Management Speak: You know I’m your biggest supporter.
Translation: Uh … what did you say? I wasn’t listening.
IS Survivalist Chris Lively makes it clear that “support” is a tricky concept.

Let’s play telephone. You know the game – it’s the one where each person at a party whispers a message in the ear of the next person, until the message has gone full circle. By the time the message returns to the original speaker, it’s completely distorted.

Only we’re going to play it the IS way. We’re going to have only two people in the room – a CEO and a CIO. And instead of whispering, they’ll speak in loud voices. Let’s listen in:

CEO: “We always seem to be one year away from achieving high value. The high cost of undelivered promises is a continuing and increasing problem.”

CIO, trying to repeat the CEO’s message verbatim: “IS isn’t very well aligned with the business and we need to do a better job of getting involved in setting the company’s strategic direction.”

The CEO quotation comes from quotes in a recent InfoWorld article reporting on a census conducted by the London School of Economics. The CIO quotation paraphrases conversations I’ve had with CIOs and articles I’ve read by various pundits describing what they think the big problems are with IS.

I guess we weren’t paying attention during all those seminars where they taught good listening skills.

Why do we keep getting this wrong? The answer, I’m afraid, is simple: Strategy is fun and easy. Done the usual way, it requires neither deep thought nor intellectual rigor. Not only that, it’s prestigious, and provides a wonderful boost for our egos: We’re involved in setting the company strategy!

Delivery, in contrast, is hard work.

Pick up the clue phone, folks. If you want to be involved in the fun stuff you have to earn the right. Do you know why the directors of manufacturing, customer service, accounting, and sales and marketing all get to play? Because manufacturing gets product out the door, sales and marketing gets it sold, customer service keeps ’em coming back for more, and accounting makes sure the bills are paid and taxes are kept as low as possible.

Meanwhile, IS projects have a failure rate worse than the Cubs’ infamous shortstop, André “Double-play” Rogers (so-called because when he batted with a man on first, you could count on his hitting a grounder to the second baseman). With projects of any size, we bat about .100 – about 10 percent get done with some semblance of success.

In the data center, our servers go up and down like yo-yos. Sometimes it’s deliberate, too – I know of some data centers that still take down servers in the middle of the business day because that’s a more convenient time to do it … for the data center staff. Sometimes servers crash a lot because the data center manager expects servers to be unreliable. Trying to make an NT (or Novell, or whatever) server reliable, to these mainframe jockeys, has about as much point as Don Quixote’s tilting at windmills.

Never mind that lots of data centers run reliable NT environments (hint: reboot the server every Sunday night) – these fossils subconsciously want the servers to crash, because that will justify their dislike of the new technology.

Then there’s the Help Desk. Many CIOs staff it with the lowest-paid, most poorly trained people in IS, and use it largely as a dispatch center. Then they complain when end-users try to bypass it. Run an actual information center, staffed with experts in PC applications who actually enjoy helping end-users succeed?

Bring up that sorry subject and you’ll hear the same explanation you’ll hear when you ask for a raise: “It isn’t in the budget.” What a sorry excuse that is, too – if you want to be the CIO, you’d better learn how to justify important expenditures, even those whose benefits are hard to quantify.

The funny thing is, CEOs aren’t complaining about lack of quantifiable return on investment. That’s our hang-up.

The CEOs are complaining about broken promises and simple bad management.

Want to be involved in your company’s strategic planning?

If you want to get picked for the All Stars, first you have to succeed at the fundamentals.