I have been in the technology arena for my entire career. In the last 12 years, I have had the opportunity to be part of the C-suite of international financial services companies, research institutions, and retail corporations. Currently, I am managing IT infrastructure, software development, and business intelligence (BI) and analytics functions for an online retail business. Although I started out as a hands-on, individual technical contributor, I was able to take on and solve larger business problems over time. The ability to stay technology conversant, while still being able to perform deep technical dives with teams of technologists that I created, was a key enabling skill. Other skills that enabled me becoming what I am today is the ability to also be a facilitator, coach, and a mentor to my teams, and to help individual team members grow and reach their professional aspirations. The facilitator role includes bringing diverse groups of people together to solve complex business problems. Now, at the C-level, it’s mostly about bringing business and technology together, to be a catalyst among several stakeholder groups, and to have constructive and engaging dialogues regarding implementable solutions and approaches to business problems and opportunities.
Key Insights into Enterprise Management
During my career, I had several opportunities to work with different enterprise content management (ECM) systems. In my current role, for example, the focus is on the protection of our intellectual property (IP). We are researching vitamins and nutritional supplements, and are creating a “secret sauce” as to how we develop and market our products. There’s a lot of IP embedded in these processes that must be safeguarded. To this end, we have an enterprise-wide content management system (CMS) deployed that gives us the ability to control access permissions tightly, and to grant targeted access to the knowledge repository—thus providing a strong solution to safeguard our IP and to track access to it.
"A CIO must be able to translate business problems into the technology domain, gather technologists around that problem and drive to a solution that helps the business"
Identifying the Right Partner
We have a robust technology onboarding process in place. When we get requests from business stakeholders to accommodate new business requirements or to implement a new point solution, we have them articulate functional requirements from which we derive some key parameters for the desired solution. We then look at available third party solutions that are available in the market, and establish a shortlist of providers that potentially have the ability to meet our needs. Typically, we arrive at a list of no more than three providers, and give them an opportunity to put their “best foot forward” and to showcase their product/solution during a lunch-and-learn, where we assess the functional and technology fit. Wethen engage the preferred solutions provider in a small, limited scope proof of concept (PoC)—typically as a pre-sales activity. Upon the successful completion of the PoC, we then sign on the dotted line, acquire the technology, and manage the implementation for the benefit of the business.
The Evolution of ECM
In another environment, the business had completely different requirements for an enterprise content management system. There, we were filing patents on some of the software solutions we developed, and issues revolved around being able to retrieve content based on keywords or business contexts and situations. To file a patent for a particular invention, or to defend against potential litigation brought to us by a “patent troll” required indexing of content and the ability to retrieve targeted documents to either prepare for or to defend against litigation. Therefore, the flexibility of the system to retrieve content based on keywords or business situations was of paramount importance. At the time, I identified several different players in the industry that target this particular problem area, and that have become experts in indexing and retrieving. In this situation, it was not only a document that needed to be made available on the content management platform, but also any other related communication such as email or other unstructured data like presentations and spreadsheets.
Advice for New CIOs
Today more than ever, a CIO must be able to translate business problems into the technology domain, gather technologists around that problem and drive to a solution that helps the business. It starts with business goals and objectives, and the problem/opportunity needs to be translated and moved to the technology domain so that enabling technologies can be brought to bear to create competitive advantage. That is one of the critical core skills new CIO need to acquire to be successful; if one can do this, that’s a recipe for success in the CIO world.
Overall, today is a great time for technologists to be around. There’s a large amount of complexity in the world of business and technology. Applications, hosting models, and IT service delivery models are constantly changing and new ones are emerging. To be able to connect the dots in this complex space and to create solutions in new, imaginative ways, provides an incredible opportunity for technologists to have an impact on the business and to even help re-shaping it.