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 / Spring 2008 / Issue 50(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Practical Visionary

That level of access allowed Piatt to create some critical governance rules regarding how projects are evaluated and who should be involved in the decisions. “I worked with the management team to establish a set of guiding principles for IT, which was approved in June 2007,” Piatt notes. “One principle states, ‘No major strategic business initiative in the corporation can be approved in its final form until there has been direct involvement in its planning by the central IT function.’” In that regard, Piatt is pushing hard for a company-wide view of technologies that is focused on increasing the productivity of the IFC’s employees in the field, rather than on narrow departmental interests. His approach includes expanding the ways in which mobile technologies such as BlackBerries are used — notori­ously difficult for large organizations to manage — as well as deploying cutting-edge connectivity technologies for helping offices keep in touch with one another as well as with headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Among the positive results of Piatt’s efforts: When IFC’s CEO, Lars Thunell, launched a new strategic planning process across the entire corporation, IT was invited to participate in many of the business lines’ initial sessions, held in October 2007. “We participated actively in the discussions about what the business is trying to accomplish,” Piatt says, “to ensure that the IT implications in their planning would be considered, allowing my team and me to engage at the strategic business level. This also allowed us to identify consistent themes across multiple lines of business, so that we could weave them together into our own planning.”

To make sure that he continues to provide the IFC with innovative technologies as part of his role as a strategic advisor, Piatt has been looking at Web 2.0 technologies such as social networking and tag clouds. He is also considering hiring 10 to 12 “reverse mentor” interns, who will work with top executives to show them how best to use these technologies in their daily work. And he has hired a 17-year veteran from the investment side of the corporation, with no prior IT experience, as deputy CIO in charge of client relationships. The deputy’s job, says Piatt, is to “make sure that the CBI staff assigned to the new client function stay focused on business advocacy and do not revert to acting as IT project managers.”

Both Michael Gliedman and Bill Piatt have worked hard to prove themselves capable of taking and keeping their place at the strategic center of their organizations. In both cases, demonstrating their value meant running operations smoothly, leaving the confines of the IT department in search of ways to make strategic contributions, creating a governance process that incorporated technology into strategic discussions, and conceiving and completing visionary projects that actually worked. Their stories have much to teach other CIOs — and the top executives who hire them — about how to leverage technological and human capability together in order to make the most significant contribution they can to their companies.

Reprint No. 08106

Author Profiles:

Michael Farber ([email protected]) is a vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton in McLean, Va. Specializing in global IT, he has more than 20 years of experience providing IT strategy, architecture, and design services to both public- and private-sector organizations, including U.S. government oversight institutions, Cabinet-level agencies, and commercial clients.

Tom Greenspon ([email protected]) is a vice president with Booz Allen based in McLean, Va., who specializes in IT strategy and systems transformation for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Jeffrey Tucker ([email protected]) is a vice president with Booz Allen in New York. He works with the world’s leading companies on developing and implementing IT strategies and establishing world-class IT capabilities. Tucker currently leads the firm’s work in IT for the consumer and media industries.
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  1. Allan E. Alter, “The Role of the CIO: Setting a Strategic Course,” CIO Insight, April 2007: Last year’s very informative update of a long-running survey of top IT executives on CIOs and their position within their companies.
  2. Marianne Broadbent, The New CIO Leader: Setting the Agenda and Delivering Results (Harvard Business School Press, 2004): This tough-minded survey of how top IT executives succeed offers advice rooted in the realpolitik of the world of the corporate CIO.
  3. Nicholas G. Carr, Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage (Harvard Business School Press, 2004): The book-length version of Carr’s seminal, and controversial, article on IT and corporate strategy. A must-read for those interested in either subject.
  4. Rich Kauffeld, Johan Sauer, and Sara Bergson, “Partners at the Point of Sale,” s+b, Autumn 2007: Description of how shelf-centered collaboration among manufacturers and retailers provides a major new opportunity for the strategic CIO.
  5. National Basketball Association Web site: Even if you aren’t a basketball fan, it’s worth taking a look at the state of the art in Web site technology.
  6. For more articles on IT and technology, sign up for s+b’s RSS feed.
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