Technology Change

From Technologist to Teacher (and Value Creator

Mel Heckman, CIO, West Monroe Partners

The role of IT in business continues to evolve as there is an IT component in virtually every facet of today’s businesses. Successful CIOs know that their role must also evolve. As an advisor to CIOs the constant flux of new technologies can create heightened focus tech savvy issues at the expense of a well-rounded persona that the role demands.

  The bottom line is educating the user base is just as fundamental as keeping the network running or ensuring the database is backed up  

A recent survey by West Monroe found that 95% of HR leaders say soft skills are an important component of the hiring process and 67% have withheld a job offer to an otherwise qualified technology candidate solely because of that candidate’s lack of soft skills. Today’s CIOs (and aspiring CIOs and technology leaders) need to combine technical skills and business acumen with strong verbal and written communication and a proven ability to lead and work well with teams to succeed.

What’s more, Gartner predicts that the IT organizations in 2030 will be “an innovation and enablement hub for external and internal products and services,” and that it will be the CIO’s job to “harvest value.”

So, how can CIOs spending most of their time focused on core issues – backups, security, and system integrity – pivot? There is no doubt that failure in any one of these areas will most definitely get a CIO fired. But, their primarily role should be to educate the business on technology and its value. Every business process, software and hardware solution needs an ongoing education program. Here are a few simple ways you can bring a “teacher first” mentality to your organization.

Corporate lunch and learn sessions on topics within the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platform

ERP systems are robust software programs designed to provide a full range of business functionality like finance, accounting, purchasing, sales, human resources, and others in one package. In most organizations, employees will find themselves focused on specific functional areas such as purchasing, sales, accounts payable, accounts receivable, and other areas within this ERP system. This division of labor is important because having employees as generalists in all areas of the business would be highly inefficient. However, all too often this focus on efficiency through division of labor will create employees with very limited understanding of the overall picture. In fact, many ERP systems encourage this limited way of thinking through what is typically referred to as role centers. Users only see the ERP solution within the four walls of their job function. For example, purchasing resources will only use ERP functionality related to purchasing. Forget out of box thinking. Role centers have the potential to make end users’ lives easier by eliminating the noise of other functional areas, but it’s not a penalty free advantage. What the organization will end up with is a user base that has no real perception of the downstream effects of the decisions made within their specific area of focus. A CIO that acts as a teacher keeps the role centers but educates the user base on all fundamental areas through short one hour “Lunch and Learn” sessions. Essentially, the CIO walks through entire business processes through short ERP trainings on each of functional areas using a day in the life approach. In this way, the CIO is really bringing together a higher level of data integrity by providing enough education to get users to talk to each other about end to end business flows rather than focus on specific tasks within those flows.

“Art of the Possible” sessions

Technology is moving so rapidly that is very difficult for users to keep track of the changes much less understand how that technology can benefit the organization. Sometimes business users simply need to see a short demonstration on a new technology within some context for the business that can be used to provide the spark of an idea. An “Art of the Possible” training session has the focused goal to educate users on what is available and let the business user dream up ideas on how it could be applied. This can be as simple as teaching shortcut tricks in Excel or educating on how to integrate data systems. The objective is to give your user base just enough exposure to some technical insight to get them thinking. A key role of the CIO is leading the innovation in an organization. The CIO can’t dream up or effectively lead every process improvement project. What is important is injecting a diverse set of technical opportunities into the collective minds of the organization. Short educational sessions on a diverse set of technologies can provide the spark necessary for the next great business innovation. An art of the possible session generally has a few important elements.

• Focused – The content should be limited to one area only.

• Innovative – It should bring in solutions that are creative and original to organization.

• Collaborative – As much as possible it should members from a variety of business functions. This has advantage of using most of the “Art of Possible” training to become a brainstorming session.

Tech tip of the week

The tech tip of the week is a simple low-cost way to enlighten the workforce into technologies that are already available in the organization. Ideally, the platform for this would be an internal portal.

To keep “tech tips” relevant, a few simple guidelines need to be followed:

• Broad based – As much as possible, tech tips should be selected based on their impact on an organization as a whole.

• Concise – No more than a short paragraph to introduce the concept and then use screen shots and pictures to show the read of the message.

• Business Oriented – Tech tips should be selected on its application to the organization.

• A little bit of fun – Yes, finding a tech tip that truly fits the definition of fun can be a little challenging, but it goes a long way to keeping tech tips worth the read in minds of users.

The bottom line is educating the user base is just as fundamental as keeping the network running or ensuring the database is backed up. There are efficiencies to be uncovered and a-ha moments to unlock. A core task of the CIO is to empower the organization to make better use of technology. Make lunch and learn session and ongoing education to end users part of the budget.


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