A pioneering CIO event for Western Canada

One day it may be regarded as a milestone for the IT executive profession in western Canada. Organized by CIO Canada and the CIO Executive Council, and produced in cooperation with the University of Waterloo, the first edition of the CIO 100 West Assembly was held at the Hyatt Regency Calgary in February. The conference is well positioned to become the premier event for western-based IT executives, focussing on career development, sharing best practices, networking with peers, and adding to the body of actionable knowledge for CIOs.

The theme of this year’s event was ‘The Art of Communication’, and much of the focus was on helping CIOs better communicate with their corporate peers and clearly understand and support the C-level agenda.

A roundtable discussion, hosted by the CIO Executive Council, kicked off the event, providing participants with an opportunity to get to know each other and engage in some candid discussions in a vendor-free zone. Those at the roundtable were able to talk about their ‘pain points’ and get useful feedback from other participants.

The opening keynote by Peter van Stolk, founder & CEO of Jones Soda Company Ltd, provided an auspicious start to the more formal agenda. By means of a brilliantly innovative branding and distribution strategy, van Stolk grew the company from a tiny western Canada-based regional firm to a significant player in the North American beverage industry, winning market share from the likes of Coke and Pepsi, while earning kudos from Advertising Age, The New York Times and other influential media organizations. Van Stolk’s rousing keynote offered plenty of food for thought for CIOs looking for new ideas to help improve their job performance and increase their influence with senior management.

Next up was a presentation by two members of the CIO Executive Council: Helen Polatajko, SVP & CIO of CIBC Mellon, and Sav DiPasquale, VP, IT & CIO of GlaxoSmithKline. They reported on the work being done by Council members on the development of a toolkit to help CIOs find success in their first 90 days on the job (see CIO Canada, March 07, pgs 38-40).

The two presenters made a strong pitch for CIOs to join the Council, which now has 480 members worldwide. “CIOs don’t have a lot of time to network, but with the Council you can get on the phone for twenty minutes and talk about a problem,” said Polatajko.

Later in the day, Assembly members were asked to roll up their sleeves for an interactive session on Selling IT to the Business, presented by Art Wilson, founding partner, Critical Path Strategies. Wilson gave the audience a crash course in understanding and validating the C-level agenda, culminating with the creation of an executive meeting plan that enables CIOs to efficiently confirm executive objectives and key business initiatives. Wilson then had audience members engage in a role-playing exercise involving a key meeting between the CIO and the CEO.

The second day of the Assembly featured several excellent presentations on the CIO’s relationship with the executive suite. Presenters included Larry Bonfante, CIO, United States Tennis Association (USTA), Dave Watt, CIO, Alta Gas Ltd., and Jerry Gauche, Senior VP, National Oilwell Varco.

Bonfante, who for five years has managed to lodge his foot in the revolving-door job of CIO at the USTA, offered some compelling advice around IT internal marketing. He said that it would be nice if IT’s contributions spoke for themselves, but that’s not the case in most situations. Therefore CIOs must engage in an IT marketing campaign, especially when they are new to the job.

“CIOs new to the job must first listen and learn, find out who the key stakeholders are, and what they require and expect. You have to capture that information and communicate it back to them honestly,” he said. “When I started at the USTA, I interviewed 80 people in 60 days,” he added.

Watt’s presentation was entitled ‘Win-win in the executive suite – avoiding the cow patties’. And he offered five examples of problems to avoid:
1. Starting on something that is the wrong priority;
2. Undertaking an initiative that doesn’t have an executive sponsor;
3. Trying to get your agenda across, not theirs;
4. Let’s talk technology;
5. IT is in the driver’s seat instead of the passenger’s seat.

According to Watt, all business executives have specific areas of need. You have to find out what the most important business pain is and remember it.

Jerry Gauche’s presentation centred on three questions. First, who are you being as CIO? “If you’re still being the tech guy – that guy keeping the trains running – you may not be very efficient in your role,” he said. Second, what are you doing that contributes to the top and bottom line of the company? And third, what are you saying and how are you saying it? “Work is a conversation; it’s about speaking, listening, reading, writing and thinking,” he said. For more information, click on CIO 100 West – Calgary at www.itworldexpo.ca.

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