We’ve all heard of the concept of work-life balance and come to terms with the fact that technology has resulted in the blurring of the lines between time spent in the office and time spent at home.

So we’re used to answering the odd e-mail (or 10) from our smartphone in the evening, and expect to be able to do sneak in a few minutes catching up on Facebook at work. But perhaps what we didn’t expect is a blurring of the lines in a different way – that the skills so important to making our family lives strong are now needed to succeed in business as well. Take for example the ability to build co-dependent relationships, recognize the value in emotional connections, and to embody a spirit of collaboration rather than competition.

In a roundtable event hosted by IT World Canada and sponsored by Microsoft Canada and HP Canada, chief information officers (CIOs) and chief marketing officers (CMOs) talked about the barriers they faced to greater collaboration between their departments and the ways to develop those partnerships. Pivoting as an organization to deal with a landscape where IT is increasingly offered as commoditized service by external partners as a result of cloud technology was a theme that underpinned the discussion.

Barriers to C-suite collaboration

"There's some great careers, some phenomenal work to be done with a lot of purposefulness." - Steve Heck, CIO of Microsoft Canada
“There’s some great careers, some phenomenal work to be done with a lot of purposefulness.” – Steve Heck, CIO of Microsoft Canada

In the past, IT workers had objectives that weren’t necessarily the same as line of business objectives, says Steve Heck, the CIO of Microsoft Canada. It was about meeting service level agreements and maintaining uptime. It was about trying to maximize the value out of an expensive IT system that required a big upfront capital cost. But now business growth should be everyone’s objective – IT included.

“It’s trying to decouple from the old world and move into the new, flexible world,” he said. “If you can create a culture of collaboration, it’s a culture where my win doesn’t mean a loss for you.”

At HP Canada, IT has evolved roles from one of enforcement to one of conscience, says William Dupley, the chief technology of HP Canada’s enterprise group. “It’s not ‘no you can’t have it,’ it’s ‘yes you can have it,’ but we tell you the impacts on your business,” he says. “There’s a whole lot of new work that IT has to take on to become the conscience of the firm.”

At one organization represented by both the CMO and CIO at the roundtable, this is already the relationship the colleagues enjoy. According to the CMO of this non-profit firm, there are few barriers between the head offices at the two departments and his CIO acts as more of the conscience and less as an enforcer. He’ll never hear “no” from his CIO, but he will hear about options to accomplish his goals that address both the benefits and the drawbacks. The colleagues both see themselves as enables of the organization.

“It’s that humility that allows us to move things forward,” the CMO says.

An organizational shift took place as line of business users started becoming more tech-savvy, according to his CIO counterpart. While users were more likely to challenge IT on the reasons certain technologies were chosen or policies put in place, the organization also saw more opportunities to form partnerships in the C-suite.

“We were like the mother for the organization,” he says. “It’s all that process of deciding what’s the risk, where are the responsibilities?”

At another firm in the automotive industry, both the CIO and CMO report to the same executive, said a senior IT manager. That makes building cross-departmental relationships more important than ever, especially as he sees things streamlined to support marketing objectives. Specifically, he notices that not all of the IT department projects on the wish list get funded while marketing’s budget seems to expand.

Disrupted IT, disrupted business 

While that streamlining often means a leaner organization, for IT workers it can also mean a more exciting job. At HP Canada, it identified the old legacy apps that were the primary source of maintenance and administrative needs and axed them. The result is now just about 25 per cent of the IT staff is dedicated to doing maintenance while the rest is focused on innovation.

"I'm not a believer the sky is falling and the jobs are going away," Bill Dupley, chief technologist enterprise group, HP Canada.
“I’m not a believer the sky is falling and the jobs are going away,” Bill Dupley, chief technologist enterprise group, HP Canada.

“I’m not a believer the sky is falling and the jobs are going away,” Dupley says. “The new work that’s coming is more interesting than the things we’ve done in the last 10 years by far.”

When one media company represented at the roundtable was evolving from a traditional print media firm into a digital-based media outlet with a strong focus on custom publishing, the IT department had to undergo a serious transformation, said the CMO. The IT department had to help the company go from just being able to reach customers to being in a position to build a community.

“It’s hard to make your own shoes while you’re trying to help your customers,” he says. “Someone’s got to actually build the really strong tracks for this thing and that involves our IT group.”

At a firm in the financial industry, IT managers are also being assigned a line of business responsibility in their roles to make them collaborate with business managers, said an IT director at the firm. He also sees that disruptive changes in technology are happening on much shorter cycles compared to the time it takes for organizational transformation, he estimates five to eight years.

“It’s become very apparent that it’s a widespread phenomena with things are changing in IT,” he says. “There’s a disruption happening at all levels of the C-suite.”

The challenge at hand for both IT managers and businesses is managing a transition to a new technology paradigm, Microsoft’s Heck says. The demand will be on a shared vision and what kind of capabilities are needed to get there, and how resources that will help reach that will will be collected along the way.

“There’s some great careers, some phenomenal work to be done with a lot of purposefulness,” he says. “Specifically to have people like that in roles to help people that are a little queazy about what’s going to happen to show them it’s going to be OK.”

So the next time you’re going through a tough project at the office, think about how you’d treat a stressed out family member before an interaction with a colleague.

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