Why taking a few punches on the financial crisis just might save IT

Patrick Gray believes that IT leaders still looking to find a seat at the C-level table might gain that influential position by taking a share of the responsibility for the failures that led to financial crisis.

With financial markets ever so slowly rising, and pundits predicting a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel, many seem to be breathing a cautious sigh of relief and happily putting talk of the financial crisis behind them. For CIOs, this may be precisely the wrong approach.

For years CIOs have pitched IT as far more than a shared service. Instead of just keeping the technical lights on and the servers humming, IT has made a case that it can be a key player in helping monitor and execute corporate strategy. This is the "holy grail" of IT, and fulfillment of those mercurial concepts like "alignment" and "sitting at the executive table" that we have been pitching to our colleagues in the C-suite for decades.

While it seems anathema to any leader's innate sense of self-preservation, taking some level of culpability for the financial crisis just might be your ticket to gaining that seat at the table that has remained elusive for most CIOs for so long.

Information Technology is presumably about information as much or more than it is about technology. While we can spend hours debating the sources and precise causes of the financial crisis, and no one suggests IT could have completely avoided the crisis and its fallout, there are likely areas where IT could have provided information that might have saved some money and some heartache.

We frequently claim an ability to provide analysis and commentary on the reams of data we manipulate when pitching a new business intelligence system or guidance on how that data might be leveraged toward better decision making, yet when asked about anything that IT might have done to avoid the financial crisis, many people I've spoken to suggest IT is here to manipulate the technology, not provide guidance, strategy or insight towards its use.

I am certainly not advocating that CIOs and the IT industry be subjected to the public flogging that bank CEOs and marquee brands have been submitted to. We certainly do not need any more images of browbeaten captains of industry retreating from meetings with politicians, hats in hand and browbeaten expressions across their faces. Rather, a casual conversation with your CFO or CEO suggesting IT might have made some errors in its focus as the financial crisis took root would be an appropriate tact. Suggest that IT might have provided enhanced information and analysis capabilities, or implemented more aggressive risk monitoring and see where the discussion goes.

Taking some measure of responsibility for a misdirection of corporate strategy that has impacted your company and millions of people will do far more for the mercurial concept of "alignment" in fifteen minutes than years of lip service coupled with retreating to a corner and quipping, "Hey, I just provide the tools" whenever the company makes a strategic error.


Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

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