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Analyst: CIOs need to take cue from The Beatles

Using the success of The Beatles as the basis for his thesis, a fan of rock 'n' roll (and a Forrester analyst), expounds on the six attributes every CIO should have.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- What's in a name?

Plenty, according to Forrester Research Inc. Chairman and CEO George F. Colony.

Speaking at the Forrester Technology Leadership Forum 2006 Tuesday, Colony said it's time for information technology to claim its rightful place as the center of business activity. To help make that happen, Colony said that henceforth he'll be referring to IT as BT -- business technology -- and suggested CIOs consider a title change to CBTs -- chief business technologists.

The name change is not just semantics, the founder of the Cambridge, Mass.-based research firm insisted, but a signal to the company and the IT staff that information technology reaches into every corner of the business. IT shops can no longer operate as the "priesthood" of the 1980s, when former COBOL programmers in "short sleeves and ties" told their bosses not to worry their heads about bits and bytes. The frat party days of the 1990s are over and not likely to return. And the recent years of IT retrenchment -- under the watchful eye of the CFO -- are due for a change, Colony said.

So how to move from the old world of IT on the outskirts of business to the hub of the global economy? Apparently it's a matter of finding your inner rock star.

An avid fan of rock 'n' roll, Colony suggested IT execs take a cue from The Beatles, who turned the music world upside down by possessing six attributes every CIO should cultivate: competitive energy, the willingness to embrace change, constant learning, innovation, marketing savvy and focus.

Forrester's route to the Revolution

After giving the audience a case for his thesis (replete with song snippets and news clippings), Colony outlined a plan for CIOs, based on the six attributes.

Competitive energy: CIOs should be monitoring their competitors' "BT" strategies, scanning the world for best practices, and using competition to motivate their IT staff, Colony said.

Embracing change: Dynamic IT shops follow the iceberg model, resting on a large base of solid, standardized IT systems, so the CIO can "focus above the waterline."

Learning: IT shops should provide 10 days of training per year for employees, allowing IT people to shadow business people, so that the "T-shirts connect with the turtlenecks and ties," Colony said.

Innovation: Think Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. IT should be viewed by the company as the center of innovation.

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Marketing: Selling IT internally and externally is the No. 1 job of the CIO. That includes connecting to business people by becoming the CEO and CFO's personal tech guru, urging the company to put a tech executive on the board of directors, and giving interviews to the media.

Focus: IT shops tend to follow three archetypes: solid utility, trusted supplier or partner or strategic players. Figure out which kind of IT shop your company needs, and perform that role on the highest level.

How did the advice sit with the audience?

"I definitely see a migration of the CIO role. My thinking is that the role will continue to evolve as George [Colony] discussed to become more focused more on business models, business architecture, business process and application of technology in products, services, as well as internal business processes," said Rich Russell, who co-leads IT at furniture maker Herman Miller Inc.

As far as becoming a rock star, "I believe that at HMI, it will take a constant focus on marketing," Russell said. "But the starting point is credibility. Without it the marketing will not help much."

Greg Toebbe, senior vice president of application support at Great American Insurance Group in Cincinnati, agreed with Forrester's recommendations for effective CIOs, adding that his company's CIO, Piyush Singh, embodies many of those attributes.

"Our CIO is very much accepted in the C-level suite," Toebbe said, adding that at Great American "IT is the factory" that keeps things humming. "We focus on the business."

Whether IT should change its name to BT and CIOs become CBTs he dismissed as "just semantics," but added he enjoyed the musical interlude.

Certainly, the trip down Penny Lane was a welcome change from the jargon-laden advice typical of IT conferences. As for the evidence of those six attributes? (Cue the music.) The Beatles competed fiercely internally and externally, Colony said, pointing out that after Lennon wrote "Strawberry Fields," McCartney countered with "Penny Lane." The Beach Boy's Pet Sounds album spurred The Beatles to create Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. They were change artists, morphing from mopheads in suits and ties in 1965 to sari-clad hippies in 1967. They were superb marketers, "never turning down an interview or TV appearance" and even donning sandwich boards at the height of their fame to advertise "All You Need is Love." They gave up touring and focused on becoming the "world's best studio band" after hearing their concert at Shea Stadium.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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