Traversing the IT Contours in a Constantly Changing World

Stuart Kippelman, SVP & CIO, Platform Specialty Products Corp [NYSE:PAH]
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The Constant Change

The role of the IT department, and the challenges faced by the CIO is a moving target that never stands still. This fact is not new, and shouldn’t be new to anyone in the IT field. As long as we continue to leverage technology in business, change will be constant. Today not only do we have constant change, but the pace of that change is accelerating which makes it harder to keep up and manage the business of IT. This need for our business to always shift in a new direction, or deliver a new capability, comes at us from both the technology industry, and the demands of the business. Both sides of the equation are pushing and pulling IT in new and exciting ways, new demands, and new opportunities to drive business value.

Successful CIOs know change has to be embraced, and managed in order to provide value to the business. Change just thrown at any company without a plan and a strategy will never be successful in delivering the value the company needs. This is the hard part for CIOs, and the fundamental nature of the job. Taking the constantly changing demands and figuring out the right mix to deliver real and measurable results. Considering the business and user needs, technology industry and products, competitive environment and innovation, and figuring out the right balance of investment and IT resources required to get it all right at the speed your company expects. Get it wrong, and you’re either moving too slow and not delivering, or on the other end you “take risks” and are viewed as implementing technology for no reason. The best musical conductors, make the many instruments at their disposal work beautifully together.

Reaping Value Out of IT

Sitting in meetings with PPT presentations is fine, but it will never effectively transfer your vision of what technology can accomplish. You can see it in your mind, you know the end state, your IT team gets it as do the vendors you use—so what’s the best way to communicate this? I always like the old fashioned demo.

  From training, to simulations, to the visualization of data and even augmented reality, VR at everyone’s desk is where breakthroughs will happen 

After that, think about the how you communicate IT value, and consider if its worded with business value or is it shifted to be more IT speak. There are ways to be successful. First, stop thinking in technology terms and think in business terms. I know, we’ve heard this a million times before. I speak to so many IT leaders that still don’t understand there is a difference between technology delivering value, and actually extracting value from technology. Business leaders don’t want to hear about databases, cloud, replication, or even data, they want to hear about information–or the output of all that technology. They want to hear about the hidden meaning which has been found, the ability to figure out diversion and re-importation of products previously undetected, or the ways a new system can reduce 5 percent from the supply chain costs. 

In order to get your counterparts to think differently, you need to talk about the extraction of value in business terms–not technology terms. They need to see the same picture in your mind, but with how it will impact their business. Even technology savvy business leaders will not approve of the use of a technology that doesn’t deliver some improvement or advantage to their business. Remember a picture is still worth a thousand words, embrace demonstrations vs. PPT.

Key Technology Trends

I try and keep my eye on as many trends as possible, but there are a lot of them and its time consuming. One of my fears of being a CIO is that I miss a really great thing that we never applied to help the business. I try and focus on the trends that I can apply to increase revenue or create a competitive advantage. Those are very specific items, so it helps to narrow things down.

I have two trends that I not only keep an eye on, but really hope progress faster than they are. First, we all know how important data is, and gaining insight to make faster and better business decisions. However, it’s still so complicated and painful to setup. The Business Intelligence (BI) software has come a long way, but is still so complex and expensive. Sure it requires less technology people today, but is not exactly as simple as installing a word processor and selecting “Open” from the file menu. BI software has to continue to get easier to install, setup and configure.

Second, there has been and will be a continued acceleration in the business benefit of VR. From training, to simulations, to the visualization of data and even augmented reality, VR at everyone’s desk is where breakthroughs will happen. 

IT—Like Oxygen

This has been a common discussion and theme for much of my career. Yes, IT is absolutely a service that is provided to the business. The service can have a menu of offerings, be tracked with metrics, paid for in various ways, and has a large customer service component. However, the more and more if feels like a service, the less effective IT is.

IT has to simply work–period. The product that we provide to the business has to be there when its needed, and at a cost that is acceptable and competitive. I’ve always said IT is like Oxygen, in that when it’s there you don’t realize it, but when it’s not, you die. When it all works, and works as expected, no one feels like they are not getting value from what IT does. But if it breaks often, or isn’t there when the business needs it, then it becomes a major problem.

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