Forrester's IT Forum: Are today's CIOs reacting to or participating in business strategy discussions?

At the Forrester Research IT Forum in Las Vegas, CIOs are being asked about their roles in a company's strategic future. Are they reacting to the decisions of others or are they influencing those decision-makers with their insight?
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

Are you drawing lines or moving trees? I've seen the image used before in motivational speeches - a line on the side of the road that makes a crooked detour around a fallen tree, the result of a crew that did what it was supposed to do - paint the line - but didn't do what it could have done - move the tree.

At Forrester's IT Forum in Las Vegas today, Starbucks CIO Stephen Gillett used the image to ask the CIOs if their IT teams are just building the tools that the upstairs suits are asking them to build or if they becoming active participants in the greater business strategy discussions, questioning methods and offering advice.

The morning presentations at the IT Forum were largely focused around this theme of Business Technology, a shift in thinking about IT departments as less of support systems and more along the lines of participants of the decision-making processes.

Also see: Poll: Four out of ten moving to private clouds; IT consolidations intensifying

The cliches are abundant during these discussions - but they drive home a bigger point about the new role of IT in this recession-beaten, consolidation-driven, efficiency-challenged environment. During the introductory remarks this morning, Forrester VP Tom Pohlmann rattled off a list of fundamental building blocks for transforming IT into this next-generation influencer of business operations. Among them: build capabilities, not projects.

How do you do that? Forrester VP and research director Alex Cullen tackled some of that in his own presentation. He said IT professionals need to help clarify what's important to the business, where the company should be investing. To start off, portfolios should be built around the priorities of the business with IT involved in the business process improvement initiatives, not just information improvement initiatives.

Sure, there's a gap between IT and business - but that has to break down. And that's not just something that CIOs should be focused on but rather senior executives, too. It used to be that CEOs were disconnected from CIOs, uninterested in that talk about mainframes and servers and apps and so on. But today's CEOs - who seem to be getting younger and younger - grew up with an Apple II in their bedrooms and increasingly have a strong grasp on the benefits of evolving technology.

Ah, evolving technology - as in new stuff, as in stuff we haven't done before, as in stuff that turns the old "that won't work" or "we've never done that" into real possibilities. At this point, Gillett offers some philosophical words to consider: "Wisdom hinders innovation. The more experience you have, the more you know why something cant be done (or work)."

Sometimes, those are valid reasons. But more often, they're the result of conceptual ruts - thinking about how to improve something you already do, as opposed to starting from scratch. If you've ever been in a meeting when someone says, "If only we could build a better (fill in the blank)" or "If we just added a (fill in the blank)," then you know about conceptual ruts.

The Forrester IT Forum kicked off today and continues through Friday.

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