Gartner advocates CIOs moving beyond cost lock-downs. Is it time to stop being so negative?

Is your job as CIO to find ways of saving money, spend less, control, clamp down and basically always say no? If so – which is fairly likely given a business climate where if it isn’t nailed down it will get outsourced – then you may be doing your job as defined by your organisation but you will end up storing up trouble for yourself and IT as a whole. This is the view of leading Gartner analyst Jeff Mann, research vice-president, who recently told delegates at the Midsized Enterprise Event in Paris that, “being a negative CIO will harm your company’s recruitment as young people won’t want to work there; and will end up being counter productive as users are just going to do it anyway and route round you.” Is this a fair accusation? Is it the CIO’s fault that budgets are tight and that IT’s role is seen as primarily about cost control?

The new employee

For Mann, the brutal fact is that employees coming into a company now use iPods, MP3 file sharing, instant messaging and other examples of what is coming to be called ‘Web 2.0’. These new employees expect greater ubiquity of technology matched by more participation in its use and manipulation. “By 2015 people will customise 90 per cent of the information, tools, education and technological resources they use at work, at home, for leisure and for entertainment,” he predicts. Mann calls this process the consumerisation of technology and wonders if the CIO is up to the challenge of dealing with it. “IT has become very good at controlling cost and complexity in the last five years but it’s now become a reflex. The mindset is now too much ‘how do I do drive out cost here?’”

A better way, he suggests, is to work with the business to identify real areas of return and encourage investment. These can be a lot cheaper than you might think. Mann points to the growing use of blogs as easy and convenient ways for staff to communicate internally, as ways for instance to hold virtual progress meetings instead of always meeting up face-to-face. Other organisations are using Web 2.0 things like wikis (community created and maintained encyclopaedias) as ways to share information. “So the average employee enters the workforce with multiple virtual networks already established and thinks, for efficiency, electronic communication is better than face-to-face. The message they are sending is ‘value my contribution. If you don’t, I will find someone who will’.” The message for CIOs is to move beyond the cost lock-down model and look at ways to foster better use of these kinds of ‘consumer’ technologies.

"The message is for CIOs is to move beyond the cost lockdown model and look at ways to foster better use of these kinds of ‘consumer’ technologies"

Freeing up funds

There may be some simplification here on Gartner’s part to make a point. After all, other Gartner analysts suggest CIOs are actually relaxing the fiscal grip. In January a global survey found that IT budgets were expected to increase by an average of 2.7 per cent worldwide in 2006. Which, after 2005’s 2.5 per cent rise, marks the third consecutive annual tech budget increase. But if the job of the CIO is to satisfy the business, then at least some of Mann’s call to greater imagination in IT deployment should be heeded. This may seem like heretical, Y2K madness/dot-com boom dope smoking talk, but aren’t we all a little tired now of ROI being the sole criterion against which the contribution of an IT project is measured? Research from the Computer Weekly database suggests the overall UK IT sector hit £73 billion last year and by 2010 it is expected to be £96bn. That’s a fairly impressive budget to manage. Maybe it’s time for CIOs to move beyond just keeping the accountants happy to managing IT in the way that is best for the long term value of the business.