To really understand

Column by Stijn Viaene, professor of Management Information Systems
(Source: Smart Business Strategies, April 2011)

  • Professor at KULeuven and Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School
  • Partner at Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School
  • Deloitte Research Chair Bringing IT to Board Level

You were just made CIO. Or better: they made you an offer you couldn't refuse. But you know nothing about IT management – let alone SAP, Oracle or all that other technological hocus-pocus. And you let this be known immediately, but to no avail… Is that a problem?

Well, I'm not really sure myself. Although Marketing was one of the biggest IT users. So, in fact it wasn’t totally illogical of them to pull you out of there and make you CIO. To put it in the words of Time magazine: “You (the IT consumer) are now in the drivers seat.”

Incidentally, this You was put on a pedestal back in 2006. So, looked at objectively, we’re already quite late with our palace revolution. Still, as head of the Marketing department, you never kept your opinion secret: “How difficult can that be?!?” Always too late, too expensive, absolutely inflexible and utterly autistic. “Complete chaos, that IT department.”

Nevertheless, you have an incontestable reputation as a leader. Your people have carried you aloft on their shoulders. Products sprang onto the market and were consumed like hotcakes. And if only IT had cooperated just a bit better at the time, your record of achievements would have been even more impressive. But instead of a seat in the Executive Team, you get … demoted. At least, that’s how it feels.

Three months later. A phone call from the Ivory Coast. Communication with the most important production site in Africa has been totally cut off. Rebels have dug up and severed the Ivory Coast Telecom network cables. Imagine that. Two weeks later: an earthquake in Japan. And like a true Super Hero, you race to the aid of your colleagues. Meanwhile: meeting with the CFO. His iPad won’t print anymore. Nobody knows why, and Apple won’t provide support. In no time, you have one of your best technicians on the scene. Then, they pass a new strategic cost reduction plan (the latest in the endless series, that is) under your nose. But it’s fundamentally different this time, they tell you. The new normal – or something like that.

The new head of Marketing is also acting very oddly these days. Does he feel threatened? You constantly wonder what you’re really achieving. You try to do right by everybody, but it’s always so uphill. What remains, by the way, of your ambitious ‘IT alignment plan’ that everyone greeted with applause three months ago? You were never really friends ... and yet you have the sense that you understand your predecessor better than ever before.

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