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POV: Ventures at risk mean C-level IT role must change
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Consultant Dave Chapman, who commutes between his 200-acre ranch in the Nashville area from another home in his native Massachusetts, began his career as an IBM engineer fifty years ago. He's seen his share of economic disruptions.

Chapman (at left) believes that chief information officers can help lead businesses and other institutions out of the current economic morass, if they redefine their missions.

He says this "remissioning" should place higher priority the discovery and reporting of knowledge surpressed within the organization or missing altogether from C-level decision-making.

Chapman says in a whitepaper provided to VNC that by filling knowledge gaps the CIO can lead top management to "reset the enterprise strategy based on the new intelligence."

His implication is that companies will suffer self-inflicted wounds if they don't immediately review and change their strategy, shore-up their brands and customer relationships and -- most important in Chapman's IT framework -- immediately change the mission of information-technology organizations to "take leadership in identifying missing knowledge..."

Whether or not Chapman's solutions are universally applicable, his outline of the damage a sharp downturn can wreak between business allies, or customers and vendors is certainly timely.

In his whitepaper, Chapman lists some of the wounds he believes are being deepened by the volatile economy. They include lengthened sales cycles; budget cutbacks; increased demand for customer services; downward price pressure imposed by buyers; eroding power and equity in company brands; and, cutbacks in investments in operations, often starting with information technology and services.

Perhaps worst of all, he seems to suggest that, under extreme pressure, management is probably not as connected with customers, employees and other stakeholders as they might like to think.

Picking one's way through Chapman's paper, it's hard not to conclude that a bad economy may heighten irrational corporate behavior, in many ways. For instance, while business relationships are always strained by a downturn, he says Northpoint data suggests company salespersons on average still spend only 3 to 11 percent of their time trying to identify customers' current or emerging needs. This contributes, he says, to customers' belief that vendors have become less relevant to the buyer's needs.

Chapman, who is founder, chairman and CEO of 16-year-old Northpoint Software and a member of the board of Nashville Technology Council, insists that he's not merely talking about CIOs working well with others to align the company's technologies with business processes.

In fact, executives must not confuse data with knowledge. His research shows that while companies have more than twice the data they need, they also have less than half the true knowledge they need.

Chapman argues the sheer "pain" and battering of the current economy can help guide the entire C-level platoon toward survival and success.

It's as though the invisible hand of the marketplace is "draining the swamp" we so often hear about. Among other things, Chapman says that today's harsh economy strips bare the reality that senior executives intent on "aligning" technology and other resources with business plans, may, in fact, be aligning with plain ignorance.

Chapman's Northpoint, it should be noted, sells software and services that are designed to enable corporate chieftains to identify knowledge, talent and other resource gaps they need to fill establish priorities for business activities; and, among other things, define the risks inherent in current practices. That last goal helps executives leverage risks they've found to create added value for customers.

Chapman began his IT career as an IBM engineer in 1958, and held a variety of Big Blue jobs, including GM of manufacturing for key IBM products; and, director of IBM's programming center. At 29, he won a coveted IBM award for software development. He's also worn such titles as SVP, Data General; CEO, Computer Power Group/Americas; and chairman, president and CEO of Cullinet Software.

Chapman created an annual Innovation Conference for Nashville Technology Council, on the board of which he now serves. He has also served on the boards of five companies, including Brooktrout and Tacit Networking, Inc. A native of Pittsfield, in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, Chapman earned an EE degree from Syracuse University, and a master's from the Sloan School of Management at MIT. He is a recipient of MIT's Corporate Leadership Award. Several years ago, Chapman published a book, Smart Business (Making Sure Investments in IT Hit the Mark Every Time). ♦

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Tags: Brooktrout, Computer Power Group, Cullinet Software, Data General, IBM, information technology, IT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT Sloan School of Management, Nashville Technology Council, Northpoint Software, Syracuse University, Tacit Networking, venture capital

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