Several years ago, a well-known IT consultant and author of several books on IT Strategy mentioned to me that CIOs were no longer particularly concerned about prioritizing their Information Technology Project Portfolios...they had other more pressing issues. At the time, I had some difficulty processing this thought and found it troubling on many levels. Try though I did, I was unable to reconcile the statement itself with its source - a learned colleague, friend and mentor. So, suffering from what I believe psychologists refer to as "cognitive dissonance", I youthfully resigned myself to living with this conflict.
Now that I am older and wiser, I have concluded that my reluctance to accept this statement arose from the fact that I was - and still am - an MBA. Now, some may argue that with those three little letters, I had tarnished a perfectly credible technical background and could no longer discern the unique attributes of 21st century information technology. Surely, a student of computer science "untainted" by a business perspective could quickly see the irrelevance of prioritizing potential IT projects? Clearly my discomfort arose from this personal deficiency! After all, in the 21st century, technology has changed...and savvy CIOs in lockstep with rapidly changing information technology no longer need to prioritize...right?
Well, perhaps not! Call me a skeptic, but unless we have all been blessed with "self prioritizing" technologies, I fail to see how CIOs could ever stop prioritizing their planned IT portfolios. On the contrary, it seems to me that there may be some merit in the old adage: "The more things change the more they remain the same!" And, if this glimmer of insight is true, then it's likely that the harsh, pressing realities of limited capital, fewer resources and scaled back profitability will signal a return to the prioritized IT portfolio. Why? Because to not prioritize and thoughtfully apply precious resources to the highest value projects is at best truly shortsighted. At worst, not prioritizing could drain the company's financial resources for little or no return. Without the needed governance, any asset portfolio - IT included - can result in a substantial loss of capital resources and ultimately in reduced profitability.
Yet, despite the potential benefits of thoughtfully selecting and ranking proposed investments in technology, there is something to be said about the challenge and the cultural leap necessary to institutionalize IT Portfolio prioritization. For starters, it is never easy. Even for those of us who love finance, strategy and information technology...Even for those of us who realize that getting at the business value of technology investments means looking at more than just the financial impact. And particularly for those of us who acknowledge the value of capturing a project's strategic and operational impact. It has never been easy. But then, few things of value are easy to achieve. And so it is that despite the potential obstacles, the process of prioritizing and selecting potential projects remains a key IT governance activity.
Faced with 21st Century economic limitations, the art of choosing the right technologies still has relevance and far reaching implications for today's IT executive. And, recognizing the need, some organizations struggle to establish a "perfect" prioritization process. While implementing a responsive, non-burdensome process is a most desirable goal, consistency in evaluation is also critical in building an effective IT portfolio. One could argue that consistently applying the same prioritization criteria over time is almost as important as what particular prioritization method is used. Whatever the choice of methodology, a consistent process that becomes "institutionalized" within an existing organizational culture will bring order to an otherwise chaotic decision-making process. Personally, I lean toward holistic scorecard approaches that rank potential IT investments across key areas of business performance. However, regardless of the approach, I urge 21st Century CIOs to adopt a methodology to prioritize their technology investments. Because given today's difficult economic environment, any methodology is better than no prioritization at all.