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Essential partnerships

Essential partnerships

Line of business executives are now making more technology decisions – with or without IT’s imprimatur. CIOs and analysts share pointers on how to develop and nurture a working relationship with these business leaders.

Robin Johansen

Robin Johansen

Projects run solely by IT will go down: By 2016, line-of-business executives will be directly involved in 80 per cent of new IT investments.

This has vast implications for how the CIO works with the line of business, says Crawford Del Prete, chief research officer at IDC.

Del Prete says the CIO should really think how they can work with business leaders around the company not only to deliver services internally but to use technology to help the company differentiate and expand the business.

On one hand you need to be listening carefully to what the problems are, on the other hand, you are bringing vision to them what their world may be. Communicating that is a complex matter.

Beca CIO Robin Johansen

A best practice for CIOs is to work with line of business and prioritise assigning their professionals to work in those groups.

For many years there has been talk about the intersection of the CIO and the line of business, says Del Prete – “how the CIO needs to be more involved in LOB and understand how the business is run”.

“What is really changing is now the CIO needs to be not only be business-minded about the way IT services are delivered, but how they can work with business leaders around the company to help conceive and deliver services that can be used by the end customer of the enterprise,” he adds.

This means helping product management or development teams leverage technology to differentiate and help expand the business.

Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research, notes that the consumerisation of technology has empowered line-of-business executives to make more technology decisions.

In a recent paper, he cites three indicators on how the pendulum has shifted from IT-led technology to business-driven technology investment.

The first is that IT budgets are going down or flattening, but tech spending is on the rise. The most common purchases include mobile and SaaS-based applications.

The second, he notes, is the rise of bring your own device (BYOD). He points out surveys indicate between 47 to 60 per cent of organisations allow BYOD, yet a SANS Institute survey shows only 9 per cent of companies are “fully aware” and about half were “vaguely or fairly aware” of what staff are doing with their own technology at work.

The third is the increasing adoption of cloud and SaaS while integration issues remain.

The bottom line for organisations is that C-suite executives should work together and “operate in parallel”, he says.

“If IT slows down the business capability to innovate, the company will suffer as new business models emerge and infrastructure will fail to keep up,” he writes.

“If business moves ahead of IT in technology, then the company fails because IT will spend years cleaning up technology messes.”

Related: Ray Wang on the four roles CIOs need to deliver - as infrastructure, integration, innovation and intelligence chiefs.

Former CIO turned business technology consultant Owen McCall sees this shift in organisations he works with.

“I know it's a bit of a cliché but I do believe that there are no IT projects, there are only business projects enabled by IT and for IT to be truly successful we need to get this critical mind shift and understand that the reason we are here is to deliver promised business benefits, not to deliver technology,” says McCall, who runs Viewfield Consulting and Successfulcio.com.

“There is a steady rise of ‘reasonably technology savvy executives’ who are championing technology in their organisations,” says McCall. By this, he means these executives “get the strategic difference IT can make and work hard to support this”.

McCall sees this as both an opportunity and a threat for CIOs – “an opportunity to partner with these executives, be influential and move the organisation forward”; and “a threat that we may become strategically irrelevant if we allow others to lead the technology vision for the organisation”.

His advice is to spend time with executive colleagues. “Nothing beats time together, both formal and informal,” he says on his experience as CIO.

“We met regularly as an executive team which provides lots of opportunities to discuss issues both formally and informally and I worked hard to meet with each member of the executive monthly in some capacity.”

Related: 'If I look at how I actually spend my time, virtually all of my day is spent in meetings.'

Two-way discussions

Beca CIO Robin Johansen says working with line-of-business executives is a “two-way discussion”.

“On one hand you need to be listening carefully to what the problems are, on the other hand, you are bringing vision to them what their world may be,” says Johansen. “Communicating that is a complex matter.”

He advises against rushing in and talking in acronyms. “Words alone won’t do it,” he says. “You have to use different devices, often pictures.”

He cites as an example the time when Beca rolled out unified communications, which he saw had the potential to improve internal collaboration and reduce staff travel costs as the engineering company has offices across the Asia Pacific Region, including China and Myanmar.

“Unified communications – it is a diabolical term, it doesn’t mean anything to the users,” says Johansen.

The CIO in this case has to be a salesperson. “You assist the buyer and you have to understand the buyer’s circumstance before you make a sale,” which in this case was the deployment of UC.

He says the team adopted a “multi-pronged approach”, developing an “elevator pitch” to explain UC to their colleagues.

“We thought of the key things they cared about,” says Johansen. So when they were presenting the project, they asked the executives whether they have played telephone tag, trying to reach a person four times on the phone. They explained how UC’s ‘presence’ can establish at a glance whether the person being contacted is available.

The second approach was to allow them to “touch and see” the systems. Johansen was cognisant that a single videoconferencing system they had installed based on ISDN was costly and too hard to use. So he enlisted executives to use the system and they became advocates within senior management for the project.

Johansen also attends user groups for key enterprise apps such as those for CRM, finance and HR. He says he spends around 10 hours a month in these meetings. “It is high bandwidth,” he says, “you get in and get core stuff that is bothering people.”

He says the approach at Beca is to make their biggest projects as “business led and IT enabled”.

If it is a “pure IT” project like an operating system upgrade, Johansen says they will explain why it is vital to the business, and what is going on, how much it will cost, and program the timing so as to avoid impacting staff with “excessive change”.

But programmes like CRM or HR systems will be led by the business, with support from business analysts. The IT people will help the business unit identify and articulate the processes, but the project will be dominated by business people and will not be identified as an IT project.

Johansen recalls the time when the company announced new programmes and to get a message across the organisation, they used the theme from the Hobbit movie An Unexpected Journey.

The group team members, including Johansen, dressed up as hobbits.

There was “a little bit of theatre” as each manager explained their respective part in the programme. “If we did it by PowerPoint, after the third slide, there was no chance they [the audience] would remember,” says Johansen.

The takeaway from this? “Don’t be afraid to be a bit outrageous.”

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

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