CIO says communication is key to buy-in

Frequent meetings and written reports keep business aware of IT's contributions, Kroll's CIO says

To ensure harmony between IT and business management, Jeff Kubacki recommends communication, communication, and more communication.

As CIO of Kroll, a risk consulting subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan, Kubacki checks in with non-IT management weekly, biweekly, monthly and quarterly. Those initiatives help to make the big annual meeting on the IT budget not such a big deal, he told attendees at Storage Networking World this week in Orlando. By the time the budget is up for review, management already knows what IT has been spending its money on and what it's planning.

Kubacki's constant contact with executives was just one insight by an IT manager at SNW on the topic of how to get IT and general management on the same team. All agreed it can make life easier for both sides.

Kubacki first developed his communication practices after being hired as CIO at another company and hearing the CEO tell him the company spent too much money on IT. They weren't getting any value from the department, the CEO told him, so Kubacki set out to communicate just how much benefit the company got from IT. Communication is good for preserving IT's place in the company but is also a survival tool, he told SNW attendees on Tuesday.

"If you get good at all this, selfishly, it's a good way to ... stay in the chair another couple of years ... and outlive the normal life expectancy of a CIO," Kubacki said.

Every week, Kubacki's department sends a four-to-five-page report to each business unit laying out what IT did for them in the prior week. The report is focused on the IT tasks that are important to that particular unit. In addition, the IT staffer responsible for that business unit attends its weekly staff meeting. Every other week, Kubacki meets with the company's Executive Committee to review global projects and talk about key decisions that have to be made.

Monthly, Kubacki produces a IT update that goes out to approximately 200 company managers. The report is 10 to 12 pages long, opening with a column written by Kubacki himself. The update goes over what's happening with technology in each business unit, written by the IT person responsible for the unit, and gives information on projects currently in progress, such as photos of a data center under construction, Kubacki said. The update includes facts that ordinary users can appreciate, such as how many spam e-mail messages were blocked during the month. One page is devoted to a detailed rundown of the IT department's finances, with comparisons to budgeted amounts and the prior year's figures. Variations from the plan are tagged and explained.

Kubacki also attends quarterly meetings of Kroll's IT Executive Committee, made up of the CEO and the heads of all the business units, which makes decisions on IT budget priorities. This is in addition to standard annual and half-yearly reviews of the budget.

The CIO doesn't accomplish this all on his own. He has a full-time assistant with a marketing background who leads the communication program, and about half of another full-time position contributed by other employees. Even when he eliminated some staff recently, Kubacki kept this program intact because it was so important to how the IT department functioned.

Lawrence DiGioia, director of information services for the city of Altamonte Springs, Florida, set up new communication channels to business management a few years ago after emerging from a three-year rebuilding of an infrastructure that had failed.

"Everything we had fixed and deployed over the prior three years was based on our perception of what needed to be done, and folks were kind of feeling left out," DiGioia said. The city of about 40,000 has approximately 425 employees.

His first effort at opening up channels, an informal user group of midlevel managers, eventually devolved into a monthly complaint session. So DiGioia went to the city manager and proposed a group that would include the deputy heads of all the major departments, such as police, parks and recreation and the human resources. A city budget crisis provided the spark to start something that was already needed, he said. Departments wanted to talk to each other about which priorities would get funding.

"When the funding got tight, people were a little more open-minded to look at ways of doing things differently," DiGioia said.

With the new group meeting monthly to negotiate IT priorities, "Everyone is much more excited about what we're doing," DiGioia said. Any disagreements that can't be resolved can be appealed to the city's Quality Council, made up of the city manager and heads of all the departments.

The IT department at cosmetics company Yanbal has had an easier time getting business unit managers to support its initiatives since the company established a project management office, according to Elias Lavado, who works as an IT manager for Yanbal in Deerfield Beach, Florida. That office reviews and approves projects for all departments of the company, bringing corporate backing and resources to bear in encouraging department heads to help carry them out, Lavado said.

But despite all good intentions, an elaborate communication program isn't always feasible. Erie 1 BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services), a service organization in Buffalo, New York, provides computer equipment and high-speed Internet service to schools all over the state. It makes some efforts at communication between IT and business management, but with everything else being done, there often just isn't enough time in the day, said Will Holden, an Erie 1 data protection specialist.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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