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AITP Atlanta 7th Annual CIO Roundtable E-mail
Written by Brant Pirkle   

2013 CIO Panel

A Panel Discussion with Atlanta's Leading CIOs

This month, the Atlanta AITP Chapter continued a seven-year tradition of providing direct access to the current issues, concerns, and innovative directives of representative leaders in information technology.  This year’s roundtable included CIOs from two sectors currently under intense public scrutiny:  finance and healthcare.  This article will recap the key points our roundtable CIOs had to say about their strategic direction and business alignment.  Upcoming articles will relate how our panelists have incorporated agile methodologies within their organizations, current use of the cloud and social media, and some solid advice for helping both technology vendors and jobseekers do a better job of achieving their goals.

Are we still talking about business alignment?

“The question,” Dr. Samuel Conn,  AITP Atlanta Executive Director and CIO of Southern Polytechnic State University “is that after thirty some years of IT and business partnership, are we still talking about aligning IT with the business needs of organizations?”  The roundtable participants all agreed that things have certainly changed (for the better) and what’s critical for most organizations today is getting agreement across all organizational divisions on a clear set of strategic goals.
 
Anne DeBeer, CTO for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, talked about these changes.  “We now see the business side as very interested in how automation can improve their business.  We still talk about alignment but not in terms of us not understanding each other.  The business side of most organizations now understands technology.  They want to improve their business.  They’re also in the business of process improvement, and they’ve become pretty savvy.  So we have a lot more alignment today than we’ve ever had before.”
 
Ken Rabun, CTO for Conisus, a healthcare education and information network, helped to frame the alignment question.  “We have built a relationship that is very positive, very supportive,” he said.  “It’s the same issue for everybody: if the thing goes out when it’s supposed to go out and does what it’s supposed to do, everybody wins.  We’ve been trying to do it for years and I think we’re there,” said Rabun.
Brian Sondergaard VP/CIO of Global Payment Solutions for Fiserv, a global financial solutions provider, had a simple explanation for the current state of business/IT alignment:  “we’re past that.”   “Create a team:  there’s no difference in what we’re trying to accomplish, we’re just people trying to achieve the same goals,” he said.

Translating strategy into operational plans

Our panelists illustrated how strategic and operational planning varies depending on the size and complexity of the organization.  Each member described his or her approach to IT strategy and the challenges surrounding implementation. “CIOs are not always equal,” said Larry Clark, CIO of Pediatric Healthcare of America.  “It varies with the availability of strategic thinking and understanding relating to the business.  In a smaller organization, the person that understands both business and IT is not always there, so the CIO plays that role.”  “In larger organizations you’ve got specialties and that really helps out”, said Clark.
 
For a relatively small organization like Conisus, strategic planning and implementation can be fairly straight forward.  Rabun talked about Conisus’ process for strategic planning:  “we put together a strategy at the beginning of the year that covers infrastructure as well as the applications and products and we try to stay focused to that.  We meet with the business executives once a month and we talk through what’s happening in the market, what do they need and what pain are they feeling.” “If something from our monthly meetings indicates a change, if the market is telling them something different, we may make a mid-year adjustment.  This is a lot easier when you have a small company”, said Rabun.
 
Things get a bit more complicated when developing a strategic plan for organizations that serve the entire US banking system.  Anne DeBeer described how the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s strategic process is structured:   “We have twelve Federal Reserve banks and a fairly large national organization.  Strategy for IT is set by our systems CIO and within the group that I am in, all the regional CIOs support the national CIO and we set the IT strategy at the national level.  We also have a technology services council and a business technology council.  The IT strategy developed by the technology services council has to be approved by the business technology council.  We have a fairly complex governance process for development of strategies and priorities of projects.”   

Roadmaps to success

Debeer elaborated on some of the initiatives that are working well for her organization, as well as some of the current challenges. “One of the things we’ve done on a national level is to create what we call ‘IT Roadmaps’ for every major business,” she said.  “It’s a process of developing a three to five year roadmap for each business that articulates where they want to go and documents the IT directions that are needed to accomplish that.  We have roadmaps for separate sectors like research, regulation, and payments, so we can look across the roadmap and determine the different IT directions needed for each sector.”
 
“One of the things we’ve been struggling with, we call demand management,” said Debeer.  “There is a real concern that we’re not prioritizing the demand.  We’re in a lot of businesses and each one comes with an expectation that we meet every requirement. We’ve got to find a way to prioritize across our businesses, and that’s really our main challenge.”
 
Brian Sondergaard also charged with strategic IT planning for a global financial services provider, shared DeBeer’s appreciation of the challenges. “The truth in this is that it is complicated, it’s messy, it’s not neat.  And we probably shouldn’t just accept it that it’s going to be like that,” said Sondergaard.   “We have to think about strategy at the large overall layer, at the medium, and at the individual business unit.  We’re also multiple businesses, and we must consider what it looks like at those different levels:  the governance structures that are there, the participants that are involved,” he said.

The CIO’s unique role

Larry Clark summed up the CIO’s unique role within today’s organization:  “I think primarily because we are involved in every department of the organization, CIOs in particular are increasingly playing a role in the overall strategic thinking of the company.  When you’re coming up with a business solution or evaluating a proposal, you’re involved in a strategic decision, so it’s very helpful to get agreement on the things the company wants to accomplish over the next two to three years.”
 
Each of this year’s panelists seemed eager to share with AITP members the various challenges as well as successes they’ve experienced recently.  Like participants in past Atlanta AITP events, these IT leaders have a common desire not only to collaborate with colleagues in order to better serve their organizations, but also to educate and mentor future IT leaders.

About the CIO Roundtable

John Kosar, Director of Business Development for LeadingAgile and former AITP Atlanta President, created the CIO Roundtable to help foster direct interaction among CIOs, AITP members and students.  “This has been an excellent way to gain a dialogue between all levels of our IT community,” he said.   In these annual dinner events, AITP members enjoy meeting and talking directly with CIOs.   “I’m grateful to our many members who suggest questions on our LinkedIn page and to our board members who help pull together creative and professionally relevant topics for these events,” said Kosar.  
Please visit www.aitpatlanta.org for additional installments of this article including the topics of agile project management, use of cloud and social media, and our CIO panelists’ advice to IT vendors and job seekers.
 
Chapter Dinner & Presentation - May 2013 E-mail
Written by events @ aitp Atlanta   
Thursday, May 16th (Networking begins at 5:30pm, Presentation and Dinner from 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm)

Crowne Plaza Ravinia map
4355 Ashford Dunwoody RD
Dunwoody, GA 30346, USA

Registration Closed

A panel discussion about Women Technology Leaders of Atlanta   

Join us for a panel discussion about Women in Technology, the challenges, the successes and their personal stories.

A panel of 4 successful women IT executives will be led through a discussion on their current and past challenges, their successes, and how they are now giving back to the IT community in Atlanta.
 
The panel will include:
Patti Dismukes - Vice President for Professional Services at Mitchell Martin, Inc
Vicki Hamilton - IT Leader and Consultant
Meena Hall - Vice President - Program Management Fiserv
Marcia Macdonald - PMO Director, IHG
Margaret Wright - IT Manager, Southern Company, Atlanta, GA

 

 


 
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