CIOs: Give Your Company A Good SWAT

By Eric Lundquist  |  Posted 2008-11-15

Remember the SWOT analysis? Before business intelligence, the hype curve and the BCG matrix, there was SWOT. Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats were four boxes on a grid where you could work through a company strategy and see if you had a chance of success. SWOT seems to have been born full grown sometime in the 1960s and is now seen as old and in the way. I don't want to revive SWOT, but for CIOs trying to decide which projects to pursue or kill now that the economy appears to have the brakes full on, I'm going to suggest a SWAT model,. No not the police kind but SWAT as in Save it, Whack it, Assess it and Trash it.

I'm not a CIO (and all you working in IT should be mighty glad of that), but I've been talking with lots of CIOs over the past couple weeks about 2009, budgets - or lack thereof - and how to decide where to parcel out dwindling IT dollars. I'll be posting some of those question and answer sessions over the next few weeks, but here are a couple of my current takeaways from the conversations.

While some industries are getting clobbered (think banking, investment organizations, mortgage organizations, auto companies), there are a lot of differences between this and past downturns. In the dot com bust and the after Y2K tech falloff, technology spending was slashed willy nilly. If a project had the word tech connected to it, it was hammered. This time around, technology is being viewed as a way for companies to control costs, become more efficient and help a company develop a strategy for a contracted economy.

CIOs, at least the successful ones, have a place at the conference table where business decisions are being made. In the best scenario, company CEOs and business line managers are bringing CIOs into the conversation early to set business priorities and match technology capabilities with those priorities.

Technology vendors are not being particularly helpful. In many cases they are pushing technology upgrades and comparing their products to competitive products. The vendors need to be showing they understand a customer's business at a level much deeper than just talking about the industry segment. The vendors also need to show they have their own act together and any one vendor exec can represent the entire line of capabilities.

Sorry all you web 2.0 startups. Unless you can show cost savings, corporate-level product wins and an understanding of the customer's business needs, I don't see you getting past the potential customer's waiting room in 2009.

So what is CIO SWAT? I'll take them one at a time.

Save. These are the technology capabilities that are vital to a company's operations. Corporate financials, security systems, email, inventory control all fall under this category. Save doesn't just mean pay the bill and walk away. You should look for savings within these essential services. What are your software licensing terms, what are the minimal number of users you need to maintain this system and can you consolidate these systems are questions that can lead to savings within the Save category.

Whack. I think this is self explanatory. Be ruthless in figuring out just how many applications you are using. Do you really need new systems or can you do an inexpensive memory, storage and software upgrade of what you are now using. Do you really need all those outsourced services and consultants? Whack away at your budget before someone else does it for you.

Assess. Frugality doesn't mean being oblivious to new developments in technology. One of the nice things about cloud computing, hosted systems and social networks is you can assess the capabilities of those services without a big capital expenditure outlay. Make sure you keep some technology assessment capability in your company even if it is an ad hoc group of you and the twenty-somethings that play World of Warcraft during lunch. You need to stay up to speed on new technology developments, even if you don't go to a full blown implementation in 2009. Assess also means thinking about the people who work for you. Map the skills you need against the staff you have and do your utmost to protect the staffers you know are key to your and your company's success.

Trash. If whacking is whittling down the budget, trashing is using an axe. Why pay for office software suites when all you need is word processing? Get rid of all those extra printers, copiers and scanners which have proliferated throughout the company. Why do some employees have both a laptop and a desktop? How much company time is being devoted to employee web surfing, job hunting, fantasy sports teams and running their own eBay store? For many companies, the willingness to be hard nosed not just in technology, but in all aspects of their business and to re-examine every facet of their business operations will spell the difference between whether or not they are still around in 2010.

Rocket Fuel