CIO panel stresses culture over business logic

TORONTO — Senior IT executives should prepare themselves for the organization of the future by using non-traditional ways of studying their employees and processes, presenters told the 2003 CIO Summit audience Monday.

As part of a panel discussion called “”The 22nd-Century Corporation —

Can We Build It?”” experts said CIOs need to continuously explore other ways of connecting with their enterprise rather than relying on the analysis of big-name consulting firms. Among those methods? Blogging.

“”I’m thinking of writing a magazine article called Leading and Managing by Blogging Around,”” said Jon Husband, founder of corporate coaching and strategy firm Wirearchy. Husband said CIOs could use blogs to update organizations on their projects or facilitate employee blogs to gather their ideas. “”A lot of what you see on blogs can be completely irrelevant, but I think it’s an interesting way of finding out what’s going on.””

Cindy Gordon, CEO of e-business collaboration firm Helix Commerce International Inc., agreed that the most important feedback comes from outside the executive suite. “”You really need to reach down into the bowels of your organization to your youth and bring them into the process,”” she said.

CIOs have been telling each other for years that most project failures are the result of human problems, not technology, and Gordon suggested they tackle those problems by developing an entirely new skill set: cultural anthropology. This discipline is particularly appropriate now, she said, because many companies are moving away from highly centralized, authoritarian decision-making towards self-organizing or “”emergent”” communities of knowledge workers.

Although she admitted cultural anthropology has yet to filter into the mainstream business community, Gordon said she believes it will eventually be used to form new kinds of performance measurement in the enterprise. “”Our brains weren’t genetically hard-wired to work in the kind of organizations we’ve created,”” she said.

Those who possess some built-in anthropological skills may quickly find themselves in the CIO’s seat, added John Rankin, COO of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s Ontario division. Prior to his work at the CNIB, Rankin was senior vice-president of dealer relations at Canadian Tire Corp., where he witnessed the promotion of distribution vice-president Mark Foote to CIO. “”They wanted someone who understood change management,”” he said. “”It’s very much a cerebral activity . . . he or she has to be able to understand the forces of change at a very human level.””

Smart enterprises are identifying those kinds of individuals by investing in a competency-based HR program that assesses skills along with business processes, said Paul Frederick, executive vice-president of HR and business transformation at TLC Vision Corp. Frederick also recommended stepping back from day-to-day activities and conducting an organization-wide prioritizing session of all IT projects. In TLC’s case, that meant organizing 340 projects, he said.

“”Many times you can obtain the funding for the projects you need once the priorities have been established,”” he said.

Michael McInerney, founder of Crossford Consulting Group and the panel moderator, said some of the ideas from the panel originated from a series of symposiums held between April and September among 100 senior-level executives, who were split into groups of 15 and asked to discuss questions of organizational transition.

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