We at Statêra are often asked to help clients determine the best path forward for their IT organizations — often in turmoil. The issues vary from one client to another (staffing, runaway costs, unhappy customers, etc.), and the solutions are no less varied. It comes down to an honest conversation with the CFO or the CEO about what the problems are in their minds and how prepared they are to fix those problems. If you have ever wondered how this conversation might go, here is an example:
Our client (not named here) wanted to talk to us about their IT organization — specifically about what is not getting done on an ongoing basis. The client noted that there was a reorganization of the IT department approximately 18 months earlier, and rather than promote from within (there evidently were no staff members ready to take on the CIO role), they recruited from the outside. A hire was made, and since that time there had been both attrition in the group as well as a number of missed project deadlines and unhappy customers. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Thank you for meeting with me. As I understand it, you are experiencing some challenges in IT. What, specifically, is going on?
CFO: Ha! Where do I start? Well, things don’t seem to get done in IT. Projects never get completed — at least on time. And other important projects that are budgeted don’t tend to get started. Everything is costing way too much in my opinion. The IT staff doesn’t speak our language; they don’t understand our business. Our technology is old and the business is out of patience. There are too many people in IT, I think — I have lost track of who in IT are doing what jobs. How is that for a start?
Me: OK – let’s take these one at a time. Let’s start with “nothing is getting done.” Is there any kind of “plan” or “roadmap” that you (or they) are working from? In other words, how do you measure “done”? Or “not done”?
CFO: No. We don’t have any kind of plan that I know of. Not really, anyway.
Me: Can your current IT leader help you create one?
CFO: I have asked for this and it never seems to get done. So, no, I guess.
Me: Is the current IT leader the CIO, VP of IT, director-level, Manager? And how long has this person been in that role?
CFO: Yes, our head of IT is the CIO — hired about a year and a half ago. Seemed like a good hire at the time, but now I am beginning to have my doubts. Good person, but not in the right role, I guess.
Me: You said everything is costing too much. What do you mean by that? Is there a budget?
CFO: Yes, but it is mostly staff salaries, new servers, new laptops, printers, monitors, licensing — things like that. To be honest, I feel like I have lost touch with what we are spending money on, and feel like it is out of control. I don’t think I have control over the spending, and am not sure how to bring it into check.
Me: Do you know if what you spend for IT is in line with other companies in your industry?
CFO: No, I don’t. It just seems high to me, I guess. And yet some years we go over budget and other years we don’t spend what’s in the budget. It is unpredictable from year to year, or even month to month. My credibility with the budget committee is not good when it comes to IT.
Me: OK – You also mentioned that the IT staff don’t really understand your “business” — that they don’t “speak your language”. What do you mean by this?
CFO: They are all very technical and don’t seem to relate to our users or know what we do as a company. I have brought this up many times but it does not seem to improve.
Me: I have another question: Do you have any personal performance goals or KPIs that are tied to the issues you have with IT? Like meeting budget goals, project completion, customer satisfaction ratings, things like that?
CFO: Well, yes. Part of my annual bonus is based on IT-related accomplishments. I am pretty concerned that we won’t get there this year — in fact, I am pretty sure we won’t get there. I think our IT budget will be exceeded. And one of our major projects looks like it won’t be completed on time, and users are not very happy.
Me: Do you think you have the IT leadership you need to get you where you need to be? Is that part of the issue you are trying to solve?
CFO: I don’t think our IT team is being managed very well. I would like to find a way to keep our CIO in that role. Maybe the CIO needs some coaching, or something. I’m not sure how comfortable the CIO would be having someone come in to be a coach, to be honest.
Me: Are you prepared to make a change in that role if that is what is needed to get some sort of control over IT?
CFO: Yes. I think so. Might be necessary, but am a little concerned about what the ripple effect will be if I do.
Me: What do you mean?
CFO: I think there is some loyalty there with IT team members. I am not sure what risk we may run by replacing the CIO. I don’t know how to find out I guess. Can’t really ask anyone.
Me: You mentioned that your technology is old and does not really meet your company’s needs. Has your CIO and the IT team developed a strategy that leverages the cloud or cloud-based technology platforms?
CFO: I don’t really understand how to leverage the cloud and how we might take advantage of that. We have servers in a data center, and it seems like every year we are replacing old equipment, and I am not sure why or how the cloud would be less expensive for us. The current servers are really expensive to maintain. I am told that we need to upgrade hardware constantly. I need to understand how the cloud takes care of this problem. A friend of mine mentioned that they are using Amazon Web Services, but I am not sure how they are benefitting from it. And while I am on the topic, what does SaaS mean? I have asked my CIO for some clarification on all of this and it has not happened yet.
The conversation above is common. Technology is a critical business enabler for most companies, but IT as the technology delivery and support vehicle for companies often falls short of expectations. Managing technology is not an easy task — long hours, stress, constant need to stay on top of the rapidly changing trends in technology, high turnover — and underestimating the importance of IT often leaves companies with a dilemma. Do we stay the course and hope for the best or look for alternatives? How do companies deal with this over and over again? Stay tuned.
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About Dan Fox Gliessman:
Dan has many years of IT leadership experience enabling clients in leveraging cloud technology. Dan is Principal and CIO for Statêra, a technology consultancy in Denver, Colorado. He also served as CIO for his client Quiznos in Denver. His years in the industry include serving as VP and CIO for Boston Market, VP of Applications and Architecture for Relera (managed hosting), and Director of Applications Services and Architecture for DCP Midstream (midstream natural gas). His experience also includes leadership roles at Coopers & Lybrand and BDM Technologies in industries including oil and gas, healthcare, banking, defense, restaurant, telco, real estate, and sports management.