Best ‘Five minute CIO’ insights of the year – Part 1

25 Dec 2013

As 2013 draws to a close, we round up, in this first of two parts, the best comments about technology in business from a year’s worth of weekly ‘Five minute CIO’ interviews with Irish IT leaders.

Ronan Burke at Aviva Stadium gave his view on choosing what to invest in IT.

“We’d all like to have next big thing but we have to say ‘do we really need it?’, or, ‘is there a cost benefit?’ We’re always chipping away at it, making sure that bit by bit, everything’s being made that little bit better or more user friendly, or we make sure that a solution becomes a permanent addition rather than just for one event. We say: if it’s worth putting in for one occasion, then it’s worth having all the time.”

The ‘bring your own device’, or BYOD trend has the potential to change the way IT is delivered. Vodafone’s Fergal Kelly weighed the pros and cons:

“On the upside, where somebody chooses their own device at a certain level, and can configure and maintain it themselves, it becomes a far lower cost proposition … The challenge is where they don’t support it themselves. The other challenge that invariably gets airtime is what data goes onto these devices and how secure are they – and that’s the big worry for any enterprise: do people who are on the ‘bring your own device’ approach end up moving the data on their own device and carry it in an insecure way?”

‘You don’t protect devices, you protect data’

Focusing on the end-user device misses the point, argued Derek Mizak, ‘CIO as a service’ consultant.

“There’s too many things happening in IT for IT departments trying to stick to the old way of thinking. When you actually look at it, what do you protect? You don’t protect devices, you protect data. So as long as you can protect data, as long as you stay compliant as long as those devices don’t pose a threat to your contractual or legal obligations, then you’re fine with it.”

… while John Hayes of Blackrock Clinic pointed out that it raises expectations of what IT can deliver.

“With the consumerisation of IT – I hate the cliché – everybody has an iPad or iPhone … Let’s say the hospital might want a new system for endoscopy – but it won’t be touchscreen, it’s difficult to integrate into the lab system. And I’m thinking: how can you balance that against being able to buy an app from an app store and the user knowing how to use it? People’s expectations of what IT can do are changing, and their expectations are getting harder and more demanding – that’s no bad thing but it does make things more difficult.”

That led on to security. Here’s what OmniPay’s Patrick Clarke told us:

“Security is an ongoing process. You can’t be guaranteed that you’ve always got it right but if you’ve got the right control environment, you should be able to contain anything that happens. It would be a brave person that would say ‘we’re 100pc secure’ but you do have to work with as much knowledge as you can possibly gather because the threats are evolving and there’s something new every month to be aware of.”

The effect of social media on business

FINEOS’ Jonathan Boylan spoke of the positive impact of social media:

“Social has sped up the world, from the Arab spring through to a new baby in the family, and that is only beginning to happen in business. I think there’s a lot of potential for social to make a huge transformative difference in business.”

A big part of the modern technology leader’s role is in managing change and delivering projects. Here’s what consultant Peter De Jager had to say:

“Organisations get change wrong because those who are leading the change are impatient – they want change to happen now, or at least ‘very quickly’, and they believe that the best way to make that happen quickly is to dictate change. Getting the troops involved in the change is time consuming; involvement requires an understanding for why the change is necessary. Involvement requires communication. Involvement requires time. In a way, they are correct. If we just followed their command to change, then life would be good. What they ignore is what they already know: we don’t resist change, we resist being changed.”

Mike Gogola of the HCA, and formerly with the Hermitage Clinic in Dublin, feels likewise:

“I get a team together and describe how this project is going to benefit the organisation so they know what the outcomes are and what’s expected of them. Once I do that, then they have ownership of it and once it goes live, they don’t stop using it, whereas if I dictated anything, they would use it for two weeks and give it up. I don’t push anything on people; I make people think it’s their idea.”

It won’t work if it’s just left to the IT people to implement, said Tom Neill of BMR:

“Most successful projects are led by the business as opposed to IT. IT can help in making sure there’s a process there and that milestones are hit and that deliverables are reached and things are on time, but the big finding I’ve had is that when the business is immersed in the project it is more likely to have a good outcome.”

The importance of cross-functional learning

Ed Ronayne of Strencom says education is important, and also cross-functional learning. “If you just try and learn the technology stuff it’s a belly rub: everyone needs to put themselves outside their comfort zone to be of value to the organisation.

“The market is always going to tell us what they want, rather than us going to the market. It’s our role as leaders to develop what they want but coming from the ground up definitely gives a different angle.

When you’ve experienced a problem with a user and brought them through to resolving it, you’re mindful of what results from the user perspective.”

Niall Barry of the Department of Social Protection gave an interview so extensive that we ran it over two weeks. His take on project management was interesting:

“Project planning is an exercise in predicting and shaping the future and is inherently problematic. There comes a point where excessive application of the wrong sort of project management is counter-productive. I think a lot more emphasis needs to be placed on Agile practices and their management.”

He also told us: “I think that ICT in the public sector is at least as good as elsewhere and I would back some of my staff against the best in the private sector.”

Part 2 of Best CIO insights of the year

Information flow image via Shutterstock

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic