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Tuesday, 4 September 2012

CxO’s are blithering idiots! But what if they’re Idiots Savant…?

A client of mine (let’s call him “Mr. X”) who is the CIO at a government agency (let’s call then “Agency Y”) recently spent a fairly significant proportion of his organisation’s ICT budget for this year on a fairly large data warehouse appliance {let’s call it “Product Z”). Agency Y also got a 20% discount off list price for buying immediately.

“Nice work!” I hear you cry, “They’ve bought a market leader in the field which is constantly improving its technology, they’ve purchased at a discount, and if Agency Y is investing in Business Intelligence platforms, then they must be thinking progressively and wanting to drive more value from the information that’s available in the organisation. Splendid!”

Now, put that purchasing decision in the context of some additional information about the current situation at Agency Y:

  • There are no current business projects identified that require BI capability;
  • There are no statements of requirement for information-enabled use cases;
  • There is no inventory of data holdings;
  • There is no Business Intelligence architecture defined;
  • There are no plans at present to buy any ETL or BI end-user tools;
  • The purchase of Product Z was made without reference to any formal solution selection process (e.g. due diligence evaluation of options in the market, price-testing to see whether other vendors would be more cost-effective, or proof-of-concept to validate that the product actually works).

Does Mr. X’s decision to buy Product Z seem so sensible to you now?! Effectively, at this point in time Agency Y has a 900kg, multi-million dollar paperweight sitting in its data centre.

I was discussing this scenario with my distinguished colleague Ben Bor today and I had started from the perspective that Mr. X is clearly a blithering idiot (like most of the Senior Execs I come across…). However, Ben posed a very interesting question, viz:

What if Mr. X is actually a genius?

Wow! That made me think!

Could it possibly be that the executive decision-making process is such that it is beyond our reckoning? What if this seemingly nonsensical waste of money is actually part of grand plan that we just don’t have the tools to comprehend? Given that Mr. X is at CxO level and we’re not (and probably never likely to be), maybe CxO’s have decision-making insights that transcend the normal logical approach that we mere mortals apply in these scenarios? Is Mr. X (and other executive decision-makers) actually a Savant?

Or is making a multi-million dollar purchasing decision with no evidence, no substantiation, no process and no currently identifiable requirements just really, really, REALLY stupid?

You, dear reader, can decide. I clearly don't have what it takes to understand such things.


  1. Too easy, Alan. What Ben MAY be saying is that it doesn't really matter about the technology. Not in the sense that you shouldn't do anything in the platform selection work stream but in the sense that it doesn't really matter what you do - as long as you do something!

  2. Ah, but they're not actually doing anything, and no definite plans to do so either. As a comparison, I bought a really top quality tree lopper about 12 months ago, and it's not even been taken out of the packet yet. Which makes me a money-wasting idiot.