Intrawest CIO: We’ve got Cliff Clavins in IT!

TORONTO — The moment of silence in honour of Remembrance Day came about 20 minutes late at the CIO Summit, but for Matthew Dunn it was the perfect introduction to his talk about culture in IT.

Here, said the CIO of Vancouver-based resort developer Intrawest

Corp., was the perfect example of a value, a belief that is shared by everyone in the room. It even has a symbol in the poppy. If companies truly want to improve the way IT services are delivered across their organizations, Dunn said, they’ll have to find many more areas of common ground.

To illustrate the way IT staff and users see one another, Dunn projected still images from the long-running TV sitcom Cheers. Norm Peterson, the beer-swilling regular, was the perfect example of a user, Dunn said. “”He wants to come in, sit on his stool and get his mug. He’s not into change that much,”” he said. “”(Change) may lead to some interesting comedic sketches, but in the end he’s still going to want to be back on that stool. They’re fixtures in the place.””

IT managers, Dunn said, are best represented by Cliff Claven, the postal worker character who bored his friends with rambling anecdotes and useless trivia. “”This has been the IT guy for the last 10 years,”” Dunn said amid laughter from the audience. “”We’ve really put ourselves in this position, with all the (jargon) they don’t understand. There’s been a complete mismatch.””

At Intrawest, which operates 10 ski resorts and two warm weather resorts, identifying culture gaps has become a huge priority, Dunn said. One staff member’s soft skills are so weak, he added, that the company is preparing to hire a “”personal coach”” to improve his interpersonal relations with other employees.

Dunn said his analysis of Intrawest showed him that while the company’s core values were well codified in employee manuals — emphasizing the guest, then the employee experience, for example — they rested on some hidden assumptions. One was the fact that the various business units within the firm, which include golf management, destination booking and a heli-ski operation, like to operate like individual entrepreneurs.

“”That really bit me in the butt,”” Dunn said. “”I thought it was all about team play, but people did their own thing.””

As a result, the Intrawest IT organization has started to act more like an independent business itself, one with a product catalogue and individual service level agreements. “”It does put us at arms’ length to an extent, but it’s necessary,”” he said. “”They wanted us to talk to them as a business.””

Dunn said he was willing to send audience members more information about a methodology he used to assess his organization’s culture. E-mail him at [email protected] with “”IT is cultural”” in the subject line.

Comment: [email protected]

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