about IT more in line with the opportunities and realities of the age in which we live.

IT leaders who don't want to be caught "era-unaware" need to focus on three areas: weeding out negative influences within their departments, optimizing infrastructure, and convincing users at long last that IT has value but is not free -- that business choices have cost implications for IT.

Defanging the angry few. Research associated with the IT Leadership Academy's "The Human Side of IT Value Creation" project indicates that 12.5% of the Western IT workforce is angry. These employees feel that they have been done wrong and that the IT industry owes them something. They are the sad folks who think that they should be running the show because they have a couple of certifications and once were able to charge outrageous rates for poorly designed and poorly conceived enterprise systems that were deployed in ways bordering on malfeasance. These people pose a real danger to the future of IT. In 2010, IT leaders need to identify them and get them gone or get them help.

Prospecting for infrastructure gold. IT needs to reach in and grab what Geoffrey Moore calls the "coins in the couch" -- the cash flow that can be generated by collapsing the costs of IT infrastructure. There is a bag of money to be saved via virtualization, green IT, cloud computing. Gordon Wood, author of Empire of Liberty, notes that in America's early national period, "America changed so much and so rapidly that Americans not only became used to change but came to expect it and prize it." In 2010, we need this kind of pro-change infrastructure thinking.

IT financial transparency. In 2010, IT needs to step up and boldly announce to the world, "We have value." IT is being held hostage by misguided attitudes about the value it can create. It needs to be like the young Caesar, who told his pirate kidnappers that they needed to double the ransom they were asking.

Many business executives are confused by the fact that while computing, storage and bandwidth costs have declined precipitously, IT costs keep going up. Jody Davids, the former CIO at Cardinal Health, explained to me that a wise CIO always makes sure to demonstrate impressive year-over-year improvement in the unit cost of computational functionality, so that it's clear that user demand is what's driving aggregate cost increases. One of the most important attitudinal changes in 2010 will be materially improving IT demand management.

Thornton A. May is author of The New Know: Innovation Powered by Analytics and executive director of the IT Leadership Academy at Florida State College at Jacksonville. You can contact him at thorntonamay@aol.com.

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