It’s that time of year again, when industry analysts and vendors release the results of research, surveys and analysis under headlines such as “CIO priorities for 2013” or “Top 10 strategic CIO issues for 2013”.
Quite often these reports comprise a list of the latest technology trends, buzz words and hot topics (as defined by the same analysts and vendors) which in some cases are supported by surveys of CIOs and other executives.
Now, call me cynical, but all the analysts want you to do is buy their latest report (ideally followed by some advisory services) while the vendors just want to sell you their latest (or should that be rebadged) product/service. Both tend to use scare tactics or negative interpretations of survey results; tell you that you are failing/will fail or that your role will disappear unless you purchase said report/product/service. Take the recent Gartner report about its annual global survey of CIOs, which claimed CIOs were “stuck in a rut” as one of its key messages.
Notwithstanding the real motives of the parties responsible for these reports, the main problem with headlines such as “Top 10 strategic CIO issues for 2013” is that they contradict at least two of the basic principles of IT strategy; alignment with the business and a long-term vision.
As a CIO your priorities should be shaped by your organisation’s priorities and your IT strategy by the business strategy; not by an analyst’s report or a vendor’s sales drive. Alignment is fundamental to a successful IT strategy, which should only change in line with changes in the business priorities or strategy.
Strategies are by definition multi-year; they are not something you should be developing or rewriting on an annual basis. They are the means by which the organisation achieves its long-term vision or goals. Yes they should be refined when required, to allow for changes in market conditions, competitor behaviour, unforeseen issues or quicker than expected progress but rarely need to be significantly changed from year-to-year. And certainly not because a vendor wants to increase its sales of a certain product or service.
That’s not to say that some reports do not contain useful information and insights for CIOs. For example, a recent study on cloud adoption commissioned by Host Analytics, contained some great data on the different perceptions of why cloud solutions were adopted, from CIOs and other executives. For any CIO struggling to get the message across on when/how to use cloud, this data gives some useful pointers as to how their C-suite colleagues may be viewing things differently, and hence how the CIO could adjust their approach, messages and communication accordingly.
And they also bring new and emerging technologies to the attention of CIOs; but new technologies are not in themselves a strategy and just being new or popular does not automatically make them a priority. New and emerging technologies simply provide a potential solution for delivering your strategy and may therefore appear on your roadmap as a result. As CIO you decide how and when the latest trends may be relevant to your business. It is not something you should be pushed into by attention grabbing headlines.
So analyst and vendor reports do contain some useful information if you get behind the publicity seeking headlines and ignore the questionable ‘advice’ that often mask their real insights. But the way these organisations present and use the findings seems to demonstrate a lack of understanding of the CIO role and how CIOs develop and manage IT strategy.
CIOs should bear this in mind the next time they are told what their strategy or priorities should be for the next year. Analysts and vendors do not know your business; their motivation is their own sales targets so don’t let them drive your strategy.