Technologists have spent years working to bridge an age-old gap between business leaders and IT, with the nation’s top CIOs talking up the benefits of a more board-ready visage.
But with competitors and tech-savvy young workers driving new technology into almost every part of business, CEOs should have at least a basic understanding of how IT works in the enterprise.
We surveyed a few Australian CIOs to find out what they think every CEO should know:
1. IT projects may be bigger than you’d expect
For many CIOs, there are no impossible requests – just impossible deadlines.
Linfox CIO John Ansley said the logistics firm was “all about the possibilities” of how technology might improve its operations, by combining staff with IT vendors and partners to deliver on its priorities.
Prioritisation was also a key challenge for Simon Maizels, CIO of Harris Farm Market, who said his team tended to focus on “about 4 things that really matter” to avoid missing deadlines and disappointing of business.
When setting deadlines, CEOs should note that technology projects may be bigger than they seem, as numerous state and federal government project failures may suggest.
“Some people will take a solution and not necessarily understand that that needs to be integrated into your ERP [enterprise resource planning system],” Ansley explained.
Maizels said business and IT divisions should communicate frequently to make sure all parties were aware of the range of project requirements.
Issues occurred when “any technology implications are not considered until late in a project by which time they may have a significant impact on the delivery date,” he said.
2. Keep IT in the loop from the get go
Thanks to advances in consumer technology, business IT ideas are coming not only from the IT team, but from other parts of the business as well.
One example is Linfox’s four-year project to put Android tablets in its 5000 or so trucks, replacing up to six different devices in each. CIO Ansley said that project was chairman Peter Fox’s idea.
“For a long time, IT almost has been leading some discussions, saying ‘I have a solution. Where is the problem?’,” Ansley said. “The business is now turning to IT about what they want to have.
“The key thing is having a more detailed discussion: why they want [the technology] and how it’s going to help the men and women in the business.”
As the average technology user becomes more tech-savvy, and vendors target a wider range of executives, business units may be tempted to take certain IT changes into their own hands.
Maizels warns against this.
“With best intentions, a business division starts effecting process change without involving IT,” according to Harris Farm markets’ Simon Maizels
“They try to manipulate an existing system to suit their needs without realising the significant impacts elsewhere. This can be as simple as incorrect product configuration in the ERP which has downstream impacts on financials, inventory and analytical systems.”
3. Know some of the key trends
According to Officeworks General Manager of IT Brett Proposch, a good business executive needs a basic understanding of technology trends and what competitors are up to.
Some of the key trends of today are cloud computing, where software or computing power is consumed as a pay-per-use service, and big data, which involves analysing previously untapped data like bank transactions.
“A good CEO needs to have some basic understanding of technology, what the trends are and how it can help drive the business,” Proposch said.
CIOs approached for this story said CEOs could keep abreast of technology trends through their peers, by attending various forums, having a general interest in consumer technology, and by talking to their CIO.
4. Trust your CIO
The key to a healthy IT organisation is a healthy relationship with the business, and the key to a healthy relationship is trust, executives say.
Proposch, Ansley and Maizels told Business Insider they each had good, close relationships with their respective business executives.
But not all CIOs are as lucky, Proposch suggests.
“There’s a lot of information out there and variety in the cost of IT initiatives,” he said, explaining that the deluge may prompt some business leaders to second-guess their CIO’s advice.
“If it happens occasionally, it’s probably a smart thing to do. But if with every business case you put forward, you find your CEO is going out and doing that, then there’s a problem, because that’s your job.”
5. Successful change programs are driven from the top down
Whether it’s talking to IT, submitting expenses in a new way, or banning non-sanctioned devices, workplace changes should be driven from the top down.
Proposch says the CEO can help promote a project by getting involved in steering committees and speaking about projects in terms of broader business objectives.
“It’s about relating it back to the business objective and talking about it so people can be supportive,” he said.
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