IT leaders must raise their voices, CIO says

IT leaders must turn into successful relationship managers in order to evolve from an order-taking service provider to a trusted partner, said Ken Kawall, CIO with Ontario’s Economics and Transportation I&IT cluster.

Speaking at this week’s Showcase Ontario 2010 event in Toronto, Kawall said 70 per cent of IT organizations never make it to a trust environment with their business clients and only about five per cent are actually transformational to the business. The key to moving toward that five per cent, he said, is to gain trust and credibility from your business clients.

Toot your own horn

Kawall said business units don’t always have a clear understanding about the implications of IT projects and the benefits they have delivered to the organization. At his cluster, government leaders are typically only aware of high-profile projects, which only make up a fraction of all the work his team his doing.

“Don’t take it for granted that just because you delivered a project or a service that (business leaders) know the true benefit and value,” he said.

Monthly reports, regularly IT benchmark announcements and feedback sessions can all work to gain IT more exposure throughout the business, Kawall said.

Honesty is the best policy

In addition to highlighting the good, IT can also gain trust points by pointing out the bad and the ugly.

Parker Mitchell, co-founder and co-CEO with Toronto-based non-for-profit organization Engineers Without Borders Canada, said embracing failure can actually help gain trust. The organization, which sends volunteers to run community projects in Africa, said making the general public aware of both successful and failed projects has earned more high net worth donors.

“Every year we publish a failure report where we highlight some of the mistakes we made,” he said.

In addition to helping drive innovation and keeping his organization motivated to take risks that could impact positive change in Africa, embracing failed projects shows a willingness to be transparent and honest about your mistakes.

Often times, if an organization is experiencing some type of end-user desktop issue, Kawall said, IT as a whole can be painted with a negative brush. The best way to deal with this is to acknowledge the issue and what steps have been taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Always, anytime, 24/7

IT leaders have to accessible and on-call in order to truly gain the trust of their clients, Kawall said. If a business wants to view IT as a partner, they have to be able to get to them at all times.

“(Business leaders) don’t care how you’re structured, when they need you, they need a single point of contact,” he said.

The business is also looking for repeatable, consistent processes, Kawall said.

“If they come to you on two different days and ask the same question, the worst thing you can do is give a different answer,” he added.

Learn about the business

In his cluster, Kawall said, the IT team needs to know the strategic direction of their ministry as well as the other ministries that might intersect with them.

Only after knowing the business and the implications its work has on the rest of the government, he said, can IT actively participate in making business suggestions and developing applications. He said business leaders tend to skip over business processes and the goals they actually want to accomplish when bringing IT into an application development project.

“If you’ve got poor processes and data collection systems, all automation is going to do is speed up the errors,” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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