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IT & BRM/Business Alignment Interview: Jakob From, CIO in CPG

IT & BRM/Business Alignment Interview: Jakob From, CIO in CPG

Feb 2, 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?

Jakob was a refreshing interview given his acknowledgement that trends over the past ten years have required IT to transform how it delivers services to the business.  At the core of this transformation is business integration.  Jakob’s opinion was that IT move past the “partnering” paradigm to the “embedding” paradigm.  Thus, Jakob sees IT being a part of the business, not an entity that works with it.

To that end, he started out by stating his position that the connections to the business are the most important success factor for the IT department.  He emphasized his preference that a BRM structure exist within IT.  Where others would see the BRM function being conducted at the top of the IT structure, Jakob believes that the relationship management function is optimally focused below the vice president level.  In his preferred structure, he wants his relationship manager to be so well versed in the business that he said “if they are not recruited to work within the business within six months I think there is something wrong.”  With that said, he strongly emphasized that the leaders need to build relationship with the business.

Jakob believes IT is best positioned to succeed when it reports into the CEO for alignment with the strategic direction.  With that said, he noted that IT’s success can be fruitful under other C-level leaders as long as the proper focus is maintained.

He segregated the relationship line functions from the core functions within IT.  He noted the need for a discipline centered structure (akin to shared services) that includes Infrastructure, Application Management, Business Intelligence, Application Development, Help Desk, and IT generalists.

Jakob did note that he recognizes that his preference for IT generalists may not be mainstream, but he finds great value in them.  These professionals serve a business area and understand the business lingo. They are able to triage what the help desk cannot. They become key to understanding the business and the impact to the change in a system. He continued by noting that he sees that many of his peers outsource this function, but he was adamant it was his preference to keep it in house.  He did clarify that the IT generalist is not the relationship manager in his preferred structure.

Jakob also structures for alignment through the architecture governance function. Jakob sees this as a joint responsibility. “In a large multinational company there are a lot of initiatives – so joint planning is key,” he said.  Finally, Jakob also articulated his preference for a business process management function to exist within IT.

Jakob emphasized that strategic planning is a joint activity between the CIO level, the business leaders, and the relationship managers.  “You have to be both guardrail and innovator to the business.”  He highlighted the need for perception management “If your first answer is no you will find yourself out of the innovation flow.”  He often uses the “Yes, but……”  or “Yes, and…” approach.  “The biggest issue is not to find work. There is plenty of work to do.”  He continued: “The biggest issue is to find the most value for the money and closest alignment with the business goals (in the initiatives you choose).”

From the strategic planning perspective, Jakob is a believer that the overall strategic plan for the business should include the IT components that are needed to meet a specific business objective.

Focus

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

Jakob articulated his preference for a cascading strategy.  In other words, as the strategy gets closer to a specific team or division, the scope of the strategic document gets narrower and more specific.  Jakob takes these specific plans and “derives” what they mean for IT, and how they can form IT’s strategic vision.  He likes to publish a distillation of the plan multiple times per year, showing illustrations of mapped objectives to all four levels of the cascade (Corporate, Region, IT department, sub-department within IT).  This point was also a part of his answer for #4.

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

Jakob uses data driven indicators to determine whether an initiative is progressing well.  He ensures weekly operational meetings are held where he prefers all stakeholders in projects to be present in addition to IT. In these meetings he listens to dialog to determine cooperation and alignment. In his opinion, this dialog will point out where adjustments are needed.

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

Jakob had one straightforward point for question number four. He keeps IT continuously informed on business progress, status and new initiatives.  He was adamant that this is key to being tied to the business.

Communication

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

Jakob prefers to utilize broadcast methods to publish successes.  He also requests the business leaders to present successes in regular meetings.  Jakob is also a transparency driven leader, and works to present IT’s value via scorecards.

Development

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

Jakob noted that the most common barrier to business alignment that he has faced is the understanding of a business line as a silo, without understanding the other parts of the business.  He was not alluding to IT not understanding the business.  Rather, he was noting that the business did not understand the entire business.  (Please note that Jakob was not referencing a specific organization where he has worked.  He was simply stating what he has seen in his career as a common barrier).

  1. If you had to highlight things that you learned from life lessons, what would they be?

Jakob always strives to understand the environment in which he works. “I understand why I am here,” he said.  In his experience he has worked to be “awareness driven,” meaning he works from the start to understand his role.  He attributes this to his global understanding, having worked in a variety of countries and cultures.  With that said, he did note that from his experience many don’t value internal organizational knowledge as much as they should.  He has seen organizations outsource as a cost cutting method when they should have retained the internal staff.  “Blind outsourcing can do a disservice to the organization. It looks great in PowerPoint, but if you go one level down it can turn out not to be a good idea.”  Jakob noted that one should regard business as not so different from life in general, i.e. “If something is obviously not a winning proposition for both parties in the long run it doesn’t work,” he said.  His point was to always seek mutually beneficial positions when working with others.

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

Jakob prefers to use collaboration as his primary mechanism to flush out tech for tech sake.  For example, he mentioned having regular meetings related to innovation.  As he listens, he vets the idea and looks for the proposer to reinforce its business alignment and business value.  His philosophy is “there are no stupid ideas.”  He is open to innovation.

  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?

Jakob’s process of “controlled technology introduction” does not often put him in the unfortunate position to deal with a tech for tech sake situation.  However, he does see a new dynamic brought about by the consumerization of IT, and that is gadget ideas coming from all sides.  He noted the Surface Pro, Google Glass, and the IPad as three examples. (His team has explored all three). With that said, he does not jump to the buy and implement conclusion quickly. He continually works with his team and the business to determine the business value.  Once established, he moves forward.

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