It?s not unlike the position most IT directors found themselves in at the height of the downsizing fashion. Once the Board found out that it was feasible to shop around for computer boxes, that software could be bought in ?cheapo? packages, and the whole IT operation could be outsourced at a bargain price, life for the IT Director has not been so secure. Last month, we followed the fortunes of two who made it to the top ? Mr Alpha, a piggy who went to market (outsourced his IT) and Mrs Bravo, a piggy who stayed at home (kept IT in-house). Here are two cautionary tales of failure, wrapped in protective anonymity as before.
This little piggy ate roast beef
Ms C knew her IT onions, and was looking for a richer diet. She was noticed by ?Mr Magic?, a person who was asked to make things happen for a certain motor car company stuck in the doldrums. He would outsource everything, from making the car to selling it, but retain control by implementing an incredibly sophisticated ?groupware network?. He realised Ms C would know what this was, and suggested she join his Board as IT director.
They set up a dealer network armed with software that allowed a customer to ?walk through? a new car on a computer screen, specifying its features. The car was then automatically incorporated into production plans accessed by all the networked suppliers, who went ahead and made it.
?People say the New Organisation is an alliance of autonomous partnerships,? said Ms C. ?Sure, none of these people report to us. But responsibility for quality remains ours ? because we have an electronic supervisor sitting inside the groupware which all our partners have to use.?
Mr Big, the CEO of an extremely large motor car company, noticed Mr Magic?s success. Big sent for his IT director. ?Build me this computer system,? he said. His IT director knew he couldn?t buy this groupware off the shelf. And he knew none of his programmers would touch his legacy programs; to incorporate these ideas into his existing systems would be a nightmare. So he said to Mr Big ?I think we should take them over, sir.? Which Mr Big did. And Mr Magic duly left, with the usual CEO?s compensation. And here?s the rub: so did Ms C. It seems Big?s IT director loved only Ms C?s systems, and not Ms C herself.
And this little piggy had none
Mr D loved technology. He knew how to pull it all together and make it work. And he was an absolute master at pioneering the latest stuff. He worked for a major building society, and when the data-processing manager retired, Mr D was a natural to take his place. Mr D wasn?t one of those ?hands off? guys. Enthusing the users was one of his particular skills.
So when he installed an executive information system for the Board, so that each director could drill down and pin performance responsibility right on the guy at the coalface, the CEO became his best friend. Mr D was encouraged by the chief executive to enhance the company?s equipment with state-of-the-art technology. The building society?s computer installation became a model for the industry. Mr D was made a director ? albeit in the second division of directorships which they kept for prestige, as opposed to power, appointments.
The Building Society was taken over. The new chief executive looked at the costs of his acquisition?s IT installation and, being an outsourcing fan, told Mr D: ?There are other ways of running this!? Mr D has since been in touch with four agencies specialising in top-level appointments. All have advised him to move into facilities management or a software house ?where your sort of skills pay off?. Mr D, however, is sensitive to their use of the word ?pay off?, knowing it is just a question of time.
I could tell you about another little piggy, a very wriggly little piggy, that laughed ?hee, hee, hee!? all the way home; who insourced and outsourced; who bespoked and then bought packages; who centralised and decentralised, and then centralised again; who built one of the world?s most expensive Wide Area Networks and then jumped on the Intranet; and who has now survived four takeovers. I could tell you, but I haven?t found him yet.
Kit Grindley is Price Waterhouse professor of systems automation at the London School of Economics.
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