When we were CIOs

The role of the CIO is becoming progressively more difficult due to cash constraints and a disconnect with corporate business objectives, according to three CIOs who have recently left their jobs for other roles in IT.

A study released recently by the Canadian

Advanced Technology Alliance said that “”three out of five CIOs are finding it harder to sell their business cases.””

That figure is accurate depending on the focus of the CIO, said Michael Bryne, who left his job with the University of Alberta last year. “”I think it’s harder for those CIOs that are technology-focused. I don’t think it’s harder for those CIOs that are making a concerted and conscious effort to be part of the business first and technology-enabled second,”” he said.

Byrne is now a consultant. He continues to work with the university on a consultancy basis, as well as with other educational institutions in the province and parts of the private sector.

“”The question is, which position do you start from?”” he added. “”Do you start from the perspective of really intimately understanding what the priorities, the constraints, the concerns are with regards to the business on the one hand? (Or) start from the perspective that there is a new release of a particular software package and how can we use it? Those are two distinct perspectives and lead to two quite different value propositions.””

He said that a CIO really needs an advocate on the board of directors (or board of governors, in the case of a university) in order to garner approval for a technology implementation.

Ted Barnicoat, former CIO of Trimac Corp., one of Canada’s largest trucking companies, agreed that communication is an essential element in career success. “”A lot of your job — and I’m going to use a term that appalls a lot of my peers — is selling,”” he said. “”You’ve got to be out selling the ideas to the executives. You’ve got to have a network of contacts so you discuss these things with them on a one-on-one basis, and you also need some formality for doing it, some governance process.””

Barnicoat left Trimac last week to start working with software firm Richer Systems Group Inc. as executive vice-president. The company is partly-owned by Trimac.

Even unavoidable upgrades require a solid business case in order to meet approval in the eyes of senior management, he said. Trimac, for example, was recently forced to upgrade to PeopleSoft 8 because the vendor withdrew support from older versions.

“”You have not only an integration problem . . . but you’ve also got a training problem with your staff,”” said Barnicoat. “”The CEO very wisely said, ‘Fine, I understand you’ve got to do this, now show me where you’re going to get the money back.’ (That) is going to be around process change. I think that’s becoming more the case for CIOs.””

Value for money is a familiar refrain to CIOs, according to Doron Cohen. Wednesday is his last day as CIO for Canada Life. He plans to set up his own consulting firm called Brass Tacks CIO.

“”Business leaders don’t trust that IT can deliver. It comes down not so much to the business case and how to calculate the ROI — most people know half of it’s fiction anyway — it’s a trust crisis,”” said Cohen.

“”Don’t give up until you have exposed the business outcome,”” he added. “”For example, I had a major accounting system project that we have just finished. . . . Having a new system is not an expected outcome. It’s a means to an end, not an end to itself.””

Technology for technology’s sake is an easy trap to fall into — particularly the industry’s latest vogue, wireless. Byrne said that it’s a practically unavoidable phenomenon, yet still relatively hard to establish a value proposition for installing it. University students, for example, enjoy the ubiquity and ease of wireless access, “”but it’s just as achievable with jacks in the wall,”” he said. “”I’ve seen relatively few places that could justify wireless on the basis on cost savings. There’s the same hype as there’s been on the last five or six great technologies.””

Ultimately, he suggests that CIOs broaden their job descriptions to include more than technology evangelism. “”Given the maturity of the IT industry . . . it’s about time that these people started seeing themselves as part of the business and started really working hard to be part of the business.””

According to CATA’s survey, 70 per cent of CIOs said that their organizations are moving towards knowledge management. The same number also said there was still room for improvement.

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