Are You Asking Questions?

October 7, 2010

A nice article titled; The electronic health record meets the iPad from IT World Canada.

The articles demonstrates how Mr. Dale Potter, chief information officer at the Ottawa Hospital improved IT services at the hospital exponentially.

There is one key quotation that I want to point out regarding Mr. Potter’s work;

….. asked physicians how much of the information they needed in their work was available …

Look at the very first word in that quotation.

Asked

Asking questions.

How often does your IT Leadership actually do that? Or do they try to be prescriptive without asking those questions first?

The SMB Takeaway

Ask questions and then truly listen. Only then can you begin thinking of solutions or alternatives. It won’t always be easy.

Ask Questions

Photo Credit Leo Reynolds via flickr

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Yes it is Friday the 13th – and my wife broke a large mirror today – so if you are superstitious, stay home in bed!

Forbes has a good interview with both the CIO and CFO of an organization titled; The Perfect IT Department

In a larger context the article discusses several of the business / IT issues I have written about here for SME business managers. I want to pull out one really good quote;

Because when I look at the maturity of an IT organization it’s not about infrastructure. It’s not about apps. It’s really about information

The SMB Takeaway

Technology by itself should be last on your agenda.

Photo Credit norrix via flickr

CFO: Managing The CIO

January 11, 2010

A decent article at silicon.com titled; How to manage your CIO: What every CFO needs to know

I can only rate it as ‘decent’ because a few of the recommendations are from constituencies with vested interests in one space, and their opinion is that their space should always be job 1. (The cat will always tell you to leave the bird cage open right??)

To quote from the article;

Around 23 per cent of CIOs surveyed last year said they currently report to the head of finance, compared to 38 per cent who reported to the CEO.

It is not just the overall percentage of CIO’s reporting to the CFO, the article contends that IT Leadership reporting to the CFO is also trending upwards. Overall I agree with most of the details outlined. In fact, in the SME space, it is probably more common for IT Leadership to be reporting to the CFO anyway.

So, What if you are not a techie CFO?

Many of the individuals interviewed agree that there is not a huge need to be a pure technologist when managing your IT Leadership. That is very true – however you must be able to understand the relevant level of detail about IT.

As a CFO, you would not approve a new facility without understanding the pros and cons of each possibility in that decision! And for many businesses, IT is frequently even more of an investment, so understanding its applicability and limitations is critically important. (Hint: IT does two things really well, integration and standardization)

Consider a second reason for this relevant level of detail. Your sales team has initiated a project that requires extensive IT support and assistance. Your IT Leadership has recommended Vendor ‘A’ as best at meeting the technical part of those requirements. But hey! after a golf game – a sales chap tells that Vendor ‘B’ has a product that should be less expensive!

What you may not know is that option ‘A’ is leveraging all your existing, (and amortized)  infrastructure investments, and is also leveraging existing skill sets. Option ‘B’ requires new infrastructure, new skills, and new resources. (Hint: Your investment today is your operational cost tomorrow!- so it pays to understand what those choices will be like down the road.)

The (In)Famous SiloOrganizational Silo

The two organizational processes that usually have the most cross functional view of your organization are finance, and IT. With your IT reporting directly to finance, there is always a risk of IT becoming a single silo under the finance portfolio. Since IT has its fingerprints across your manufacturing, your supply chain, everywhere, you need to avoid the problem of IT becoming too insular, risk can rise as input is not obtained in a cross business fashion on initiatives.

As an example, CFO’s can be comfortable insuring or hedging facilities or currency risks, but the risk of data theft through improperly secured POS (Point of Sale) or other systems can be new. (hint TXJ Nasdaq TJX reportedly absorbed a 188 million charge after their POS breach led to the theft of credit card data) Ann All at IT Business Edge has another example of that here.

Look at The Soft and Squishy

Sure, there are hard dollar ROI calculations that can be made when investing in quantitative business technologies that improve transaction speeds or processes. But one area where finance and IT Leadership can learn from each other is improving the calculation of soft benefits in IT. These softer dollars can include external qualitative issues such as brand awareness or customer loyalty. But they can also include internal issues such as collaboration or convergence.

And Finally

IT and Finance should be meeting regularly anyway. Double that for their leadership teams.

Meet regularly, ask questions, play the devils advocate

And for heaven’s sake, ensure everyone is speaking English (or your native language!)

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Photo Credit Let Ideas Compete via flickr

I guess it is nice to know that many of the issues that I write about for SMB’s, can take place in larger businesses too!

But on the flip side – I must confess that it is a bit disappointing as well.

Arun Manansingh on his A CIO’s Voice blog recounts an issue with the chief information officer (CIO) at a larger organization that exemplifies many of the IT concepts I discuss here for smaller businesses.

… During the process it was discovered that several systems would crash twice a day everyday and this has been occurring for several years. It happened with such regularity that staff just lived with it and accepted it…..The CIO had no desire to change this process. “This is how I have always done it and this is how we will continue to do it!””

So yes; That CIO needed to be replaced.

I know that to line of business and executive management, IT can seem like a black box that you pour money in, while hoping something of value drips out the other side.

But It Doesn’t have to be that way!

And no, I do not mean that as a business executive you need to become a computer genius.

Just this past November, a Canadian business periodical targeting growing businesses published a column of mine on just this issue. It covers many of the basic steps that I have written about.

I fully admit that your IT Leadership should be starting the business discussions with you.

However, if they are not, and you just let that sit there and let it fester, you are abdicating, not delegating your IT management.

The goal of business isn’t to generate activity; it’s to produce business results, and yes – action must be taken (sooner rather than later) if those results are not being provided.

Who Should Ask These Questions?

I’m glad you asked!

The individual asking these questions must be senior enough within your business to be responsible for, and accountable for that responsibility.

In other words, it cannot be a junior controller who cannot ask the hard questions. Who cannot demand responses in reasonable time frames about reasonable activities.

The SMB Takeaway

This is not an overnight question or answer. It the day to day blocking and tackling you need to determine that you are receiving the value you need from your IT spending.

And I can gaurantee that if these questions start to be asked, that you begin finding that you have better visibility into your IT.

And yes, sometimes it may mean replacing underperforming IT Leadership

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