Think-tank II

About 85 IT executives from across Canada gathered at the spectacular Delta Lodge in Kananaskis, Alberta last month for the second edition of the IT Executive Think-tank, organized by applications support and maintenance firm RIS of Calgary.

Following in the footsteps of the inaugural think-tank in 2004, the participants discussed and debated some of the most pressing issues facing today’s CIOs.

A keynote address by Nicholas Carr gave the event a suitably engaging kick-off. The former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review talked about the industry backlash following the publication of his controversial 2004 article “IT Doesn’t Matter”. Carr still stands by the article, saying that it was misunderstood by many of its critics. His basic premise is that companies should focus on being the best at managing IT, rather than trying to be out on IT’s leading edge.

Following the format of the first think-tank, various panels discussed and debated a variety of high-level topics, ranging from “Does IT matter in the boardroom?” to “IT Governance: friend of foe?” to “How to make IT matter in the next decade”. As usual, there was plenty of input from the audience.

Irv Koop, Chairman and CEO of IKO Resources Inc, stated flatly that in his experience, IT does not matter in the corporate boardroom. “Most directors understand the importance of IT in running day-to-day operations but most still view it as a back-office function,” he said. “IT is dealt with as a one-line item once a year.” Koop added this is largely due to the fact that directors are often in their sixties and have had little personal exposure to IT.

Panelist Don Ferris, COO of Mawer Investment, agreed with Koop and added that if CIOs want to make a better impression at the boardroom level, they must be salesmen. “They have to put themselves in the shoes of management and speak to that level. They have to dumb it down.”

Things may be changing, though, contended Stephen Pownall, Global CIO of Pilkington PLC. “The necessity of having a CIO on the board is coming about,” he said. “Enabling business change is vitally important, and that is the heart of the CIO’s role.” He added that the major barrier to CIOs getting to the board is that “we’re ambivalent towards it”.

In a panel on “Organizational Expectations of the CIO”, Toyota’s National Manager, IS, Mike Finlayson, carried on the theme, stating, “Our biggest issue is that we’ve created our own mystique, so we haven’t been included in everything… The role of CIO has to evolve into one of the key roles in the organization because right now IT is part of everything.”

CPR’s head of IT, Allen Borak, said that companies are looking at CIOs as being agents of change, and he added that new CIO hires are just as likely to come from the business as from the tech side.

Petro-Canada CIO Mike Danyluk noted that “we don’t ever use the term ‘information technology’ in our relationship with the business. We use such terms as information management.” This statement was echoed by other panelists.

On the question of “IT Governance: Friend or Foe?”, panelists agreed that it was more of a friend – although perhaps one of the high-maintenance variety. Said Alex Federruci, CIO of Talisman Energy, “We were always very operationally effective, and SOX has been a little burdensome. But it also has been helpful in enabling us to streamline our processes.”

These are only a few highlights of the issues under discussion at the Kananaskis think-tank. For more information, visit

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