CIOs Call a Truce

I attended the opening keynote at the big CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment show in Los Angeles this morning, and for once it was not a droning recitation of how wonderful the wireless industry is. Rather it was a roundtable on mobile enterprise solutions that included a service provider (Paget Alves, senior vice president at Sprint Nextel), a consultant/systems integrator (Paul Daugherty chief technology architect at Accenture), and two CIOs (Donald Goldstein at Trammel Crow and Nelson Lin of Konica Minolta Business Solutions).

My news report on the panel will appear today on Unstrung, but I want to note here one observation: The increasingly rapid spread of mobile technologies and applications is altering the sometimes fractious relationship between IT and senior management.

The titles "CIO" and "CTO" are themselves relatively young, of course. It wasn't that long ago that IT pros were those creepy guys in the basement, feeding small rodents to the mainframe. What's becoming increasingly clear, though, is that CEOs are still prone to view IT as a "necessary evil" (the term used on the panel today by eWeek editorial director Eric Lundquist, the moderator) to a source of competitive advantage and enterprise-wide innovation.

Take, for example, the basic issue of procurement. Lin noted that while such organization-wide issues as software rollouts and the like at Konica Minolta must still be approved by upper management, wireless deployments by their nature tend to be local (they often run over different networks with different carriers, for one thing), and so he has greater freedom to move quickly without awaiting approval from the executive suite.

"In our company the decision-making is fairly balanced," said Lin, "so when it's a local wireless initiative we've got pretty good latitude."

The other fact of life when it comes to mobile devices and systems is that they are often "self-deployed," as Lin and others on the panel mentioned more than once, so that decisions tend to bubble upward rather than cascade downward.

"When I've got people knocking on my door to get people to deploy things like EV-DO cards, it makes it easier to make the business case."

Even in companies like Trammel Crow, where IT policies are strictly regulated and "self-deployment" is a no-no, wireless technologies tend to spread virally, as it were. TC, which provides management services to thousands of commercial buildings around the world, has moved from a traditional call-center approach to fielding service and repair requests from facilities managers to a smartphone-based system where email requests go directly to building engineers on their mobile devices.

"Like most good ideas, this one started from the ground up," said Goldstein. "Our customers are asking for more productivity at lower cost, and the only way to do that is by increasing the speed of responses and of results."

It would be an overstatement to portray these anecdotes as a power shift from the boardroom to the IT department. But from today's discussion it seems that a more subtle transition is occurring that should make it easier for IT pros to marshal the resources and present the arguments for mobile deployments that are effective, efficient, and improve the bottom-line.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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