• United States
by Susan Marks

Don’t be a scapegoat

Dec 23, 20025 mins
BudgetingData Center

Saving yourself from corporate finger-pointing can be easy. Communicate and collaborate with business peers, and be sure to document those meetings.

Saving yourself from corporate finger-pointing can be easy. Communicate and collaborate with business peers, and be sure to document those meetings.

A longtime national retail chain struggles to stay afloat and eventually declares bankruptcy. To explain away its shortcomings, the company in part blames out-of-control IT expenses associated with the launch of an e-commerce initiative that didn’t produce expected revenue. Executive heads roll. The CIO is the first to go.

Welcome to today’s world of strained bottom lines, where stressed-out corporate directors often lay blame for financial troubles on big IT or network projects they say have run over budget, haven’t delivered on revenue expectations or have otherwise gone awry. Fortunately, management experts say, you can stop the finger from pointing in your direction – and become a more powerful corporate player along the way.

Stopping the blame takes a combination of communication, documentation and collaboration with executive-level management, end users, vendors and other involved parties, successful IT and network managers say.

Operating in a vacuum is the kiss of death, says Robert Doyle, a partner with Tatum CIO Partners, a group of IT experts in Atlanta. In his 30 years in the business, Doyle has served as CIO or the equivalent for a number of multibillion-dollar corporations. IT executives must be businesspeople first, building relationships so corporate peers view them as partners and not as “someone in the technology department.” Then, IT isn’t an easy scapegoat if a problem arises.

IT executives that go it alone are almost always the scapegoats, says David Siesel, another Tatum partner. He, like others, urges network executives to communicate regularly, through executive-level steering committees, project-participant and end-user meetings, financial oversight committees or some other form of governance. “You almost can’t, in an IT service kind of role, overcommunicate,” he says.

Allied forces

Siesel recounts walking in as the then-new CIO at a student loan guarantee corporation that already had spent $5 million toward developing a complex set of applications. He quickly realized the applications weren’t viable and the technology inappropriate for a nonprofit with serious budget constraints. He also found executive-level management had unrealistic expectations of total cost, time frame and implementation. Obviously, at play was a massive breakdown in communication between the corporate board and network executives. Just as clear, Siesel remembers, was that the board would blame IT.

Rather than voicing his concerns widely and initiating the finger-pointing, Siesel garnered a corporate ally in the vice president of operations and then spent three months working behind the scenes to convince executive management that the applications were not a good choice. The result was that the company built an entirely new set of successful applications that it has since licensed to other student loan guarantee corporations.

Power points

Stephen Rood, a New York IT executive and CIO consultant with Tatum, has seen plenty of user organizations try to pin company problems on IT. In his 12 years in the business, he’s successfully managed about $200 million in corporate IT projects.

Rood shares his secrets for making sure the IT department doesn’t become the scapegoat for executive management:

  • First get buy-in from at least one senior executive manager as a project sponsor.

  • Meet regularly with the project sponsor.

  • Hold mandatory weekly project meetings that include the user group, the technologists and other relevant participants.

  • Document the details. Take formal notes at weekly project meetings (Rood uses a document template to make it easier); then distribute the written summary to all attendees and mandate that everyone signs off in writing that they have read the summary, agree with what has happened and agree to the next step. Then file the documents in a three-ring binder. That in hand, Rood then meets monthly – or more often depending on project needs – with the senior executive-level project sponsor to go over everything. “IT avoids being the scapegoat or the blame person . . . [because] down the road – when someone says, ‘Hey something didn’t materialize,’ ‘Something is out of the original budget,’ or ‘We had to do something else’ – it’s all documented there,” Rood says.

Unfortunately, blaming IT seldom addresses the real problem – an executive management shortcoming, says Gopal Kapur, president of the Center for Project Management in San Ramon, Calif.

Executive power

IT experts at consulting firm Tatum CIO Partners say successful IT executives do the following well:


Identify IT trends and build IS strategies aligned with a company’s industry and business model.


Build horizontal and vertical relationships within the organization and externally, in the planning, forecasting, budgeting, procurement and implementation of IT.


Direct the activities of IT management to ensure that appropriate systems, staffing, policies and procedures are in place.


Manage the process by which initiatives to develop or enhance IS software and hardware are evaluated, selected and implemented across all aspects of a company business.

Program management: Oversee project management processes and protocols related to the implementation of information technology, and manage organizational change during adaptation to IT changes.

“Technology is the accelerator of the current state of any organization,” Kapur says. “If the organization is pointed in the right direction, technology will accelerate the travel to the end goal. If the organization is pointed in the wrong direction, technology will help take it to hell faster. It happens to company after company.”

Marks is a freelance writer in Denver. She can be reached at