by Byron Connolly

Why playing tennis with the CEO may secure your future

Jul 20, 2015
Technology Industry

Organisations are under immense pressure to drive change to meet customer demand and stay ahead of the competition. To achieve this innovation nirvana, it’s crucial that IT groups move from being reactive cost centres to proactive providers of business solutions.

Panellists at the CIO Summit in Sydney discussed how IT aligns with overall business strategy, works and communicates with c-level execs, and serves as a measuring tool to help organisations rate IT’s overall performance.

Darren Warner, regional director, infrastructure and operations at commercial real estate services firm, CBRE Asia Pacific, said at the simplest level IT sends a survey to users after the completion of every 10 tickets asking users to rate the team’s performance.

“On a wider scale, we are looking at return on investment, speed of delivery – so it’s a combination of those factors,” he said.

Warner agrees that performance ratings can be somewhat of a ‘double-edged sword’, as staff will rate IT highly when things are going well but poorly as soon as there are application and network issues.

“You probably get one positive piece of feedback for every 100 things that you do if you are lucky. People are always quick to tell you when you are wrong,” he said.

One IT head from an international women’s clothing retailer said he recently set up a web-based service management portal that has provided discipline that the organisation hasn’t had in the past.

“We are starting to log tickets properly and assign them to the right people. So what we are doing is sending those tickets out and at the end when you resolve [an issue], there’s a survey.

“We put in a 10-point survey, a net promoter thing – it didn’t get a huge uptake because people sort of looked at that and went ‘nope, too complicated, I don’t want to worry about it’.”

To overcome this, IT simply added ‘happy, mediocre and unhappy faces’ to make it easier for staff to rate performance, he said.

“As soon as we get one [an unhappy or mediocre face] … we pick up the phone and we walk around and ask [the user], ‘what’s the issue?’

“That’s worked very well for us, we get a lot of feedback on those types of things and funnily enough, that’s actually driven adoption of the portal as well,” he said.

Logicalis Australia CEO, Basil Reilly, added that although this IT head is surveying customers and ensuring they are happy, what will secure his future the most is the fact that he plays tennis with the CEO.

“So when he screws up, and he will because he’s in IT … what will keep him in his job is the fact that he has that relationship.

“The [CEO] is going to go, ‘explain to me what’s gone wrong here?’ And they’ll have a discussion ‘human to human’ rather than [the CEO saying], ‘that d***head doesn’t know what he’s doing.’

“That’s what we are missing in IT, those skills of stakeholder management, communication and marketing – we really don’t do enough of that.”

Instead, IT heads are still too busy sitting up at 2am in the morning worrying if the ERP system is still running, he said.

“That’s why the business partner role is starting to look at some of that and a number of organisations are doing that to start managing the politics, managing stakeholders, knowing who likes you and who doesn’t,” he said.

The IT head said that clothing retailer is a very culturally-driven company and communication is often informal.

“We are not big around formalised meetings … any of that formality that you would find a bigger organisation. In fact, coming down here [to Sydney] I bought a jacket on Sunday because I haven’t owned one for quite a while.

“What it means for me is building those relationships, I spent a lot of time with my peer executives, with the CEO, with the CFO as well, talking about where we are headed and what we are doing.

“There’s no set agenda, it’s getting in front of them and building that rapport and trust and really from a CIO’s perspective, I’ve always seen it as our responsibility to understand the business and not for them to understand us in effect and drive that relationship building and immerse yourself into the business,” he said.

He added that he is often accused by friends of ‘drinking the kool-aid’ when he moves from business to business.

“But I feel that you really need to understand it [a business] or you can’t make reasonable decisions. I’ve come from a technical background – my strategy moving forward is that I’ve got to understand the people better or it’s never going to work,” he said.

“I spend a lot of time canvassing vendors, doing a lot of reading and making sure I can come up with solutions that might fit what I call the ‘digital playbook’.

“We need to present these retailers with a list of arrows in a quiver, which we can then present to them to use in a coordinated fashion. Particularly in retail that needs to be dynamic, it needs to be built with components, not a silver bullet approach,” he said.

Catering to LOBs

Meanwhile, CBRE’s Warner said technology staff have been introduced across the organisation’s business lines to provide much needed feedback around what each division needs from IT.

“One thing about our organisation is that there are so many facets of real estate and they are quite different. If you are valuing a property, it’s quite different to managing a property or selling or leasing a property.

“We have put people into each of these business lines and allowed them to be the ears and eyes for us in IT, and then we have taken that feedback back,” he said.

Although there are still going to be IT solutions that are delivered centrally, Warner said these don’t provide competitive advantage for individual lines of business.

“Anyone can give you email, anyone can give you a telephone but it’s an application within a business line that really helps them drive their business,” he said.