When I was asked to blog for the Digital Manufacturing Report, I reflected on what manufacturers might want to hear from a retired CIO.
Just to introduce myself, I worked for 25 years at Ace Hardware and retired as senior vice president of international and technology. Since retirement, I have written over 30 articles for Computerworld; I blog for the Center for CIO Leadership; and I teach two classes in an MBA IT Management course at a local university.
So here goes. First of all, I hear a lot about how CIO's need to become better business people and have a greater understanding of the business needs of the corporation. Let me say outright that if your CIO (or your top IT leader) is not attuned to the needs of the corporation, then go out and get one that can understand these issues. There is no excuse for a non-business savvy CIO. This would be similar to having a CFO who doesn't understand your company or your marketplace. That would not be tolerated.
Once you do find a business-oriented CIO, you may find that your company is still not receiving maximum benefit from your IT organization. Often IT is accused of not aligning with the needs of the corporation. If your users of IT services are not able to work effectively with IT, you may have a non-responsive IT shop on your hands.
It is critical that users participate in the IT process — once IT has developed the systems, they belong to the users, not to IT. The systems that IT develops will not only have a significant impact on the particular department, but also ultimately on how the company conducts its business. So users must be fully engaged.
Here are the four areas that demand user involvement if the company expects to be able to develop effective IT systems:
Awareness of new technologies — A prime mission of the IT department is to track new technologies. However, in today's world, technologies are emerging daily that impact your corporation. Every stakeholder in this process must be alert for new developments that could change the landscape of the current business model. Discussing new technologies and how they impact the company's future is a major part of corporate strategic planning and IT must be a key participant. When IT is not fully involved, bad things can happen — think of the development of electronic readers and the subsequent bankruptcy of Borders Books.
The IT Steering Committee — The only way to assure that the systems being implemented by IT are the ones that the company needs is to have an effective steering committee staffed by your top officers. This cannot be a delegated responsibility. In addition, these officers must be engaged in the development and implementation of the corporation's strategic plan. The top IT person in the company must be a key member, but not the leader, of this committee. The committee's role is to select the major development projects, monitor their progress, adjust the plan as business needs change, and define the size of the IT resource. It should also be responsible for understanding the security level that exists and the potential risk of security breaches.
Participation in the systems development process — As systems are approved and scheduled, appropriate users must be given the required time to work with IT to develop the system that the user requires. This involvement must be available throughout the entire process of bringing the system to market, but is especially crucial during systems analysis, systems testing and post implementation review. Remember, implemented systems belong to the user and will have a significant impact on their operation. Their involvement in the development process is essential to assure that the completed system meets user requirements.
Participate in the business continuity process — As CIO, the thing that kept me awake at night was not delayed schedules or bugs in the software. Although these were concerns, the real nightmare was system disasters caused either by acts of God or by system security breaches. In either case, our systems could be rendered unusable and the impact on the corporation would be immediate and possibly devastating for the employees, the stockholders, the customers, and the vendors.
It is imperative that IT and the users take this possibility seriously and work together to assure that the proper procedures are in place to not only hopefully avoid the issue in the first place, but also to plan for recovery should the worst scenario happen. This requires users to define minimum requirements, participate in dry runs to test various assumptions, and work to keep procedures up-to-date on an ongoing basis.
These four steps require your users to become more involved with IT compared to the probable current situation in your organization. It is important that the impetus behind this new emphasis comes from top management. It's also time for the users to accept their share of the responsibility for this major force in business today.
It is easy for executives, senior managers and users to say that they are not technically astute and try to leave dealing with the latest technology advances to the IT pros and digitally-savvy younger employees. However, no matter what your level of responsibility, being technologically unaware is not an option in this fast changing world. Your company, your colleagues, and your career are at stake.