When I did my MBA, I teamed with engineers so they could be the technology experts. I quickly learned to be the challenger of assumptions and the asker of questions, to navigate past the best-possible-technical-answer and get to the business conversation that would shine light on options. I learned that a critical part of solving a business problem is to know your options.
My first post-MBA job was at Canada Trust (now TD Bank). Being emphatic that I did not want to go into the IT department, I was hired into the strategy group. My first project involved working with the Finance division to help them solve business issues with their newly implemented shared financial management system. The assumption was that the newly-minted FICS (Financial Information and Control System) software was somehow flawed, so it was my job to sort the options to make it right. It turned out that the problem was in the nature of one of the first uses of a truly shared database system. Five different Finance functional groups were, for the first time ever, all sharing the same source of data. When the Controller’s report had columns he did not need, he had his administrator remove them from the report. The next week, when the head of budget and controls got his report none of his data was provided. This anticipated year-long project took six weeks to solve. A single administrator took control of all of the reporting functions, and each functional group’s requirements were managed and delivered. I learned that business processes will run the show, and even the best-intentioned technology will not get past poorly understood business outcomes.
Within days, I was tapped to move into the IT department, so I want much against my will into the deep dark caverns of the data centre (an old-school concept of a big separate building where they kept all the computers and the people who knew how to run them). I was given the computer security project, because it was another one of those ‘sharing things’ projects that I seemed to be good at. It was back before they called it cyber. It was back before there was internet and personal computing. It was a magical time when you actually could control the whole thing. So we treated it as a business problem, and put in standardized business rules and processes to control access to systems and information. Fast forward two years, when the Executive Committee asked for an independent review of what we had done, we could not find a person or firm that had reached the level of sophistication we had in place. I learned I had found my new calling.
I moved to Peat Marwick (now KPMG). After five years of building a globally recognized specialty practice, the advent of networking and prevalence of personal computing was making the industry a truly technical mecca, so I moved back to banking where I could be closer to the business challenges. I already knew that a tech mecca was not my thing.
I joined National Trust (now Scotiabank), and took on the shared-data challenge of customer information on the strength of bank-sector research that said customers needed to have three products with an institution to have ‘stickiness’. We delivered the business process, and the systems to support them, to let the front line service staff take the lead on increasing customer engagement. While we were at it, we delivered some operating leverage in regular branch operations. I learned that I was good at getting things done, and that I wanted to do more change-oriented projects.
I moved to IBM. I started as a consultant, and got the opportunity to be part of Lou Gerstner’s strategic move from selling hardware with the services as a commodity to making the money in the software and services. I was a serial complainer – think the cobbler’s child parable – about the technology provided to the services team. As a reward, I was given CIO responsibility to close the gaps and deliver for Y2K. I learned that business strategy needs to take priority over individual enthusiasm for technology solutions. It was the start of a new trend toward openness, and we replaced all of the IBM proprietary solutions with industry standard solutions.
I moved into service delivery, and learned that what gets measured gets done. I moved to lead a billion dollar national sales channel, and learned the power of partnership between sales and delivery. Again, clearly too much complaining about the gaps, I was moved into the operations leadership role for the outsourcing and then the services business. I learned that what people get paid for is as important as what gets measured on, and transformed the commission and compensation program to link front end solutions and sales with back end delivery success.
As the COO for outsourcing (unfortunate timing, at best) I survived introduction of Sarbanes Oxley, the SARS crisis and the power outage of 2003. I learned that security had, again, become a business challenges recognizing the critical relationship between financial reporting and operational integrity, and introducing a new focus on business continuity.
Offered the opportunity to move into an industry CIO role, I moved to Airmiles to lead their maturation following an acquisition by US-based, publically traded Alliance Data Systems. While our optimistic plans to lead an early-adopter analytics capability were thwarted by the reality of trans-border data issues, I learned that the next generation of analytics would genuinely transform consumer-target marketing.
I also learned that the operational disciplines I learned at IBM were not leveraged in mid-market companies, so I moved into working on assignments where I could specifically help companies solve a specific and vexing business challenge.
I transformed a couple of sales organizations, to better align with their client business and compliance requirements, successfully liberating millions of dollars in uncollectable debt and new business revenue.
I delivered the successful foundations and governance framework for CP Rail’s SAP transformation.
I aligned disparate transformation investments, bringing together workplace transformation with cost-effective technology strategies for TD Bank.
I delivered new revenue opportunities by leveraging digital foundations, taking the privatization share price for CML Healthcare from a publically traded $7.50 to a $10.75 transaction price.
As the CIO at HomeEquity Bank, I have the opportunity to support an amazing business team delivering an important personal financial service for the rapidly growing over-55 market.
While there may be a management solution to a technical problem, technology is only an enabler and is never the solution to a management problem. Digital conversations need to be about the business opportunity and challenge.
I know that Duty of Care can help you build the vocabulary to participate in those conversations!