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BRM and IT & Business Alignment Interview: Magnus Akesson, CIO, Utilities and Manufacturing

BRM and IT & Business Alignment Interview: Magnus Akesson, CIO, Utilities and Manufacturing

Feb 23, 2017

 

Interview Questions

Structure

  1. What is your preferred structure for an IT department in an organization like yours in your industry? Why do you prefer that structure and why do you feel it serves the business?

Magnus began the interview by addressing the prediction made by a leading analyst organization in 2012 that the CMO would outspend the CIO in IT spend by 2017.  “Whoever made that prediction has never worked in an operation.  Organizations must process invoices and receivables, produce quotes, plan and forecast materials, procure and manage inventory, execute logistics, and close their books every month, etc. It may be done in a federated model with partners, outsourcing, and cloud, but you need to make sure those areas are operational and efficient and this is at the heart of the IT domain.  IT is elemental to the automated processes that drive business performance – IT will always and forever serve such a role.  IT is integral into the business process architecture.  Those who are saying that IT is losing its relevancy, have lost perspective on the topic.  IT is the guardian and custodian for your core business processes for the organization.”  It was a bold statement and set the tone for the interview.

Magnus prefers the CIO to report into the COO.  The reason for this opinion is, by and large, Magnus is seeing a convergence between IT and operations.  He sees IT evolving into four core areas:

  • Project Management,
  • IT Vendor Management,
  • Business Process Analysis and Change Management,

 

He stated clearly that the four roles just noted should be filled by business people with IT skills.  They are not IT positions per se.  Magnus noted that the second best place for IT is in finance.  Although marketing is converging with IT in some ways, he does not see IT taking a subordinate role to marketing.

When discussing how to align to the business, Magnus admitted that he vacillates between two opinions.  “One day I might think that IT is nothing but operations.  They should sit in the business with the business.  They need to be the wingman to the business and have a very lean “back office” with minimal governance.  You accept the notion that you have some duplication.  The next day I go to the other end of the spectrum, because I see too much waste being generated through inefficiencies”

Magnus admitted his slight preference is to have a decentralized organization, because empowering people is key to business performance.  He has also seen where this model has led to pure anarchy.  He sees the cons of this approach and understands that issues can arise.  “You need to run IT like a grown up.  Standards need to exist, yes.  The real question is where you draw the line.”

He went on to note that he sees the industry or organizational culture having a significant impact on that decision.  He sees them coming down to 5-10 factors and making the decision on where to draw the line on a case by case basis.  “The secret is not the model, they can all work.  The secret is making it work in the organization.”

Magnus took a position similar to others in noting that IT should have a dedicated strategic plan for core IT things such as infrastructure and network.  However, for IT enabled business services, IT needs to have portions of the overall strategic plan to articulate how it would support those services.

Focus

  1. What are the key areas / strategies / tenets you align with on every initiative to ensure it is aligned with the business?

“I am going to say something that seems fundamental…..IT needs to share the business objectives within IT.  It sounds basic, but it is not done more than we would like to admit.”

IT needs to leap beyond the current paradigm.  The leap steps need to be presented as the objectives.  “IT should not be the constraining factor in keeping the business from moving forward,” he said.

  1. What are the key indicators you see that repeat themselves through your successful business aligned initiatives?

Magnus likes to see the business taking a critical initiative and running with it on their own.  This is an expansive statement.  He wants to see the business sponsoring and embracing the outcome (including the change management).  “IT should not be the pusher.  The business needs to own what the business benefits from, with IT helping in every way in which they can,” he said.

  1. How do you encourage your teams to stay invested in the business? How do you keep them business focused, and not technology focused?

Magnus has an “old school and low tech way” to keep IT invested.  As he said, they should “go talk to the front line!”  Learn directly from the people who benefit from the automation delivered by IT.  This relational approach exposes IT to many of the benefits and needs of the work they do, ultimately driving them to be more business focused.

Magnus is also a believer in looking outside the team and the organization.  He encourages his teams to “go and compare notes” as he called it.  He wants them to see how others are doing the same things in outside organizations like the ones they serve.  “Open up the mind.  Stay close to the business.  Understand the business and processes.”  These are three encouragements he makes and he lives by them too.

Communication

  1. How do you maximize awareness of IT successfully servicing the business? Up, down and laterally?

Magnus admitted he was not great at this, although he recognizes its value.  Magnus envisioned using already existing communication lines to get the word out.  “If you don’t communicate your achievements it, no one else will.”

Development

  1. What are the most common barriers to business alignment you have faced repeatedly?

Magnus noted that the consumerization of IT is a barrier he has seen.  In fact, he had a great story.  He said in the interview “My Air Conditioning (AC) guy came to the house yesterday to fix the AC.  He had an IPad and when he was done he emailed me the invoice.  Within seconds it was in my inbox.  It was beautiful.  However, at the office where I work, a huge company, that capability does not exist.”  His point was right on.  The consumerization of automated devices has set a paradigm where non IT people have a firsthand point of view of advanced automation.

Magnus also noted that IT people can tend to let process and standards get in the way of customer service.  He jokes about it by noting that many IT people approach the business and say “How cannot I help you today?”

Another barrier is IT too takes on too much “owning.”  Often IT will take control of an initiative when the business should control it.  This creates a lack of sponsorship by the business.

He mentioned two others:

  • Too many IT people are comfortable not understanding the overall processes they support.
  • Accountability: IT needs to encourage a culture where activity is linked to business outcome.
  1. If you had to highlight things that you learned from life lessons, what would they be?

As he thought about this question, Magnus spoke out loud.  He was not interested in getting philosophical, so to speak.  “My biggest learning experience is the need to develop an instinct to understand what the business is capable of absorbing in a given period.  If you give people the comfort that you are there to help them, the byproduct is you increase their capacity to absorb change and the rate of change over time.  You need to know your organization’s change culture.”

  1. Do you have any best practices or tricks of the trade that help you see when technology is being proposed for technology sake?

Magnus’ approach is to use a give and take.  “The way to manage this is you stay true to your strategy.  Ask them to tell you in ten seconds or less how the idea plays into the strategy?  Use the strategic plan as your calibration tool,” he said.  “Be stingy about changing your strategy, but don’t be afraid to do so if it makes sense commercially or operationally.”

  1. Do you have any real life stories where you saw a decision moving towards technology for technology sake and you were able to refocus the decision on the business? How did you do this?  What were the results?

He described a story where he saw the organization using a system that piled on markup after markup as it compiled its offering to be delivered.  As Magnus reviewed the situation (he was 23) he came up with a plan to fix it.  He knew he could.  So, he set out and actually created a solution.  He brought the solution into the leaders he thought would be receptive.  “I have never been kicked out of an office as quickly as I was kicked out of that office,” he said.  His point was clear: know your audience’s capacity for change.

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