Posted by: Long Huynh | May 25, 2009

CIO: How Do You Stay Relevant to Business?

Note.- Today is the Memorial Day, a day to remember. To those who are skeptical of the CIO future, I want to say upfront that NO, this post is not a commemoration of the fallen CIOs of recent past (1). It is to pay tribute to the U.S. soldiers who died while in military service, especially to those from the U.S. Marine Corps (the Corps) and to its 2 former commanders, Alexander A. Vandergrift and Merritt A. Edson. Fallen and departed Marines, I salute you.

It is no secret to those who know me that I consider the Corps as one of the best organizations in the world and I tried to model the IT organization under my leadership along the same line. There are many management principles of the Corps that prove to be useful in business, but to me the biggest lesson to be learned is HOW TO STAY RELEVANT when external environments constantly change?

Let me start with this introductory question from a book by David H. Freeman, Corps Business:

“…what do the Marines do that justifies the Corps as a separate service?

There are, of course, certain types of missions that have become almost exclusively associated with Marines: beach invasions and the evacuation of American from hostile environments overseas are two obvious examples. But in fact the Army has long been capable of beach invasions; the D-Day Normandy landing, for example, was an army operation. And all three of the larger services are capable of quickly inserting highly trained soldiers into hostile environments to lead civilians to safety.

In truth, there is little the Marine Corps does that couldn’t be seen as redundant with the services performed by the other branches of the military.”

 The last statement was also the view held by many people in power, especially in post-war time. They didn’t see the need for an expensive strike force. In fact, there were at least 3 attempts to disband the Corps or integrate it with the Army between 1945 and 1950, condoned and even spearheaded by the U.S. President, Harry Truman, himself:

  1. In 1946, a bill – S.2044 – was introduced to place the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) under Navy control. Its practical effect was to reduce the Marine Corps to the status of a Navy branch. The Corps Commandant, General Alexander A. Vandergrift, saved the day for the Corps by making an impassionate speech before Congress in May 1946; 
  2. In 1947, the same bill was re-introduced again, this time accompanied by a directive prohibiting comments by any serving officers. Marine Brigadier General Merritt A. Edson resigned at the peak of his career in order to make the round of Capitol Hill lobbying for the Corps as a civilian. He succeeded in having the bill defeated and the status of the Corps confirmed with the National Security Act of 1947; 
  3. During this 1946-1949 period, the Corps was systematically dismantled and reduced from a 485,000-strength troop at the end of the World War II to a 2-division structure of about 10,000 effectives;
  4. In June 1950, Truman administration announced its plan to reduce the Corps budget for 1951 to 6 battalions (around 5,000 troops). The plan was thwarted soon by the event of June 25, 1950, when North Korea invaded the South and triggered the Korean War. The first U.S. soldiers called to action were the Marines … and the rest is history (2).

Fast forward now to the business world of today. Does the Corps story sound familiar to you? Do you hear already other corporate executives pondering aloud:

  • Can we reduce the IT budget by another 10% this year?
  • What do IT people do anyway that justifies IT as a separate service, with a Chief Officer in command? 
  • Why shouldn’t we disband IT and relocate its people among the divisions/departments? 
  • Why shouldn’t we outsource IT services and place its governance under Finance & Administration?
  • Why shouldn’t we create a separate Business Intelligence (BI) or a Business Continuity (BC) unit independent of IT?

Indeed, these questions have been answered in the affirmative by many companies. More than ever before, the IT organization and your role as its commander-in-chief are threatened with irrelevance. How do you stay relevant today? What lesson can you learn from the Corps?

Stay tuned …


 (1) If you follow the CIO press or the CIO LinkedIn Forum, you will find alarming information about CIO’s being let go without replacement during the last 6 months. More troubling is the alleged view of the CEO as depicted in this article by a CIO himself: Prove It’s Business Value to Your CEO – Or Else, by Bob Evans, InformationWeek, April 22, 2009.

 (2) The story of the U.S. Marine Corps during the post-war time of 1945-1950 is a fascinating read. Some of the key sources are:



  1. Beautiful Article!!!


  2. You’ve got my attention. Not a CIO or even an IT guy. But what do you do when you work for an organization where they think that you don’t need to understand what you manage and then they promote people to management who can’t even manage let alone understand the operation.

    It’s public sector where I think you can survive longer while clueless but still it makes me wonder.

  3. […] CIO: How Do You Stay Relevant to Business? […]

  4. Nice new look. Soothing!

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