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April 27, 2001 by Terence Roche Terence Roche

Wisdom From the CIOs

Last week, M ONE hosted 10 CIOs in a two-day “CIO LINKS” conference in Las Vegas. A very Gonzo moment… Hunter Thompson… “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, still a classic. One of the best opening lines ever written in any book, if judged by its ability to put you right smack in the middle of a situation immediately…

But I digress. My point is that we had the opportunity to listen to 10 people who are the point people for technology in banks with assets between $1 billion and $20 billion. Most have operations groups reporting to them as well as IT. Two are COOs. At least two are on track to being CEOs.

They are where the rubber meets the road. They have to make technology work, with no excuses, fifty to seventy hours a week – regularly (we asked). They are very pragmatic, and they are focused on business results. While there is no shortage of projects, deadlines or crises in their lives (every one of them had to take at least one “emergency” call during the meeting), they are very upbeat and positive in their outlook. They clearly love their jobs, and they respect the people they work with.

On their behalf, and based on two days’ worth of scribbled notes, let me pass on their collective message to CEOs and coworkers on keys to technology success:

  1. Manage complexity. Letting the combination of operating systems, software packages, databases, hardware, line speeds, versions and vendors get out of hand is guaranteed to increase costs and little else. Acquisitions, which are an everyday part of these CIOs’ lives, make this even harder to deal with. I was struck by the amount of time they all said they spent just managing bank infrastructure.

By the way, while they all to a person said that most software they deploy has bugs and doesn’t tend to work as advertised the first time out, they don’t blame vendors for complexity. They see it more as an internal issue.

The bottom line: When applied well, standards are not restrictive and they are not autocratic. They are enabling.

  1. Get a handle on projects. There needs to be a process that exposes all of the money and employee time that will be needed if all planned projects go forward, and a subsequent debate about what’s really important – based on strategy, not hormones. Project management needs to be an identified skill and a function at most banks – too much is riding on the success of those projects to do anything else.
  2. Train users. Then train users. After that, train users. I was very surprised by the relatively small technology training budget and staffs most of these banks have (another article on this subject to follow). This creates under-utilization of systems, lower payback, lower productivity and higher support costs. What’s better – a dollar spent on training or a dollar spent solving problems? The point – there is a big productivity upside if people just make better use of what’s in front of them.

If these three things are done correctly and together, there is a huge payoff (spelled “EPS”) in the future.

Listen to these CIOs. They speak the truth. And everything they say here is in the power of your management team to start doing tomorrow. -tr

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