The CIO's Evolving Roles

Glenn Keller, CIO, Closure Systems International
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Glenn Keller, CIO, Closure Systems International

Innovation in packaging requires continual capital investment. Cloud initiatives allow organizations to extend their application footprint while freeing up capital for growth initiatives. We use a balanced strategy: Core applications and proprietary systems are kept within the 4 walls with ubiquitous applications like Travel and Expense Management, CRM, and Health and welfare being best suited to “cloud” providers.

“Shadow IT is a concern, but much of the concern can be alleviated by the CIO communicating on strategy and upcoming projects”

Over time, more and more Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) functions are becoming available in the cloud.

We expect to adopt these on a case by case basis to help reduce our internal IT “time to market”. In general, cloud solutions force common business processes because customization options are limited. This makes it easier to maintain the integrity of master data, and ROI is typically quicker since there are fewer options to manage.

In the short term, CIO’s should be evaluating the benefits of moving Email and Office Productivity applications off premise. First, however, it is important to understand current licensing costs and where they may head in the future. Migration costs might escalate, so consider locking in pricing for as long as possible.

Leveraging Good Data

The technical solutions to fully leverage data are the easy part, and if you don’t have the in house expertise, there are plenty of companies willing to help. The “Holy Grail” is getting your organization aligned on accepting a single source of truth. While that sounds easy enough, human nature and geography can make it challenging. To gain the necessary alignment and acceptance, CIOs must present a compelling business case illustrating how leveraging good data can positively impact and using poor data can negatively impact the bottom line. You should strive for that single source of truth for all business functions and get alignment from both the individual department and finance on the accuracy of the data. Having your CFO stand behind your critical business reports is the best scenario. Finally, no matter how great your repository is, if you cannot present data in a compelling way to specific audiences, it won’t matter. IT groups love consistency. Consistent report formats, consistent user interfaces, etc. The problem is different constituencies prefer different ways of looking at things. Finance may be happy with pivot table views; operations will want financials presented with the things they can control brought to the top; sales will want to start at high level volume and drill down; and everyone will want to be able to export to Excel.

Digital Strategy

In years past, CIOs could present the technical vision for the organization tied to business problem solving and feel good about “being aligned”. For example, “Everyone knows we are in need of a new Customer Service application and here is why.” Today, to be taken seriously, you have to be intimate with the business problem, speak the language of the specific functions and then propose technology initiatives that will support a better outcome.

The trend of consumerization means that most technologies you present are well known to your audience. Your value is leveraging those technologies into solutions that can make a difference for your organization. And while the term “Digital Strategy” may be the flavor of the month, the technologies that shape it are here to stay and are maturing at a logarithmic pace.

The Leading Role

The CIO should be the most well-read member of the executive lead team and should also be networking with peers given the rapid movement of technology that is shaping the future. CIOs also have to interact with the teams in the field to learn more about the challenges in operations. Shadow IT is a concern, but much of the concern can be alleviated by the CIO communicating on strategy and upcoming projects. Don’t depend on non-IT managers to “cascade” the message; communicating IT plans is nowhere near the top of their priority list.

Regarding Shadow IT, also recognize and remember that not all great ideas have to come from the IT department. If IT tries to quash a sensible project without a ready alternative solution, it WILL find a way. Set egos aside; ask for a little more transparency in the future; and embrace the idea in your portfolio. Everybody wins. One of the most mission critical systems at CSI started as a Shadow IT project many years ago.

Most importantly, CIOs must develop and support their teams. An experienced set of IT analysts that understand the organization in detail is a great resource. Protect and nurture those resources. Even in times of austerity, find ways to provide the training needed to keep the team current. Support also means being human and forthright. Being best friends is not required, but the team will know and respond to a CIO, a leader, who genuinely cares.

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