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Editor's Letter: IT Visibility, Insight a Hot Topic

Visibility and insight into the IT organization is on everyone's minds.

Visibility: Now, there's a term you haven't heard lately. I'm kidding, of course; these days it's all we in the IT field hear about. There's visibility into your financial data, your inventory data, your purchasing data -- everybody wants a clear view into what's going on in the company. It may be the single largest value proposition IT offers.

At the Aberdeen Group Supply Chain Management Summit last month in Boston, for example, more than half of the 170 supply chain, financial and IT executives cited visibility initiatives as their top supply chain enhancement for 2007 (the next most popular answer, risk management, was cited by just 21% of the audience). Various technologies create this visibility, such as global logistics hubs that aggregate procurement and transportation data, then layer on analytics to present information in a scorecard format. Of course, ensuring common data definitions throughout the supply chain is at least as big a nightmare as in other parts of the enterprise, considering the number of partners that touch a given product from inception through delivery. That's one reason these projects are still on many companies' to-do lists.

And they're just one piece of the product puzzle for companies that produce or sell various types of goods. The engineering, design and product data management information on any SKU is a whole other data set that ideally you'd centralize and make accessible across your company and business partners.

That's where product lifecycle management (PLM) software, the subject of our cover story this month, fits in. This sort of content management system, which manages all that unstructured data across everything your company makes, is quite popular among midmarket organizations today; midsized shops make up nearly half of the purchasers, says AMR Research Inc. (see "PLM in Play"). One reason: Customers and designers may now be located anywhere in the world. As CIO Jan LaHayne at Des Plaines, Ill.-based fuse maker Littelfuse Inc. explains, "Everyone now has to see the concept, look at the drawings and understand all the pieces."

If deploying PLM is a significant step toward product visibility, there's another type of visibility that's important for leadership: that of your IT organization within the company. Your group's reputation -- and, as a result, the extent to which your business colleagues look to you to help solve problems -- can all come down to how visible your organization is as a partner.

Our content this month looks at visibility from two perspectives: one, from the view of a change management leader (see "CIO Habitat"), and two, from that of a team whose players may not all have the skills to go to bat for you. At Canadian outdoor retailer Forzani Group, CEO Bob Sartor took over the CIO role himself precisely to train the IT staff in the language of business (and in the process, to choose the right successor to the outgoing CIO; see "Dual Identity"). And in "Rehab or Reject," we look at CIOs who've had some real management challenges: employees whose social skills or work styles sabotaged the technical acumen they brought to the group.

In the end, visibility isn't a panacea. It shows all the rough spots that opacity used to hide. But seeing a problem is the first step to fixing it, and that's what leadership, and IT, is all about.

Anne McCrory is editorial director of CIO Decisions and the CIO Decisions conference. Write to her at amccrory@ciodecisions.com.

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