A compliment and a challenge for IT

The US Conference Board's endorses the profession

“Ultimately, IT can be counted on to get the job done. Just budget the money and get out of the way.” Who said that recently? Some cheerleading columnist in Computerworld? The head of a big IT consulting firm trying to win some business? A self-promoting CIO blowing smoke to stroke his own ego?

None of the above. It was The Conference Board, the people who do the US Consumer Confidence Index and the leading economic indicators.

Let’s give the statement a little context: it comes in a Conference Board report on virtual worlds such as Second Life that was written by telco guru and former Gartner analyst Edward M Roche.

Roche thinks executives should take virtual worlds seriously as a strategic opportunity, and he lays out eight questions for execs to consider — questions about entry strategy, corporate purpose, costs, revenue model and who will be in charge.

The final question: Is IT up to the job?

Roche’s answer: “The IT function in most companies is one of the most under-rated and under-appreciated groups. ... Unfortunately, continual nagging from users and extremely difficult technical challenges tend to make IT resistant to change. Often, a new project is considered little more than another headache. But, ultimately, IT can be counted on to get the job done. Just budget the money and get out of the way.”

Those words should thrill you and terrify you.

They should thrill you because they’re a spectacular endorsement of corporate IT. In a stroke, Roche gives CEOs a terse, credible explanation for why we can seem hard to deal with and even obstructionist, and then he throws The Conference Board’s credibility behind his faith that we can get the job done.

And those words should terrify you because, well, what will you do if your CEO really does budget the money and get out of the way?

If that happens, you’ll have no more excuses. You’ll have to deliver.

Everything IT has been promising for the past decade about listening to users, meeting their needs, putting technology to work for the business — on the day we actually get our chance, that bill comes due.

And remember, this Conference Board vote of confidence isn’t for some random IT project. It’s for helping our organisations get involved in virtual worlds, one of the most user-intensive, security-intensive, unstructured, unpredictable, outside-IT’s-control projects imaginable.

That will require bringing to bear everything we know about training, support, security, user wrangling, political infighting, keyhole peeping and just plain sneakiness. Oh, and there’s some technology involved, too.

Can we do it? Can you do it? Yes.

Roche and The Conference Board are right.

Every executive team should be able to look at a project, make the business decisions, give IT the budget and know that the job will get done.

By throwing that support behind IT, The Conference Board has raised the bar, and raised the expectation that we can clear it.

And that’s long overdue. The days when a business could afford for IT to be nothing more than a high-tech janitorial staff — merely keeping the lights on and the data flowing — are long gone.

It’s time for every IT shop to step up, to show that IT can be counted on to get the job done.

And that’s not cheerleading. That’s The Conference Board.

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