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Living in a Looking Glass- by James Richardson

© September 2000 James Richardson

This article first appeared in CINtoday- https://www.cin.earthweb.com
James Richardson is the division network coordinator at Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
22 August 2000

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, HERE, you see, it takes all the running YOU can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that."

And such is the life in IT today. As the half-life of knowledge pushes 18 months, getting buy-in for new projects and expenditures becomes not just a full-time effort but one that will tax the abilities of any CIO. As change becomes almost continuous, baseline education and promoting champions are essential. But where do you find such heroes, and how do you develop a network of support that will always be available?

"I see nobody down the road," said Alice. "I only wish I had such eyes," the King remarked in a fretful tone. "To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too! Why, it's as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!"

One of the most important jobs of any CIO is to be a soothsayer. The CIO must see the needs of the organization two to five years down the road, locate appropriate technology to meet those needs, and then explain the solution or solutions to both users and management. To do so, the CIO must be constantly managing by walking around. The CIO needs to have contacts throughout the organization at every level, and despite the frenzied pace of things, time to think and reflect.

"Alice looked puzzled. "In OUR country," she remarked, "there's only one day at a time." The Red Queen said, "That's a poor thin way of doing things. Now HERE, we mostly have days and nights two or three at a time, and sometimes in the winter we take as many as five nights together -- for warmth, you know."

You have to start building support at the base. No matter how good an idea you have, if the people who will use and implement the idea don't want it to succeed, it will fail. That is assured. So, before trying to build your support at the top, make sure you have support at the bottom. If you can get the users convinced that this will help them solve a problem, if you can make them partners in the venture, you are more than halfway to success. Then all you need to do is to sell the idea to top management and the board. No big deal.

"When I use a word," Humpty-Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you CAN make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty-Dumpty, "which is to be master -- that's all."

Too many of us tend to fall back on technical jargon when we try to explain some new capability. We have our own shorthand that we use when among peers, and we forget to drop this jargon as we move to a general audience. Almost everything can be expressed in nontechnological terms. What will this mean for the business unit? How will this let people do their job faster, easier, with less expense? What will this let us do that we couldn't do before? Whether talking to those who will use the system or to those who will approve and pay for the system, you need to make a business case.

"Two pence a week, and jam every other day." "Well, I don't want any to-day, at any rate." "You couldn't have it if you DID want it," the Queen said. "The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday - but never jam to-day." "It MUST come sometimes to 'jam to-day,'" Alice objected. "No it can't," said the Queen. "It's jam every OTHER day: to-day isn't any OTHER day, you know."

Finally, you need to keep your sense of humor. Most everything begins as IMPOSSIBLE. Gradually, you'll find that the pain threshold reaches a point where your proposed solution will become possible, but not likely, then slowly possible, and if you're not careful, the ANSWER.

Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "One CAN'T believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

James Richardson may be contacted at james_richardson@coastal.dnr.state.ga.us.


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