Spoken like a CIO

IT processes should be centralized because this rule allows companies to control costs while still heeding suggestions from staff, executives said Wednesday at a seminar on the evolving role of the CIO.

Although “”it sounds somewhat draconian,”” admitted Dietmar Reiner, CIO of Ontario Power Generation Inc., this hybrid model, which permits only the CIO to establish IT policies and standards, works well at his company.

Under a decentralized model, someone else within the company comes up with a technical solution to a problem and asks the IT department to implement it, Reiner explained.

“”But many times you’ve actually missed the mark because the business solution that was defined didn’t fix the problem,”” he said. “”IT can run away very quickly if there isn’t a centralized control.””

Produced by Compass Management Consultants and the IT Business Group, owned by Transcontinental Media, the EDGE breakfast seminar also examined the CIO’s role in managing complexity, notably the alignment of infrastructure and infostructure.

On one side, IT infrastructure is being commoditized and manipulated by marketing issues; on the other, a company’s infostructure, or information capital, may be involved in decision-making based on inaccurate data or meeting regulations under PIPEDA or Sarbanes-Oxley, said Robert Garigue, vice-president and chief information security officer of the BMO Financial Group.

In other organizations, issues bearing down on CIOs include the expansion of their roles into the broader business, added Reiner. “”The expectation is the CIO has a good understanding of core business functions . . . (and) technology is the vehicle used to contribute to bottom-line business performance.””

At Toromont Industries Ltd., a construction equipment and power systems firm, CIO Mike Cuddy said the concept that the CIO is constantly in sales mode holds true. He has even hired a full-time staff member to spend two hours with senior people and show them how, for example, the firm’s CRM systems work. Although he doesn’t expect managers “”to push all the buttoms,”” Cuddy said at least the training will show executives what technologies are at their disposal.

On other staffing issues, Cuddy said Toromont looks for development staff who “”get a charge out of solving business problems. We hire people who love getting pats from the marketing guy”” who’s happy with the results of the CRM system.

Cuddy said he expects IT staffers “”right down to network administrators”” to make recommendations about buying new technologies based on the way it can help the business, not solely on the greatness of the technology.

Although a demand for IT employees with deep technological knowledge still exists, Reiner said, the need for communications skills and “”the ability to manage issues without being directed every step of the way”” are increasing.

Neil Barton, director of global consulting services at Compass Management Consultants, said tomorrow’s CIOs should also know there are drawbacks to the popular strategy of “”achieving value for money,”” in other words, getting services or products on the cheap.

Barton said even if companies cut costs by eight per cent this year, next year they’ll be under pressure to achieve even more, until the only way to be successful is to keep cutting costs. He explained although that thinking may contribute to the business, ultimately it’s a losing game because it’s not the best way for IT staff to help their organization.

Other challenges mentioned by the panel of CIOs include: retaining staff that can maintain the culture and adhere to the philosophies of the organization; maintaining the resources to deal with a sudden shift in the business climate like a new competitor or new technology; and simplifying a technological environment that’s been complicated by the implementation of several systems.

— Illustration by Jarrett Osborne

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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