CIOs told to scrap enterprise IT departments

Before CIOs seeing this heading go apoplectic at such heresy, let me say that the heading of this article by Shane Schick in itWorldCanada referring to the keynote speech given by Peter Hinssen at an invitation-only event for Canadian CIOs should end with “BUT not an enterprise IT role!”. This would more accurately reflect what  Peter is saying (in this article and supporting video – I have not yet read his book although I have met Peter and heard him speak). Peter’s main points are:

  1. IT is too important to be left to the IT function
  2. IT is today embedded in everything we do
  3. The term IT alignment perpetuates the separation between IT and the rest of the business
  4. We need to move beyond alignment to “fusion”
  5. We need to redefine the relationship between IT and the business
  6. IT needs to move from being a side activity to a core activity of the business
  7. We need to focus on technology-enabled innovation
  8. IT people need to be rewarded on a balance of IT measures and direct business value

I very much agree with all of these points – indeed, we made similar points 11 years ago in The Information Paradox and much of that thinking has carried through into Val IT™ and other similar approaches. I encourage you to watch the short video interview with Peter and reflect on what he is saying. In doing so – going back to my suggested heading change – consider that there will always be an enterprise IT role, but not necessarily or even likely an IT department – parts of which will and should move into the business areas with the “factory” pieces being provided by an external utility, be it SaaS, the “cloud” or whatever we call it by then. How many of today’s CIOs will be able to fill that enterprise role is, as Peter suggests, another question.

Who is “Minding the Farm”?

Two recent articles, one about outsourcing, and the other about risk-management provide yet further evidence of the current shortcomings of enterprise governance, and the urgent need to take action.

Outsourcing – seen as one approach to deal with the current economic downturn – is the subject of a recent CBR article Euro business execs blind to outsourcing cost benefits by Kevin White in which he discusses the results of a new study.  The study, which was carried out by Cognizant in conjunction with Warwick Business School, found that:

  • Most CIOs and finance directors think the outsourcing of IT services can help them reduce costs but fewer than half of them could actually prove it, since they do not try or find it difficult to quantify its impact on the bottom line.
  • More than a third simply do not bother to assess the financial contribution to their businesses and 20% cannot remember if they have tried.
  • A third of CIOs and CFOs believe that the business value of outsourcing cannot be assessed beyond a one-time cost saving.

The research was carried out to assess attitudes to outsourcing and the impact of the current economic climate on IT and business decisions. The researchers polled executives in some of Europe’s biggest companies. The businesses reached across the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Benelux, France and the Nordics and a majority of the 263 respondents were reported to be spending between $5 and $100 million annually on outsourcing.

“They seem to believe outsourcing will save money, but fewer than 20% of the CFOs and CIOs had any confidence in their quantification,” said Sanjiv Gossain, VP and head of Cognizant in the UK. The study also showed that CFOs feel CIOs need more help to communicate the full benefits of outsourcing but only 37% of CFO respondents rate their CIOs ability to do this.

The study report concluded, “Senior executives appear to be making outsourcing decisions based upon short term cost cutting – which remains crucial – but outsourcing’s impact stretches well beyond the initial labour, skills and cost advantages.”

Shareholders and taxpayers alike should find it totally unacceptable that such major decisions would be made without a full understanding of their impact,  inadequate or no quantification of business value, and without even measuring whether cost savings are actually being realized.

Governance shortcomings also extend to risk-management – another recent article from Accenture Heeding lessons from economic downturn discusses the results of an an their 2009 Global Risk Management Strategy Study which found that the vast majority (85 percent) of corporate executives surveyed say they need to overhaul their approach to risk-management if the lessons of the economic crisis are to be used to improve business results.

The study, based on a survey of 260 chief financial officers, chief risk officers and other executives with risk-management responsibilities at large companies in 21 countries, also pointed to a lack of integration of current risk-management and performance-management processes. While nearly half the respondents said that their company’s risk-management function is involved to a great extent in strategic planning (48 percent) or in investment and divestment decisions (45 percent), only 27 percent said the risk-management function was involved to a great extent in objective-setting and performance management.

“Executives could improve their organizations’ performance and position themselves for economic recovery by linking and balancing risk management and performance management to aid their decision-making and increase shareholder returns,” said Dan London, managing director of Accenture’s Finance & Performance Management practice. “Being effective at this also requires companies to integrate their risk management capabilities enterprise-wide.”

Survey respondents identified a number of common problems with their risk-management functions, including:

  • Ineffective integration of risk, return and capital issues in decision-making (identified by 85 percent of respondents);
  • Lack of alignment between the company’s strategies and its risk appetite (85 percent);
  • Insufficient enterprise-wide risk culture (82 percent);
  • Inadequate availability of timely risk, finance and business data (80 percent);
  • Lack of integration and aggregation across all risk types (78 percent); and
  • Ambiguous risk responsibilities between corporate and business units (78 percent).

What I find particularly worrisome is that I could substitute the term “value” for “risk” above and the findings would still apply.

The Val IT™ definition of value is “the total life-cycle benefits net of related costs, adjusted for risk and (in the case of financial value) for the time value of money”. When management continues to focus on cost, with little understanding of, or attention to benefits or risk, or indeed of overall value, and also fails to manage actual performance, it should come as no surprise that we continue to have such a poor track record of actually creating and sustaining value – especially, but certainly not limited to IT-enabled investments! Enterprise governance needs to focus on creating and sustaining value, integrating all aspects of value – benefits, costs and risks –  to support the full life-cycle of investment decisions from ideation, definition, selection and execution of investments through to the operation and eventual retirement of resulting assets.