Financial sector CIOs struggle with people issues

TORONTO – Jean Paul Sartre once said hell is other people. According to AMR Research Inc., CIOs tend to agree.

Analysts from the Boston-based firm were in Toronto Wednesday to discuss integration issues in financial institutions and findings from the annual CIO Forum held in May on board ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II.

The No.1 thorn in the side of financial sector CIOs, said Dana Stiffler, senior analyst in AMR’s financial services practice, is people. It’s not that CIOs are misanthropic, but inter-department conflict and the struggle between the business and IT elements of a company can tax them.

“It’s hard (for CIOs) to get someone in a very successful line of business to devote any thought to what might be going on in other parts of the firm that were not quite as successful. If it doesn’t affect their side of the business, it’s hard to make them care,” said Stiffler.

CIOs said those on the front lines of financial institutions, like sales and trading, don’t tend to use applications correctly, reported Stiffler.

There is some uncertainly for employees, particularly those on the customer end, when new technology is introduced, according to Alice Cheung, IT planning manager for the Bank of Montreal. “That’s when we experience reluctance and a behavioral change,” she said. “Technology is not the issue, it’s the people side, the training and the education.”

There may not be enough time to acclimatize employees to changes in technology before actually introducing them to work environments, she said, resulting in reduced productivity at first. However, added Cheung, there are significant gains over the long term once employees recognize the viability of the technology.

Problems inherent in the position and the transitory nature of financial executives has resulted in short tenure, said Stiffler – from two years to as little as six months.

Frustrated information executives can’t implement “draconian” societies, said Stiffler, so they try to find fixes in other areas of corporate life, business processes and technology itself.

The most effective remedy is to simply lay down the law, she said. “The biggest weapon they had . . . was executive vision over the long term; someone that’s really willing to put their foot down on the decisions that have to be made. Some of the more accomplished CIOs were less frustrated.”

Mergers and acquisitions within the financial sector tend to keep CIOs on their toes, said Stiffler, and there is the ubiquitous problem of attempting to integrate new technology with old, particularly legacy architecture.

Stiffler warned CIOs to be wary of enterprise software vendors promising panaceas for integration issues. She related an anecdote from the forum where one CIO would claim to have discovered a vendor offering a “magic tool” and another would say, “I just kicked that guy out.”

The end-to-end solution is a myth, said Stiffler. “No one provider is going to be able to dictate your organization.” She urged vendors to come up with adapters to allow their software to be integrated into a complex IT infrastructure.

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