IT professionalism has often been regarded as an oxymoron by cynics who doubt information technology leaders have the first clue as to business value. Now, however, there is a significant business tool that promises to provide some assurance as to the return on IT investments.

The Innovation Value Institute (IVI) at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, has developed a framework called the IT Capability Maturity Framework (IT-CMF). It began as a joint venture between the university and chip giant Intel and has been supplemented with the participation of over 40 partners including The Boston Consulting Group, Microsoft, Axa, Chevron, BP, Northrom Grumman and SAP. 

Its purpose? In short, to avoid what Intel CFO Stacy Smith and other project supporters call "shooting in the dark" with IT spending by providing a way to get the most out of investments (by comparing and contrasting with peers) and offering a way forward by showing how to demonstrate reduced cost or improved business performance.

The IT-CMF will be new to most CIO readers but supporters say the project is well advanced with over 120 companies in Europe and the US having engaged since the beginning of the venture two years ago.

Of course, the $64,000 question is: 'Will it work?'

Certainly there have been other attempts to scope and audit the value of IT investments and jemmy in methodologies and best-practice approaches. However, the backing of Intel could add the secret (or not so secret) sauce wanted to move such attempts from plan to widely recognised reality. This is, after all, the company that in large part created formal and de facto standards in personal computers, wireless networking, peripherals and other areas of IT infrastructure. It has the marketing heft that made 'Intel Inside' rival Coca-Cola in recognition and it has the hard money and brand to market IT-CMF in a way academic or IT management groups never could.

Intel is also relevant in that its global director of IT innovation Martin Curley has been a key participant: Curley is one of the most persuasive experts on the subject of IT governance I've ever heard. I hope that IT-CMF becomes as familiar a term as Wi-Fi and x86 -- IT management could certainly use that sort of backing.