Gartner CIO advice: The good, the bad and the plain odd

Faced with an economic downturn, CIOs are being swamped with advice on how to tackle 2009. Silicon.com's Tim Ferguson reviews the latest advice from Gartner.
Written by Tim Ferguson, Contributor
It seems CIOs are being told what to do in the New Year by every analyst, industry watcher and publication (ours included). Gartner recently joined the throng with its annual recommendations - with mixed results.

One of Gartner's best ideas is for CIOs to set aside time to get hands-on with newer technologies such as e-book readers, Google Chrome and HD teleconferencing or building mini-cloud applications.

Being familiar with the latest tech - even if some of it sounds consumer-focused - is wise because CIOs can then make the best choices for what their business uses.

It also adds to their credibility, especially among the technical members of their team. It never looks good to be in the dark about up-and-coming trends.

Gartner's CIO resolutions for 2009

1. Start building an alumni network

2. Stop being the exception that enforces the rules

3. Start scouting for key talent

4. Start preparing for the unexpected

5. Start using social systems yourself, visibly

6. Start taking cloud seriously

7. Stop ignoring people and opting for soft targets

8. Start offering your vendors a free lunch

9. Stop fearing the future; start driving it

10. Discover newer technologies to get experience of in 2009

Another solid suggestion is to identify which people on your team are working on projects that have the potential to bring long-term gains - and to make sure their jobs are safe.

Gartner points out that, while this year there is likely to be pressure to cut costs, sacrificing key personnel could leave businesses vulnerable when the economy recovers.

The other main area Gartner focuses on is talent. It recommends that, with IT workers losing jobs due to the economic downturn, CIOs should take advantage of the large pool of tech professionals looking for work.

Linked to this is the suggestion that CIOs build up their company alumni networks to keep in touch with people that have skills and experience with legacy technology used within the organization.

The list offers plenty of food for thought but a couple of suggestions struck me as odd or even unwise.

For example, Gartner advises CIOs to prepare for the unexpected by challenging traditional ways of thinking within the leadership team. This sounds fair enough but one of the ways Gartner thinks it should be done sounds risky.

Gartner says: "We advise CIOs to find people to join the discussion who don't fit the existing mould and perhaps even deliberately choose people who will irritate the majority." But couldn't irritating people backfire?

Certainly it will only work if the new blood has some genuinely innovative and useful ideas. If they're the sort who just bother everyone, they won't manage to influence the IT department's thinking or decision making in a positive way.

Another bit of unusual advice is for CIOs to decline vendor courtesy trips. Instead, Gartner says CIOs "should identify the senior management leader in each of their key vendors… and invite them to lunch or dinner at a chain-restaurant venue that sets a starkly thrifty tone."

The argument is that vendors will be working even harder than usual for the attention of CIOs in 2009, with an emphasis on more face-to-face discussions. So, argues Gartner, CIOs should make clear what they want on their own terms.

But is taking vendor execs to a Pizza Express really the answer? Couldn't it risk making the CIO look unprofessional or just cheap? Surely having a phone conversation or meeting a vendor at your office would be a better alternative.

In the end Gartner provides a mixed bag of advice - from the solid to the potentially risky.

Luckily most good CIOs know to take recommendations from even a reliable source with a pinch of salt - and think for themselves on the big issues.

This article by Tim Ferguson was originally published on silicon.com.

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