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2003 Priorities for CIOs 

2003 Priorities for CIOs

2003 Priorities for CIOs

Let’s get back to basics; CIOs need to communicate with and serve internal customers as business partners.

By Donna Fluss

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CIOs who want to survive and possibly thrive over the next couple of years are going to have to change the way they operate and interact with colleagues. For years we’ve talked about a partnership between IT and business, but all the while IT groups quietly called many of the shots.

Now, CIOs who don’t put their customers’ priorities first are going to be looking for new jobs. User frustration is so high at some companies that CIOs have found themselves relieved of development responsibilities, leaving them with only the ability to “influence” corporate systems they previously managed. This is not optimal or necessarily the most cost efficient solution for many companies, as corporate systems are shared by many business divisions and operating units. It’s time for CIOs to change their priorities and return to basics by stabilizing systems, reducing expenses and improving relationships with internal customers.

2003 IT Goals

1. Re-align the IT organization with the needs of internal customers. Prioritize short-term business projects that emphasize corporate profitability over long-term systems strategy.

2003 is a year for IT compromises, not new development efforts. All IT and programming resources should be dedicated to pressing business needs. Major system infrastructure projects should be put on hold.

IT must change the way it interacts with its customers. Internal customers must view IT as their strongest ally and supporter instead of as an adversary, as is often the case today. These changes have to come from top down and bottom up.

2. Build an IT infrastructure that ensures business units have the information they need, when they want it, how they want it and where they want it.

The IT organization needs to understand the information requirements of business divisions and make sure the information is available on a timely basis. This is not going to be simple, as most companies do not yet have a centralized data repository or warehouse that maintains all relevant information. 2003 is not the year for elegant data warehousing investments but is the year for tactical systems and development initiatives that improve data access. Some changes can be small, such as not doing system maintenance that takes down production systems when they are most needed by a business. Other changes will be much more difficult but can be accomplished with creativity.

3. Simplify the systems environment and infrastructure by stabilizing all production systems and improving integration between related systems.

During the past five years, many new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Supply Chain, Data Warehousing and Analytics applications have been delivered that do not meet business needs. While there are many reasons why systems fail to yield the projected ROI, IT and business groups should work together to determine what has to be modified in order to realize benefits from these systems, instead of either accepting mediocre systems or simply declaring the projects failures. Not everything can be fixed, and in some cases vendors have oversold the benefits, but after having invested thousands and sometimes millions of dollars, it’s often worthwhile to audit a system to determine if changes in project scale, scope or responsibility can turn failure into success.

4. Revisit and reprioritize system maintenance and enhancement requests. Prioritize changes that improve operational efficiency over longer term projects.

IT needs to review all open system requests with business units to determine the value of each system change. To be a value-added partner, IT managers must understand the needs of the businesses they support.

5. Reduce the development cycle to six months or less. Business managers need change now.

Business managers don’t appreciate being told why they can’t have the changes they need to improve their operations. Without impacting code integrity, short-term fixes have to be prioritized even if some of the code will be thrown away in the near future.

6. Ensure that all system users are trained on the newest version of each application so that they are well positioned to realize the greatest benefit and return.

Too often systems are put into production before users are adequately trained, as training is mistakenly viewed as non-essential and sometimes as an unnecessary delay. Training allows users to gain maximum benefit from a new system, application or module. It’s also a great way to identify bugs before a system is released and often brings out good ideas for system enhancements. As importantly, it functions as an equalizer between the IT group and the business units.

7. Shift the mindset of the application development organization from that of a service provider to that of a business partner.

This is a large challenge. In too many companies, developers are accustomed to sitting in their cubes and developing code based on technical specifications. While this is important, the code will be substantially better if developers understand the underlying businesses. This is most likely to happen if developers interact with businesses. Achieving this goal will require changes in staff compensation.

8. Modify job responsibilities of technical project managers to include an understanding of the businesses they support and to require outstanding interpersonal and communication skills.

Many development efforts fail because of a lack of communication between IT and business. This can be avoided with proper training and processes. It’s not the responsibility of business managers to speak “technical-ese” in order to explain their needs. Rather, it is the job of technical managers to understand the businesses they support, to interact well with their customers and to communicate clearly and effectively. Communication and interpersonal skills are as important as project management and technical know-how.

It’s not the business divisions that need to change, it’s IT. Too much time, money and effort have been wasted on misunderstandings and misalignments between business and IT. Like it or not, IT is a support function and it’s their responsibility to meet the needs of their customers.

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