CIO Lessons From The War In Iraq

by drjim on October 21, 2008

CIOs Can Learn From How U.S. Forces Were Finally Successful In Iraq

CIOs Can Learn From How U.S. Forces Were Finally Successful In Iraq

First off, this post has nothing to do with politics. It really does not matter how you feel about the war in Iraq – this post will still contain valuable information for you. I’ve just gotten done reading the book The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and The Endgame In Iraq by Bing West. It’s a great book and I highly recommend that you read it. If, just for a moment, we can step away from all of the emotion that talking about this war causes, then we just might be able to realize that this conflict has the opportunity to show CIOs how to run their departments better. Don’t believe me? Then read on…

The war in Iraq has pitted a large successful country (the U.S.) against a collection of small, scrappy forces that included Shia, Sunnis, al-Qaeda in Iraq, and probably a bunch of other folks. For a variety of reasons, this conflict has dragged on for over 5 years and only now is the U.S. starting to emerge as the clear victor.

From a CIO perspective, the feeling that one is involved in a conflict with other firms that seem to morph and change shape on a daily basis should feel very familiar. Traditionally IT departments have been able to go toe-to-toe with their competition and either out-spend them on the latest technology or out-hire them in order to get the best talent. In doing this, they could then go to their customers and “prove” that they were the best IT department around.

Now that we are living in the 21st Century, things are not so simple any more. The U.S. forces have the challenge of trying to protect the Iraqi people while fighting the insurgents. IT departments have a similar challenge in that they are trying to serve both their internal and external customers while trying to fight off the threat of being completely outsourced or losing customers to competitors. The U.S. forces can’t always tell if the people that they are trying to protect are grateful for the help or so resentful that they are the ones who are taking shots at them. Likewise, a CIO can’t be sure if the customers that he’s trying to service are working with him or if they are actively trying to replace either him or his entire department!

In Bing West’s book, he points out the interesting fact that how to win the war in Iraq was known by the U.S. military based on their experience in Vietnam over 40 years ago. It just took them 5 years to relearn what they already knew. Bing writes that in order to secure Iraq, the U.S. forces needed to follow a seize, secure, rebuild process. This meant that U.S. forces would move into a hostile area, take it over, stay there and provide protection for the locals, and then start to rebuild the area in order to show the locals that the U.S. forces were the good guys. This was a difficult lesson for a force that had been trained to take territory and kill enemies to learn.

Today’s CIOs can learn a lot from this hard won information. Specifically, they too need to follow a process of seize, secure, and rebuild in order to make their IT departments successful. Two types of territory can be seized: internal and external. Internal territory is controlled by departments and the more departments that IT interacts with, the more territory it can “seize”. Once IT becomes responsible for new tasks / territories, then the real work begins – securing it. This means that the IT department needs to become so good at handling this area and resolving issues quickly that nobody can imagine anyone else handling this task. Additionally, external territory is controlled by customers. If IT can interact with a customer and forge a positive partnership with them, then additional territory will have been seized. Once again, by forming a strong bond between the external customer and the IT department this territory will have been secured.

The final step, rebuilding, is the most important. The U.S. forces found that if they didn’t rebuild the territory that they had seized, then the locals would continue to help the bad guys. However, if rebuilding was done, then the locals shunned the bad guys and sided with the Americans.

Having secured new territory, a CIO has to quickly start rebuilding their IT environment. This can be as simple as upgrading their hardware or as complex as creating and delivering a completely new application. The CIO needs to spend time in the new territory finding out what his new customer’s needs are. He then needs to solve those needs and make sure that the customer agrees that the problems have been solved. By doing this he will show the customer that the IT department is committed to making their life better.

Seize, secure, and rebuild. How much more simple can this possibly be? Today’s CIO has a very clear roadmap to follow in order to be successful.

Have you reciently captured any “territory”? Have you been working to sercure it? What plans do you have when you start to rebuild it? How do you believe that you can start to rebuild it? Leave a comment and let me know how you feel.

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