What Makes an IT Strategy Good or Bad?

Most CIOs would claim to have an IT strategy, but what makes some IT strategies ‘good’ and others ‘bad’? Recently there was a discussion on LinkedIn on this topic. Here are some noteworthy comments from that discussion about what makes a good IT strategy.

‘A great IT strategy that sits on the shelf is useless, and a bad IT strategy that gets executed can be even more harmful.’ Continue reading “What Makes an IT Strategy Good or Bad?”

IT Leaders Guide for Making Effective Board Presentations

For any company executive, fronting up to a board meeting and presenting is a daunting challenge. You work hard all year but the board sees you only a couple of times during that time. You have to package everything you do in a brief presentation. CIOs have an additional challenge. Boards are rarely interested in technology. They don’t understand the jargon.

If you don’t present well or fail to engage the board, it does not matter how efficient you are or how good your proposal is. Worse, a poor impression may even derail a career. In such an environment engaging effectively with boards, making good impressions and getting that funding request approved can be a major challenge.
Over my career, I had to present to the boards several times in different companies. This article, based on my experience and that of colleagues, aims to offer guidance to CIOs and other IT executives who want to win the board game.

Role of the board of directors

Before starting to put together a board presentation, it is important to understand the role of company board of directors. The board chooses the chief executive and approves the appointment of senior executives. The board’s role is to direct and control the company. The board must understand how proposed actions will impact the company’s performance.  Direction setting includes overseeing strategic planning and major decisions. The control function requires that the board watch the company activities, systematically managing risks and compliance.

In short, the board is focused strategic planning, major decisions, performance monitoring, risk management and senior management capability.  Typically, the boards don’t get involved in the details of execution, which is the responsibility of the CEO. Hence the board has to be satisfied with the ability of the CEO and his leadership team.
Every interaction with the board is an opportunity to show that you are a capable business leader; they can trust your judgement and have confidence in your ability to lead and execute. If the board trusts your business judgement, you will have greater influence and your recommendations will be viewed favorably  It’s an opportunity to shine but there is also the real risk of revealing your weaknesses. This just emphasises the importance of the interaction. The challenge becomes even more acute as a typical IT executive may only get one or two opportunities to get in front of the board. Typically board presentations are only 15 to 30 minutes or less. As a result, it is vitally important to get it right.
Board presentations fall into three categories.

  1. First is the ‘state-of-the-union’. Here an executive is giving an annual update for the business unit.
  2. Second is a ‘request for approval’ for a new project or initiative.
  3. Third is the ‘please explain’. The board wants more information on an issue / risk or event that could impact on business performance.

Board members are generally not technology literate. For technology investments, the CIO needs to show how the technology would improve business performance e.g. customer service, profits, revenues, compliance etc. They want to know if the benefits from the new initiative exceed the technology and implementation risks. The CIO has to satisfy the board that the risks are understood and effectively controlled.

Winning tips

Preparation

Now that we understand the board’s role and focus, it is time to begin the preparation.  It is a mistake to underestimate the preparation time. I remember planning a preparation 3 – 4 months before the scheduled board meeting and this is not unusual. Status updates and proposals are scheduled to give presenters ample time to prepare, while the ‘please explain’ request can arise with a short notice.

  1. Understand the board submission process – Companies have well-defined processes and protocols to be followed for board submissions. Take time to understand the process, what is the accepted format (text document or PowerPoint, cover sheet), what are the pre-submission approval processes (e.g. CEO sign-off, leadership team run-through), what are the deadlines for submission. Getting these wrong can derail your presentations before the starting gate. Talk to others, get copies of the previous submissions. The company secretary is an authentic source and is also responsible for the board agenda.
  2. Understand what is on the board agenda – Make sure you understand what is on the full agenda. Research the current business priorities and challenges and talk to the other presenters to understand their proposals. If proper, coordinate your message with that of the others. This will avoid repetition (or worse contradictions) and help the team express a consistent message.
  3. Research board members – Try and understand more about the board members, their background, special interest or expertise and technology knowledge. Find out who are more active or influential around the board table and their focus areas. Try to understand their capacity to understand technical information.

Content

Whether you are an IT leader or Marketing leader the board looks upon you as a member of the senior leadership team. Always keep this in mind for the board interactions.

  1. Align the message to the board’s interest and needs – Align your message to themes like company strategic goals, effective governance and risk control, business growth and efficiency, customer service etc. These will resonate better than release upgrades, infrastructure investments, virtualization and service-oriented architecture, etc.
  2. Eliminate jargon and use business language – Use of jargon is the quickest way to lose the board’s interest. What is obvious to the technology literate younger generation may be incomprehensible to many board members. Talk about how IT (or the current proposal) is supporting or enabling business, helping improve customer experience, reducing time to market. Better still get the business sponsor to co-present business proposals. Talk about how you are addressing risks via compliance, disaster planning and governance.
  3. Sell opportunities at the executive table first – If you have new ideas or approaches discuss these with the CEO and business executives first. You may have to do significant groundwork to get them on board with new opportunities. If they agree, it is quite likely the CEO will discuss it informally with the Chairman or other board members. One has to defend ideas at the board table, not raise new ones.
  4. Keep at high level but prepare for a deep-dive – The board presentations are brief. 15 -30 minutes is what is on the agenda. In reality, it could be shorter. Keep the message at the strategic level but be ready with facts and figures to back it up. Board members tend to ask lot of questions, so prepare for these. Get help from CEO and CFO to find out what questions to expect.
  5. Research the company history– Board members can have long memories. Check if this idea/ proposal has been tried before, and, if so, was it successful? Did the projects deliver? Why not? How will it be different this time? Failure to research and address these questions may mean a lack of approval or a delay.

Get ready to deliver

  1. Rehearse and rehearse again – With time short and pressure high don’t leave anything to chance. Make sure you are on top of all the presentation material and the facts. Try a dry run with your team and the executive team if necessary. Get their opinion and revise.
  2. Write down questions and answers – It is easy to forget answers when under pressure. Write down the questions and answers and keep them at hand. Practice Q & A with your team.
  3. Prepare a two-minute version – Board meetings can be unpredictable. Presentation time can be cut drastically. State your purpose clearly and be ready to succinctly summarise your report / proposal. Seek to gain support for one key point that moves the board in the desired direction.
  4. Get ready for interruptions – Questions can start as soon as you stand up. They have read your submission. Don’t let these questions derail your presentation. Pause, breathe and smile before answering each question. Turn negative questions into positive answers. At all costs avoid blaming anyone. Stick to the facts.

Follow these tips and you are on your way to winning the board game. All the best for your next presentation! For a further discussion on how you can effectively engage with the board, please contact author.

Secrets of Climbing the Career Ladder!

Many people I meet ask me how to get ahead in their job. They ask me, what is the secret to career success?  Why it is that out of two people with similar skills and experience in an organisation one moves ahead, while the other stays behind? In this article I shall share what I have learnt from my own career experiences and what I have observed from others.

Bring the Right Attitude to the Job

If you have the right attitude to the job your colleagues and bosses will notice you. Managers will prefer to choose employees to work with who are positive, rather than those who complain all the time or criticise others for their perceived failings.

However, bringing the right attitude to the job is not just about being positive. Many people don’t make the effort to understand what their role is or what the job is meant to achieve. You should ask yourself, how does my job fit within the service delivery or the value creation process? For example, if you are an analyst is your job just gathering requirements or it is about understanding needs and devising alternative solutions to meet these needs? If you are a service desk person, is your job answering calls or it is about proving service so that other people can get on doing their job with minimum delay? Understanding the job means understanding what is valued by your customers, managers, and colleagues; not just reading the job description.

If you understand your job, stay positive, and show initiative, you are more likely to move ahead.

Get Things Done

Doing the job well is important, however as many employees do not properly understand the tasks assigned to them, the quality of their work suffers.  In order to avoid this situation, make sure you understand the task assigned to you. Sometimes your manager may assume that you understand what is expected from you, even though you do not. You should consult manager or other colleagues to clarify what is expected of you and then make sure you meet your commitments. Don’t over-promise and under deliver. Instead, get better at prioritising work; not everything that is urgent is important. Find time to get the important, but non urgent, items done.

However, don’t spring surprises on your manager or your colleagues. If you are running behind in your tasks or you encounter unexpected difficulties, inform your manager first. If you spring surprises up on your manager, you will lose the trust of both your manager and your colleagues, . If the manager cannot rely on you to get the job done, this will give them less reason to promote you.

Take Ownership

If you are on a stalled project, do you wait for someone to take the initiative to fix a problem and get things moving along? Leaders don’t wait for others to act, assume blame, or take charge. Instead, leaders take responsibility for the problem, even when it is not their fault. Taking ownership empowers you to achieve results. In most places I have worked, those who are most likely to succeed are proactive in finding and solving problems and act with increasing autonomy. Every job has several problems that are waiting to be fixed.  Find the problems, which you can fix, and go the extra mile by taking ownership of these problems. Taking on extra responsibilities will make you stronger and more action-oriented.

Improve Yourself

Self-improvement is a key to professional success. There are many different skills required for managerial roles, some of these you may have others you may not. Always look for ways to improve your skills. For many technology professionals, technical skills can only take you so far. To succeed, you must have an understanding of how the business operates. If you are aware of how areas, such as customer service, sales process, accounting, marketing and credit, work, you will better be able to relate to the business executives. This will improve your communication skills within the organisation and enable you to provide better solutions to problems.

Keep an eye on new developments in your profession. In the fast moving technology arena, new technologies, new methodologies, and new techniques are changing the way work gets done. If you stay abreast of developments in your area of interest, this will help you to identify the skills or knowledge you will need to improve your work and achieve success.

Be open to feedback from others. Feedback will tell you where you need to improve. If you fail to accept mistakes  or become defensive, your colleagues will stop giving you feedback.

Take the opportunity to participate in structured development programs with job rotations, if your organisation offers these. Otherwise, volunteer for assignments that will help you broaden your role or skill base. From my experience, opportunities that take you into completely new areas can often be the most rewarding. Experience different functional roles or participate on cross functional teams. Major projects or transformation activities open up a number of new opportunities that may not otherwise be available. Make use of these opportunities to gain new skills.

Ultimately, the best way to check if you are improving is to take the ‘resume test’. If at the end of the year you can honestly add 1-3 new achievements or capabilities to your resume, you are doing well.

Understand Your Manager’s Job

Managers do not consider employees for promotion solely on the basis of how well they do their current job. Managers will also assess how well you are likely to perform at the next higher level/s. Employees are promoted when they are seen to be ready to the job at the next level. Jobs at higher levels require different capabilities to what are needed to succeed at current level. If you understand what your manager’s role is and what skills or knowledge is required at their level, you can aim to acquire these skills and demonstrate them in your current role. When your manager is absent, you could volunteer to act in their role, or you could take on assignments that let you further develop the skills required for managerial positions.

Develop Relationships

In order to achieve success, you need to build relationships with a wide range of people in your organisation. Relationships with people both within and outside your own department can help you develop a better perspective about your role and the business. As a result, you will hear about opportunities and problems earlier than you normally would. Building positive relationships with your colleagues will also better enable you to balance different agendas and priorities.

Get Noticed!

Let your network know about your team’s success. There is a balance between sharing your team’s success story and bragging, so don’t overdo it. Let your successes speak for themselves (with a little bit of assistance from you).

Promotions don’t usually take place based on one person’s opinion, your manager, your peers, and other executives all influence the decision. In order to get ahead, you need to do more than what is expected from you. If you are seen as one who takes ownership and gets things done, you will be noticed.

Good luck! Remember, successful people shape their own luck!

Print This Post Print This Post

How to Turn Your Strategy into Execution?

Most companies and many IT organisations have a head of strategy development or they hire consultants to help develop the strategy. However, once a strategy is developed many leaders are not clear of their own role in executing the strategy. Often, the execution of the strategy is delegated to the head of strategy. At other times, the leader expects that once the strategy has been agreed upon the direct reports would pick it up and run with it or integrate it into their operation. Continue reading “How to Turn Your Strategy into Execution?”

Is your IT Department Under Control?

Do you know if your IT department is under control? How does one determine if the IT capability is well managed? Is IT well managed if the IT service is in line with service levels? Is IT in control if projects are delivered more or less on time? Or one can say IT is under control when information is secure? What should a CEO or a CIO do to ensure that the technology function is well governed? Continue reading “Is your IT Department Under Control?”

Consumer Technology to Drive CIO Agenda in 2012

CSC has recently published their top technology trends for enterprise IT in 2012.  CSC predicts that consumer technology innovations will continue to drive the agenda of enterprise IT. While the economic uncertainties in the world continue, the momentum behind business growth and technology innovation remains strong.

“As the service economy matures, enterprise is changing its view of IT from a choice between lower costs and more value to a new norm of better and cheaper.”  In this new world, CSC suggests that IT needs to reduce its focus on the back-office and keep up with the technology explosion at the front of the company.

Cloud Bandwagon Rolls on

The cloud offerings are continuing to mature. The five key elements of cloud (scalability, on-demand, pay-per-use, shared infrastructure, and web access) are now becoming norms of IT service. Both IT and business desire the increased agility and reduced costs promised by the cloud services. According to Gartner, cloud represents the industrialisation of IT capabilities and a new disruptive business model. Just as improvements to supply chain revolutionised manufacturing to become interconnected and global leading to just-in-time manufacturing; cloud services have the potential to do the same to IT.

While the promise of cloud computing remains great, there are a number of issues that are still worrying large enterprises.  Issues around transparency and governance, data sovereignty and trust are gradually being addressed by voluntary industry codes of conduct. Enterprises are currently leaning towards ‘private’ clouds that are provided by reputable suppliers.

Legacy Transformation

The digital age has stretched legacy systems to their limits. These legacy systems are holding businesses back from fully utilising innovations, such as clouds, mobility, and consumer technology. More and more businesses are starting to consider legacy replacement / transformation strategies. The benefits of modern legacy systems are beginning to exceed the costs and risks of replacing legacy assets.

Greater Data Visibility

Due to the demands of the digital economy, more and more business data is becoming available online. In the era of the internet, business processes need to be agile. Customers, partners, and suppliers at the other end of these processes also demand that companies’ data have greater visibility. Enterprises can no longer lock their data in internal silos. Instead, enterprises need to consider whether confidential data and information can and should be made available online.

Consumerisation of IT

As more people are using smart-phones, tablets, context aware devices, and applications, interacting with a PC/Laptop are increasingly considered old fashioned and limiting. Almost 90% of new phones sold in Australia are smart-phones. Mobile devices are becoming pervasive; there are already more smart-phones than PCs in Australia. Companies will increasingly need to reach people using these mobile devices. Build-in location awareness, augmented reality, and sensors are redefining how we interact with technology.

Enterprises can differentiate themselves, by leveraging these new consumer technologies, and designing enterprise applications and lightweight ‘App’ libraries that improve productivity and customer experience. Leveraging these new technologies will also enable developers of applications to acquire new skills.

Big Data

Many businesses are gradually beginning to understand the value of gaining useful insights from vast amounts of unstructured data. With 1.2 billion consumers participating in social media via blogs, Facebook, Twitter, there is a lot of information about customers and businesses on the internet. There is also a lot of data from other sources on the internet, such as YouTube, videos, and podcasts. This large amount of unstructured data presents a challenge and an opportunity. Large amount of data from a variety of sources, company data, social media, video and audio is a challenge to manage and analyse. But those businesses which can extract meaningful intelligence from this data about customer needs, behaviours and trends have the potential to reap large rewards.

An impressive range of new technologies that enable rapid analysis of big data are available in the market. While there is still a gap between the promise and delivery of these new technologies, architects and planners should be considering the opportunities and implications of ‘big data’.

Work Anywhere

With increasing mobility, users are able to work from anywhere. Many new offices are designed with no designated desks, allowing users to work from any desk, conference room, or shared space. Travelling staff wish to access company systems using not only laptops and desktops, but also smart-phones, tables, and other devices from a variety of locations, such as hotels, the airport, and on the road. Universal access raises concerns about perimeter security. Data theft from mobile devises is also a concern. Enterprises will need strategies to make security robust, while the enterprise perimeter continues to expand.

Green IT

Rising energy costs and the new carbon tax will force enterprises to think seriously about the costs of computing. As Australia produces most of its electricity from coal, electricity costs are expected to rise rapidly. Within the IT industry, the use of electricity is expected to grow four-fold by 2020. As a result, energy sustainability will need to have a place on the IT agenda.

Tools will be needed for better visibility and reporting of energy use by business units across IT. Efficient energy water use and ethical waste removal will become important. CIOs should begin developing strategies for reducing energy use and improving sustainability.

Knowledge Retention

With thousands of baby boomers retiring every year, business knowledge is walking out the door every day. Some critical knowledge, gained by years of experience, may be irreplaceable.  In many cases, there may not be a sufficient amount of new staff to learn from the retiring generation.

Businesses need to make targeted investments in rapid knowledge capture, storage, and transfer. CSC thinks that new human computer interfaces like Kinect and Augmented Reality may allow some retirees to continue to work on the job remotely.  Leveraging principles from the gaming industry can improve education and knowledge retention. Such new techniques may be necessary in light of the ‘mass exodus’ of experience.

Globalisation of Talent

Enterprises will search for resources globally in order to find talent at a competitive price.  Companies will get work done from places that have good resource pools and which are cost-effective. There will be an increased emphasis on the off-shoring of knowledge work and business processes in 2012.  Crowd sourcing and social media may also begin to play a role for skills, content creation, reviews, and feedback.

Enterprises should consider investing in tools that facilitate collaboration and virtual workplace technologies and improve teamwork in distributed teams across countries and time zones.

Final Word

While many of these trends have been apparent for some time, pace of many changes has accelerated. For example, growth in mobile devices has become a mainstream trend and is hard to ignore. IT and business leaders need to be aware of these trends. They need to understand how these would affect their business and then plan their strategic responses to these trends.