Check Your IT Portfolio

Sometimes, even when you intend to manage your portfolio wisely, the software is not available to support your needs.

What is in your information technology portfolio? A good portfolio would have a broad range of services across all your companys business groups. Enhanced e-mail and group software platforms, auditing services, advanced authentication, and electronic financial services all come to mind. You would also have some method of making those services easily available and easy to customize. In addition, you would have a way to measure usage and response time to help you understand the productivity benefits—and the return on investment—that you are providing.

Before you reach for your keyboard to send me an e-mail asking if I know that the last couple of years have been, well, difficult for tech spending, I already know that. And I know that technology managers, like the shoemakers children, can be the last ones to get the technologies upon which their employment depends. But I also know that analysts and technology professionals contend that success in managing a companys technology portfolio for business advantage will distinguish the winners from the losers over the coming years. Should your first budget increase request in the last three years be for you?

Thornton May is a futurist (which is better than being a "pastist," I guess), a gadfly and a pundit with the good sense to talk to the IT community rather than build opinions from talking to other pundits. In his 2003 CIO Habitat Project, May reserves boldface type for only one of his 23 general observations about the current state of IT.

"CIOs have shortchanged and underfunded the technology they use to meet their own needs. IT shops have to upgrade the systems they use to run IT. One of the biggest needs is a portfolio management system," writes May. He is right, but these days, immediate ROI is a necessity, and detailed payback planning is required. Tactical investments are easy to get approved, but strategic technology investments have been relegated to the back burner and some other time. Many moves that give a quick quarterly financial fix, such as laying off development staff or outsourcing offshore, can also mortgage your companys strategic technology future.

The problem is that portfolio management systems are technology infrastructure products. Technology infrastructure is a lot like physical infrastructure: for example, that corroded pipe in your basement and the highway bridge thats about to collapse. Funds for fixing those things are hard to get until theres a crisis. The burst pipe in your basement or the furnace that conks out on the first cold night of the year will make you resolve to invest in infrastructure. But once things are fixed, you forget about funding for maintenance until the next emergency.

"I think Thornton is absolutely right—and the main reason is because it is difficult to sell infrastructure expenditures to senior management," responded Senior Vice President and CIO of Donna Karan International and eWEEK Corporate Partner Carol Knouse after I asked her about Mays portfolio comment. "Its like making improvements in your home. I think most people would rather spend money on the things that are visible—finishes and furnishings—rather than upgrading their plumbing. The problem is when you spring a leak, its crisis time."

Sometimes, even when you intend to manage your portfolio wisely, the software is not available to support your needs. "When we establish our strategic plans, we include the tools that may be needed for IT to support the plan. We are always trying to improve automation, management tools, log/intrusion detection to make sure we can support user and business needs as well as improve IT productivity. Improvement in IT productivity is a key objective. If anything, we face the issue of software that either does not function well or is not available to meet what we are trying to accomplish in a cost-effective manner," responded another eWEEK Corporate Partner, Ed Benincasa, director of MIS at FN Manufacturing.

The lack of good portfolio management software is a topic for another column, but the time to start managing your portfolio is today.

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