CIO 100 Assembly: A meeting of the IT minds

It was late great Toronto Star movie critic Clyde Gilmour who, back in 1979, described sci-fi stunner Alien as “Boffo Entertainment!” If you asked the 60-plus IT executives who attended the inaugural CIO 100 Assembly what they thought of the event, something similar may have sprung to their lips – only in this case, the phrase might have been ‘Boffo Edutainment!’ Not to put too fine a point on it, their enthusiasm was palpable.

And with good reason. The CIO community in this country has never seen anything quite like it. Yes, there have been IT executive events in the past, but this one was really something special. For starters, the highly interactive format in effect put every attendee on the agenda. Small-table discussion groups, roundtables, working sessions, and open forum question periods all gave attendees a voice in the proceedings. And voting technology, with instant feedback, allowed questions to be posed to the audience on the fly, and gauged everyone’s opinion on a host of topics throughout the conference.

Having provided the conditions for a true ‘IT think tank’, the conference only needed an insightful and thought-provoking roster of speakers to make the event gel into something quite remarkable, and in this respect it did not disappoint. The stellar line-up included the likes of IT luminary Marta Foster, who wowed the crowd with her description of the sea change in IT operations at Proctor & Gamble; Ward Chapin, who held the audience in sympathetic awe as he described his own Olympian task of helming IT for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games; and Brian Truskowsk, IBM Corp.’s CIO, Enterprise On Demand Transformation & IT, who revealed some of Big Blue’s own ideas for stimulating innovation, such as creating an online ‘ThinkPlace”, where employees post their ideas and have them vetted by peers, an initiative that resulted in 7,400 ideas in the first nine months, and reaped $20 million in savings.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the think tank realized its objective of beginning the task of building a body of actionable knowledge that will help CIOs tackle the critical issues of the future – knowledge that will contribute to the development of an evolving CIO playbook, for the benefit of IT executives across the country.

Kicking things off

Former Minister of Industry, John Manley, set the stage for the event with his Sunday night keynote. In sobering detail, he described Canada’s poor worker productivity and lack of business competitiveness relative to its global trading partners, and he underscored the country’s need to embrace IT innovation in order to overcome this threat to our economic well-being.

Charles Kirk, Senior VP & CIO of electronics manufacturer Celestica, kicked off the full day of activities Monday with his account of Project One, a sweeping initiative to deploy one set of processes, running on one platform, using one common data repository, with one method of reporting, all with the objective of making Celestica number one in its industry.

Kirk’s lessons learned? Don’t underestimate the effort required; assign people full time; establish a business case and work to it; and spend the time up front to map out activities. He cautioned that a strong IT department is a prerequisite. “You’ve got to look at your IT group and ask, ‘Are you ready to do this thing?’” he said.

Next up was GlaxoSmithKline CIO, Sav DiPasquale, who tackled the always difficult issue of how to communicate effectively with the CEO and the business. He advised the audience to carefully listen to key words used by the CEO. At GSK, the CEO often uses the word “commercial”, and DiPasquale reflects that in his discussions with him. “Do you know what your CEO’s hot-button is?” he asked. “Is it profitability? Is it that the organization is so complex it can’t move fast enough? The CIO has to find out what is important to the business and ask the question, How can I help you?”

Lessons from a global giant

Sandwiched between the two Monday CIO panels was a luncheon that saw the entire audience participate in lively roundtable discussions, each led by a member of the CIO Executive Council (Canada).

Capping a day that was chockablock with insights, ideas and opinions, P&G’s Marta Foster, Vice President, Business Solutions, Global Business Services, got the crowd buzzing with her description of how the IT organization at P&G realized its vision of becoming change agents for the company, and the go-to organization for all “wicked problems”.

Said Foster, “It’s not about running faster, it’s about changing how you run.”

The solution for P&G was to outsource its IT infrastructure to HP, thereby enabling the IT team to focus on strategy and “a few big ideas” – breakthrough solutions that could be scaled quickly, drastically truncating the time it took for the lumbering consumer-products giant to roll out a new product.

Day three highlights

Day three got off to an engaging start, as IBM CIO Brian Truskowski talked about the new role of the CIO – or as he put it, CIO 2.0. He described many of the key traits of the new CIO, such as: know the business well; focus on value realization (it’s less about cost and more about value – i.e. business benefit); and the need to be process-focussed.

“We don’t spend a nickel on IT until we go back to process and make sure it’s as lean and mean as we can make it,” he said.

Most interesting was the peek he gave the audience into some of IBM’s internal IT initiatives. Truskowski said the company gets one million hits on its intranet every day. The home page is profiled by employees’ role and location. “It’s where people typically start their day and end their day,” he said.

Among other interesting initiatives, IBM has created an on-demand tech adoption program, allowing access to new technologies by early adopters and innovators across the company. As well, IBM is experimenting with social networking. For example, the IT department is trying to understand how it can use gaming technology to explore new ways of collaboration.

For a complete change of pace, the day’s second presentation focussed on “The Brand called You!” Most successful executives consider themselves as a unique brand and market themselves accordingly, argued Frank Cuttita, CEO of The Center for Global Branding. And his entertaining presentation, which elicted more than a few belly laughs, showed CIOs how to go about personally branding their role as the IS leader of their organization.

There likely wasn’t a CIO in the room who didn’t breathe a sigh of relief at not having to take on the Olympian task faced by Ward Chapin, CIO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Chapin outlined the vast responsibilities faced by the IT organization, culminating in a “product” that is only used for the 16 days of the Games and for the Paralympics.

Here’s a small sample of what he and the IT team are facing: 100,000 hours of applications testing; many millions of visitors to the Web site during the Games; thousands of alerts and dozens of serious attacks on the Olympic network a day; and the need for a myriad of absolutely failsafe systems supporting the Games themselves.

Chapin’s guiding principles: “keep IT simple, efficient and affordable”, while avoiding bleeding-edge technologies. He concluded with an appeal to all the CIOs in the audience: “We truly believe these are Canada’s games, and we’re looking for volunteers with technical experience. An option would be for companies to second employees to us as a reward for good work.”

Finally, it was CIBC Mellon CIO, Helen Polatajko’s job to pull all of the conference content together, incorporating the voting results on priority areas and agreed upon next steps in developing the first recorded ‘CIO Playbook’.

In so doing, she made the following observations: “CIOs must establish a one-to-one relationship with the CEO. They must sell the value of IT and have the business sell this value on our behalf.

“We’ve also identified marketing IT as an area in which we have to do more. We have to move IT from the back room to the board room.

“And we have to move to predictive models to identify opportunities for innovation. Let’s look forward, not backwards. Think globally.”

She summarized the conference by saying, “This assembly was all about building up a body of knowledge around building the CIO profession, helping alignment, and sharing best practices around innovation. Eighteen presenters shared their experiences and their knowledge, and the conference has produced 80 pages of data. I think it’s a phenomenal achievement.”

We say ‘amen!’ to that. If you missed it, you can find out lots more about this year’s conference on our Web site. More importantly, make sure you sign up for next year’s edition of the The CIO 100 Assembly (date to be announced). You won’t be disappointed.

PANEL ONE: Building the CIO profession
by Rosie Lombardi

A panel session on “Building the CIO Profession” carried on some of the business alignment themes introduced by GSK’s Sav DiPasquale.

To court the CEO, David Lloyd, CIO of Dexit, noted that a fundamental requirement is learning how the CEO makes decisions. Understanding the thinking process employed by the CEO will help CIOs scope their own arguments when making a case, and also learn the CEO’s business concerns and hot buttons.

Developing conversational relationships with the CEO and other executives to discuss markets, trends and other business concerns helps establish a communication line that works outside formal meetings, added Roy Bernhard, CTO of BetCorp Canada. It is important to establish this type of relationship with the CFO in addition to the CEO, he said. “Many CIOs shy away from CFOs, possibly because they don’t want to hear ‘no’,” he joked.

Val Adamo, CIO of Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), said her approach has been more deliberate. Every year, she builds an action item into her personal development plan, effectively making a public commitment to building relationships with the executive team. In addition, “back-dooring” – approaching executives who have items coming up for management decision-making to give them the IT perspective – is also useful in scenarios where IT has not been invited to the meeting for whatever reason. Working on building senior executives’ safety nets is particularly effective in building trust.

“I do a fair bit to protect them when the nasty messages about projects are not getting through,” she said. “If they feel safe in your hands, they will invest with you.” She added that the way to determine if your relationship-building efforts are successful is to ask two Machiavellian questions: Do they seek you out for advice? And do they give you money?

To keep pace with escalating changes in the business environment, the panelists agreed restructuring IT departments is necessary to disseminate technology knowledge and skills throughout the organization in the future. At WSIB, there is an initiative underway with HR to extend IT into the business, said Adamo. IT staff have the choice of developing their careers in either IT-centric or change-enabling directions. She pointed out that IT’s change management expertise – project management, business analysis and other such systemic capabilities – need to be seeded elsewhere in the organization. “The job has become too big for us to do all parts well,” she said. “And everyone is trying to do more with less.”

There is no need to recreate the wheel when revamping IT departments and processes, said Lloyd. There is a large body of IT best practices available, and many common frameworks such as ITIL are available to make IT processes run more smoothly. “Pick one that fits and apply it,” he said. “Don’t try to be the flavour of the day.”

PANEL TWO: A blueprint for IT practices & principles
by Rosie Lombardi

CIOs have gotten the message that they must demonstrate the essential value of IT throughout the organization in order to elevate its status. The devil is in the details: how exactly do you do that? Unlike other business areas, IT has no established methodology or ideology to explain what it does or how it should work.

To tackle the nuts and bolts of transforming IT, a working group of CIO Executive Council members collaborated to create a body of knowledge that shares best practices for effecting change. This work has been summarized in a poster called the IT Value Matrix. Catherine Boivie, CIO of Pacific Blue Cross, explained the rationale for developing the matrix and presented highlights of the work to date.

Instead of learning what works and what doesn’t by trial and error in isolation, she urged CIOs to use the Matrix as guidance, and to contribute their own experiences to build up the knowledge repository, available at More examples of business case builders, IT balanced scorecards, IT annual reports, and so on are needed to create a robust body of best practices.

In the ensuing panel discussion, delegates agreed that meaningful metrics is an area that needs more work. The idea of developing industry benchmarks or other metrics that CEOs will trust resonated with the audience, as did the idea of having an interactive session composed of CEOs and CFOs in addition to CIOs to get feedback on matters of common concern.

Getting quality time with CEOs is difficult, said Loren Hicks, CIO of Lavalife, so a CxO session to discuss technology issues only would be invaluable. Ted Maulucci, CIO of Tridel, pointed out that IT could and should be subject to the same type of ROI scrutiny as any other area using “pure” business metrics.

In discussion of innovative IT-based ways to save money to drive growth, there was a divergence in opinion. Maulucci felt the quest for IT-based innovation was wrong-headed, since business units typically drive these initiatives, not IT. But Hicks pointed out that technology innovation is central at Lavalife, and that several of the company’s new product areas were introduced by IT. “We can always see the weak signals of new technology before the business does, because we think that way,” he said.

Kelvin Cantafio, CIO of Plan International, said he often feels more like the gate-keeper rather than the driver of IT innovation, alluding to the tension between evangelizing technology and controlling it. When business units discover useful technologies such as Skype, it’s difficult to restrain them. “It’s hard to tell people we have to buy other products that cost ten to twenty times more to avoid introducing security holes to our network,” he said.

QuickLink: 068130

–David Carey is a veteran journalist specializing in information technology and IT management. Based in Toronto, he is editor of CIO Canada.

–Rosie Lombardi is a writer with IT World Canada. Based in Toronto, she is a key member of the company’s online news team.

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