Taking Up the Gauntlet

About 10 years ago, I worked with an executive who would cut you off whenever you said, ?We have a problem.? ?No,? he would respond. ?We don?t have a problem. We have a challenge, and we?re going to meet it head on.?

What?s the difference? Well, that executive believed that a challenge demanded action. You can ignore a problem, he said, but you can?t turn away from a challenge, which is a throwing down of the gauntlet. Though I initially viewed this approach as merely corporate-speak, I eventually came to appreciate this take-charge philosophy.

We are all facing multiple challenges in this tough economy, which has affected virtually every industry and region of the country. We can?t turn away from these difficulties, no matter how daunting they are, but when challenges keeping piling up and the resources needed to meet them keep shrinking, it?s hard to maintain an optimistic, can-do attitude. That?s why many executives have adopted a play-it-safe policy this year, keeping costs and investments as low as possible in an effort to ride out the storm.

That?s what makes the managers and executives featured in this issue so remarkable. They haven?t given up, and the word ?retreat? is not in their vocabulary. The examples they set and the advice they offer provide valuable guidance to managers and executives faced with more challenges than they can handle.

Consider the IT and business people who are struggling to cope with the proliferation of mobile devices in the enterprise. (Read ?Minding Your Mobile Assets?) When asked about the status of mobility in the enterprise, Sean Ryan of IDC answered: ?CIOs and other IT executives face enormous challenges. With so many devices and so much fragmentation in the marketplace, it?s difficult to develop sound policies, procedures and practices that address all the issues.?

Fortunately, a growing number of technology executives are doing just that: establishing usage policies and dealing with security concerns. ?We spent a lot of time talking to users, and we put a control group in place to better understand how they use devices,? says Ken Smith of the Addison Avenue Federal Credit Union. Based on the information it learned, the company developed a policy document, along with administrative and security strategies.

Enterprise mobility is clearly an area with ongoing challenges that will require business and IT managers to constantly monitor and reevaluate their policies and procedures.

A different set of challenges face nonprofit organizations: They have the same needs and issues as for-profit enterprises, but they have fewer resources with which to handle them. Despite this disadvantage, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the Salvation Army and the World Wildlife Fund are determined to maximize their use of technology to support their mission. (Read ?Technology Helps Save the World? .)

In our Job Site stories, two very different enterprises deal with their challenges with the help of technology. The law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal needed to give its attorneys and support professionals 24/7 access to their clients? information. The solution: a portal that provides instant access to all of the firm?s intellectual property. (Read ?The Verdict Is In?.)

At Grandi Salumifici Italiani, a packaged meat business in Italy, the challenge involved the need to integrate its business forecasts with its budgeting processes to better predict the demand for its products. There, the answer included forecasting and financial management tools. (Read ?Finding a Cure for Forecasting Problems?.)

Other challenges are not so straightforward. Shawn Banerji, with executive search firm Russell Reynolds, says that ?information officers are grappling with issues ranging from budget constraints to increased regulatory scrutiny. These and related issues?such as the cross-industry trend of corporate restructurings?conspire to place a greater burden on the CIO as a transformational leader.? (Read ?The CIO Challenge? .)

This issue can cover only a fraction of the challenges facing business and technology managers. But Baseline will tackle other challenges in future issues, and we want to hear about yours. Does your enterprise plan to play it safe in 2010 by trying to save its way to success? Or will it take up the gauntlet and make strategic investments that will generate future growth? Please let us know: Write to us at [email protected]