B.C. CIOs put business students to the test

A case study competition held in Vancouver recently by the Chief Information Officers Association of British Columbia (CIOABC) served to underscore that tomorrow’s IT executives must focus on more then just the latest whiz-bang technology


The contest was open to any BC resident attending a post-graduate program, with a $5,000 grand prize for the winning team of four up for grabs, and $3,000 second and third prizes.

CIOABC president John Williams, who is also director of information technology for A&W Food Services, said since the organization was formed six years ago scholarship and helping future CIOs has always been an important part of the group’s mandate. That has happened in different ways, but last year it introduced a case competition, long common in the East but not as popular in Western Canada.

“”It requires people to identify the problem, analyze the issues, and solve it quickly,”” said Williams, noting it is important future CIOs get some exposure to real-life business situations.

Eight teams entered, and were given the case problem and three hours to come up with ideas and put together a PowerPoint presentation. The presentation was then e-mailed to a coordinator, who removed any identification so the judging could be blind. The panel then picked three teams to present their studies in person to the judges in Vancouver.

The winning team was a group of students in the specialized MBA program at Simon Fraser University. Avin Wadhwani, a member of the winning team whose MBA is focusing on international business, said they decided to take part after competing in a similar international case competition recently in Montreal.

“”We thought this was a chance to take advantage of some of the lessons we’d learned there and take part,”” said Wadhwani.

The Simon Fraser students were asked to examine a Harvard casey involving a hospital in the United States that was implementing an electronic health records system.

Williams said he liked the Harvard case studies because they involve real-life business cases.

“”This one played out the various pitfalls around what to do and not to do when implementing a complex IT business solution, the impact on the organization, and where a CIO’s focus should be,”” said Williams. “”It wasn’t just about the technology, but on the business implementation.””

While many of the other teams had a stronger background in IT and technology, Wadhwani said his team had to approach the problem a different way.

“”We had to come at it from a business perspective,”” said Wadhwani. “”I think a lot of the other teams may have gotten too technical and narrow, and had not taken a holistic business view.””

Wadhwani said he thinks that’s why the judges liked their presentation, and perhaps there is a lesson there for CIOs.

“”Technology is crucial, but at the same time you need to look at the business angle too,”” said Wadhwani. “”CIO’s often forget that.””

Williams agreed that the days of a CIO doing just technology are long gone. Today, a CIO needs to be part of the executive team and know business, not just technology.

“”A CIO needs to sit around the boardroom table and talk about business, return on investment, and strategic issues,”” said Williams. “”They need to fly at 20,000 feet.””

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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