ITXPO: To improve IT, consider ditching e-mail

ORLANDO – If you want to get the crowd at Gartner ITexpo’s to laugh, just tell them why e-mail is awful.

That’s what Leslie Brennan, CIO of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, did when she described the method she has set for her staff to improve communication. Her answer? Meet face to face.

Improving communication “is really talking to the business, not e-mailing the business,” said Brennan, a panelist on CIO performance issues, whose remark elicited laughter from this Blackberry-carrying audience.

“It’s more than just getting up and talking business — it’s talking to each other,” said Brennan. Moreover, encouraging face-to-face interaction “teaches them to behave a little bit more professionally — a little more businesslike.”

The need for CIOs to improve the alignment of technology with the business is well-known. But what some IT managers are saying is that business-oriented thinking has to encompass the entire IT organization — and it’s the CIO’s job to make that happen.

When someone from the technical group approaches Patricia Graham about a technical change, she doesn’t want a purely IT discussion.

“I’d like it to be articulated in terms of what it means for the business,” said Graham, the CIO at CenterPoint Energy Inc. in Houston, who was also a panelist.

“You are only as good as your staff,” said Michael Goodwin, the senior vice president of IT at Hallmark Cards Inc. in Kansas City. Goodwin said the staff needs to learn the business and spend time with sales or operations organizations “so they can better understand the challenges and issues that they are facing and bring those back with solutions and capabilities that add value.”

Brennan also suggested another method she uses for training staff. Every Monday, she attends an executive-level meeting at her agency to discuss “everything that’s going on.” One step she takes after the meeting is to type up her notes and distribute them to the entire staff.

That is knowledge that helps the staff “become more attached to the mission of the organization instead of thinking they are in the IT shop,” Brennan said.

While IT managers are doing more to help their staffs understand the business, the role of the CIO within an organization is unfinished, said Leo Genders, CIO of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

“The CIO’s role is, essentially, still defining itself. They are not teaching how to be a CIO in college,” Genders said. Pointing at the conference audience from his seat on the stage, Genders said there are IT leaders who come from the technology side and have experience “pulling cable,” while there are others who have a business, rather than a technical, background. The role is still in its infancy and “we have actually a chance to shape it.”

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