Can IT excel in a tough economy? Yes, start with a one-pager.

Last week we conducted an experiment of sorts – a “jam session” of five teleconferences, each involving a panel of Forrester analysts.  The tone of each call was to get beyond a “hunker down” mentality and to use this climate as an opportunity to make lasting improvements to how we run IT.

   

Seventeen analysts in all took part, addressing topics of lean IT, value and vendor management, innovation, and improved communications – topics of particular interest in this economy and what’s sure to be a period of tighter IT budgets.

   

In the end we had roughly 300 participants, most of whom attended multiple calls and provided lots of fodder for discussion. 

   

The goal of this blog: To keep the conversation going, to answer questions that didn’t get answered during the jam session itself, and to use this community to help shape and participate in our resulting research agenda.

   

So, what’s your one-pager?

   

Why did I choose the five sessions that I did?  Back at our September Business & Technology Leadership Forum a client asked me how I would respond if I were in her shoes – those of a strategist/architect in the office of the CIO at a large service sector firm beset by a shrinking backlog of business and shrinking stock price. She recalled the definition of insanity and how it seemed to apply to her situation:  IT repeating business as usual but expecting different results.

   

I suggested something that I often apply myself when times get chaotic and stressful:  A succinct (no more than one-page, please!) list of “We will…” statements that can guide both decisions and communications related to IT.

   

Wearing my CIO hat, that one-pager would read as follows. It lines up with the jam session content, and it’s what I would use if I were put on the spot by the CEO:

   

1) We will create a leaner model of IT. Lean doesn’t equate to blind or indiscriminate cost cutting, it equates to eliminating waste, and that’s what we’re going to do: Eliminate waste in the form of redundant technologies (finally?), in processes that take too long, and in structures that are far too complex. This was the intent of the first call; and I’ll post on it next.

   

2) We will fixate on business value. Why should we reduce the company’s expectations from IT?  Let’s raise expectations. But, we’ll agree to a limited number of metrics -- both simple and transparent -- with our business peers, and we’ll ensure both parties understand tradeoffs between costs and performance against those measures. Everyone in IT will know where we stand.

   

3) We will practice tough love with our IT suppliers. 82% of jam session attendees said the economy was forcing them to put more pressure on their vendors. We’ll apply pressure as well, but we won’t flog them. We’ll negotiate on value and SLAs rather than simply costs (this will hedge future risks) and we’ll take a hard look at maintenance and upgrade needs.

   

4) We will protect innovation and look for it in more places. If we cut capital spending, of the amount that remains we’ll keep the portion allocated to new/innovation investments the same or growing. In addition to the “new stuff” we’ll set up a process and incentives targeted at near-term innovations that eat into the 75% of our budget that goes toward ongoing operations.

   

5) We’ll clean up how we communicate. We’ll change the discussion and our message from one of cutting IT spend to one of investing in IT to lower overall company costs. We’ve tried this message before and failed. But because we’re fixing our metrics and concentrating on near-term innovations, this message will fly. As CIO, my direct reports and I will walk the halls and we’ll consider cost effective social computing tools to help us get buy-in.

   

There you have it.  These are the five things that I’d focus on.

My colleagues and I hope to blog on these issues – a lot.  And we’ll discuss how, this time, we can and should approach each a bit different. After all, who wants to be considered insane?

   

Tell me if you think this is too rah-rah or Pollyannaish.

   

And please share with us your own “I will…” statements, those that would show up on your one-pager.