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Monday, 09 March 2009
Article Index
Dismantling Conventional IT Wisdom
Focusing on the Right Customer

By Ellen Pearlman





Strategic Thinker: Robert Lewis

Credentials: Lewis is president of IT Catalysts, Inc., author of seven books and more than 650 columns dealing with how to effectively lead IT organizations.

Big Idea:
Forget about treating end-users as internal customers and running IT as a business.

Book:
Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology, by Robert Lewis, published by IS Survivor Publishing, November 2008.

Blog:
CIO Zone IT Management Blog


There are some IT management mantras that are so ingrained in IT consultant-speak that I can recite them in my sleep: Run IT as a business, treat internal users as customers, be strategic and align with the business. Robert Lewis, an IT consultant and blogger for CIOZone takes a somewhat different approach to running IT. He describes it all in his latest book, Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology, with a mixture of humor and pragmatism.


He sets his sights on dismantling conventional wisdom on many different subjects, including: best practices, metrics, process, employee relationships, strategic IT, internal customers, running IT as a business, and IT projects. I found his section on "the nature of the IT enterprise" particularly insightful since it redefines how IT fits into the business.


One of his assertions is that it doesn't pay to focus your time and energy on aligning IT with the business if you haven't already demonstrated basic competence. "Strategic alignment without competence delivers nothing because zero times anything is still zero," he says. On the other hand, if a CIO does deliver on competence she is still providing some value. So Lewis says if you have to choose between competence or strategic alignment, go for competence, since some value is better than no value.


Another concept that Lewis tackles is the Big Project. "Anyone who has spent any time at all in IT knows a simple, basic fact," he says, "Projects tend to fail, enhancements always succeed." And while much has been written about why projects fail, Lewis says not much has been said about why enhancements succeed. He says they succeed for three reasons: they are simple, developers and end-users communicate directly, and they are short.


Lewis believes big projects should not be undertaken since it's a given that they'll fail. Instead he recommends turning big projects into more digestible and easily achievable enhancements, using adaptive methodologies, with high interactivity between developers and business users (which rules out offshore outsourcing). Although he cautions that overall system planning must still take place so that major modules fit and work together. In addition, technical reviews take on greater importance when going down the enhancements-only path to be sure that shortcuts don't occur that reduce quality.


Next: Focusing on the Right Customer




 
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