A regional IT industry association is planning a conference next week that will focus on the senior managers of technology in the Waterloo region, rather than the vendors who have set up shop there.

Communitech will launch CIO/07 on Feb. 15 at the Holiday Inn in Kitchener, Ont. The one-day event will feature keynote speeches from CIOs at RBC Financial Group, Rogers Communications and Ontario’s CIO, Ron McKerlie. Microsoft, HP and OnX are also scheduled to present.

The Waterloo area is already known as a hotbed of successful Canadian technology startups such as Research In Motion, Open Text, and Google has established its Canadian presence there. Communitech, however, wants to highlight the professionals who implement IT products and services, said its executive director of communications and government relations Avvey Peters.

“We’re trying to build bridges with tech leaders in other sectors,” she said. “We think from our conversions with CIOs that many of the issues are common, and this will be a really good opportunity to share expertise. Whether you work in health care or manufacturing, you’re going to find good content with your peers.” 

Communitech conducted conversations with a handful of CIOs who will be taking part in the event and presented the results in a report on key issues facing those in the role. The report was consistent with what many CIOs have been saying for some time: they are strapped for talent, they are focused on security and they are trying to drive more innovation in their organizations.

“While the CIO is finally becoming entrenched on the senior management team, a few CIOs we spoke with would admit they are not quite in the boardroom yet,” the report says. “While they’re making great strides in selling projects based on value and ROI, there’s still plenty of potential to evolve the role even further.”

Peters said the report reinforced Communitech’s faith that a summit of executives from different vertical markets would meet a need.

“We were encouraged to find that there were similar themes that were aligned with those of other technology leaders,” she said. “Those are the folks that are going to be able to say, ‘From my perspective, in doing the same type of job that you do, here are the things I have learned.’” 

The report suggested IT is still seen primarily as a support function. “Our conversations indicated a range of business alignment and senior reporting structures, from CEO to CFO to GM,” it said. “And a quick snapshot of Waterloo Region’s 50 largest private companies showed at least 20 per cent have no CIO, or no local CIO.” 

Despite its reputation as a breeder of IT talent, particularly due to the presence of the University of Waterloo, Peters said firms there were struggling just as much as colleagues in other parts of Canada to find and keep staff.

Communitech plans to issue a follow-up report next month that will include feedback and comments during the conference.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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