CIOs, business-IT collaboration and the journey from information to influence


Cats and dogs. Hatfields and McCoys. Business and IT. Sometimes you just need a couple of names. Great rivalries need no further explanation.

At SAS Executive Conference 2014, Jill Dyché, vice president of best practices at SAS, led a panel exploring the way that business leaders and their IT counterparts interact in today’s business. The main theme: CIOs are adapting – or need to adapt – to the current state of business. Or the business will pass them by.

Dyché’s panel included H. James Dallas, a former CIO at Medtronic and Georgia Pacific; Mary Turner, president, Canadian Tire Bank and COO, Canadian Tire Financial Services; and Peter Moore, a technology consultant with Wild Oak Consulting. The group covered topics ranging from how the reporting structure of CIOs can affect their roles to the ways that IT can drive innovation in companies.

Dyché set the tone by explaining that the role of the CIO was changing due to the evolving adoption of technology. Social, mobile, analytics and cloud are four forces changing how we use technology and consume information. Dyché said that she hears IT leadership saying, "I don't want to just maintain the system. I don't want to just keep the lights on. CIOs have more to offer than that.”

James Dallas retired from Medtronic in 2013 after decades in IT leadership roles. He advised technical staff in the audience to learn how the business works. He told a story about the GM of a large business unit taking him to a customer meeting.

“He gave me exposure to the customer that I would have never gotten in a conference room,” Dallas said. “Once I got that exposure, I didn’t wait to give approval to the business. And, instead of waiting for technology vendors to come to us, we decided to get out in front of things.”

To show how IT could help the business function more effectively, Dallas and his team set up innovation centers to show what could be done with technology to augment what was already underway. They showed what the “salesperson of the future” would look like and established a “clinic of the future.” They could then work with marketing and sales to use these as competitive differentiators for the company.

This dynamic is out of the norm, said Moore. In the companies he has worked with, there’s a “silo mentality” at work, which often inhibits innovation. Part of that is due to the historical charter of IT; he noted that 80 percent of IT budgets is dedicated to taking care of existing systems.

As a CEO, Turner sees that business and IT collaboration often comes down to communication and relationships. No matter how a CIO operates on an executive team (reporting directly to the CEO or to the CFO) or what processes are in place, she says that good working relationship trumps all.

“It’s all about the people,” Turner said. “In the end, process just enables things… You have to find a few allies across silos and tell your story in competing ways.”

Good relationships can help you avoid thorny questions of ownership within the organization. Turner said that turf battles – who owns data, where IT resides, etc. – is a tough thing to overcome. “If you start with whose turf it is, you’ll spend all your time and energy on who’s in charge.”

The role of the CIO is changing rapidly due to the ways that the business can now go to the cloud to adopt new applications. This means that IT may not be in direct control of the business applications – and the data – behind the business. For Dallas, that means reevaluating what a CIO is.

“The question is: How do you, as a CIO, go from controlling something to being responsible for something you don’t control,” Dallas said. “You’re having to deal with the ‘I’ [in CIO]. And you’re going from Chief Information Officer to Chief Influence Officer.”


About Author

Daniel Teachey

Managing Editor, SAS Technologies

Daniel is a member of the SAS External Communications team, and in his current role, he works closely with global marketing groups to generate content about data management, analytics and cloud computing. Prior to this, he managed marketing efforts for DataFlux, helping the company go from a niche data quality software provider to a world leader in data management solutions.

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