Last week, I wrote a post in which I shared some snippets of wisdom from my interviews of CIOs I conducted last year. Like this blog, the overarching theme of their comments was that technology won't live up to its business-transforming potential if proper attention isn't paid to the people who use it and the processes that underpin it.
That theme continues in this post, with comments from some of the other very sharp technology executives who generously shared their time and insights with me in 2010. It's the second of two posts devoted to these comments.
I hope to have some similarly good discussions in 2011, and I'm looking for new candidates for CIO Conversations. The main criteria is a willingness to share lessons learned and to address a broad scope of topics. Send all suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org, including the CIO's name, contact information and a short biography that highlights the CIO's expertise and interests.
Good CIOs realize the best way to stay in touch with the needs of end users is by regularly communicating with them. As Joseph De Venuto, vice president of Information Services and CIO of Norton Healthcare, told me when I spoke to him:
I don't go a day without talking to an end user in some form or fashion.
When I asked De Venuto how he determined if and when Norton should adopt a technology, he said:
If you follow the Gartner hype cycle, from an application perspective Norton Healthcare tends to traditionally be a mainstream adopter. On the technology infrastructure side, we tend to adopt stuff more quickly. My challenge is, I don't want to do new stuff just because it's new. I think we run fairly lean. We want to take calculated risks where the probability of success is pretty high. At the end of the day, I have to make sure the business can take care of people.
He also emphasized the need to make technology part of a larger improvement process:
People are used to saying, 'If I buy that technology, it'll fix that problem.' Instead of saying 'If I buy something, it'll fix it,' we need to start looking at it as a tool in the tool belt. It's not the solution in and of itself. People will say, 'We implemented it and it didn't work. It was a bad technology.' Not necessarily. It may have been a bad implementation.
When I interviewed Conrad Cross, CIO of the City of Orlando, he mentioned a quality I think is becoming increasingly important for CIOs in any sector: the ability to adapt to change. Obviously change management is a big part of any technology implementation. CIOs should be able to practice what they preach, by reacting to change and adapting their own processes, not just clinging to what has always worked in the past. He said:
... You've got to be able to anticipate change, and to deal with it. If you're used to using UNIX and the Microsoft operating system comes into play, you've got to know when to make a change. You can't be too late, and you can't be too early.
In discussing a tightening budget and layoffs of some of his IT staff, Cross made a good point about seeing opportunities as the flip side of challenges:
But the opportunity side of that is, it forces us to look at better ways of doing things. If we had all the money in the world, we might not have gone to Google Apps. Necessity causes you to stop and be more ingenious in the way you think and the way you do things.
I thought Vince Kellen, CIO of the University of Kentucky and a senior consultant at Cutter Consortium, offered an interesting take on the CIO's responsibility to help overcome cultural and organizational barriers that hamper implementations of technology:
There are so many cultural dynamics within organizations that stand in the way of good use of technology. How do IT people help solve the problem of moving the impediments that stand between data and good decisions? Social elements and change management elements are critical in that. Computers have only been around a short while relative to humans. We still have a lot of work to do to understand how to knit organizations together through the use of technology. If that's not the IT person, then who is it?