Optimism at SIM Conference
After two years of budget cuts, ever-increasing workloads and an unrelenting round of layoffs, many employees have lost whatever enthusiasm and passion they had for their jobs. That definitely wasn’t the case at the Society for Information Management’s SIMposium 2010 conference in Atlanta on October 3-5.
Instead of a weary, demoralized group of IT managers and executives, the 550 professionals who attended this annual forum were energetic and optimistic about meeting the challenges ahead. The mantra at the various sessions was essentially the same: Business needed IT during the recession to survive, and business needs IT now in order to thrive.
“Our profession has been evolving over the last several years, and we’re finding unique ways to help the business,” Patricia Coffey, SIM International president and a vice president at Allstate Insurance, said in an interview with Baseline. “Businesspeople know they need us because we’re integrated with all the other departments; we see the patterns and look for the connections. IT has a mountaintop view of the entire organization.”
Some questioned whether IT was taking full advantage of that lofty position. “IT needs to transform data into valuable business information,” said keynote speaker Steven Adler, director of IBM Data Governance Solutions, whose presentation was “Data Governance: Change Isn’t Just a Word.” He then asked the audience, “Why can’t we deliver that?”
Answering his own question, Adler said the reason IT can’t deliver on that prized goal is, “We keep doing the same things the same way. We need to study what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong and then change our organizational behavior. To do that, we need a system for governing decision making.”
Pointing out the difficulty of delivering massive change, Adler urged the audience to opt for “incremental progress over a period of time. Your programs must be sustainable. You need to benchmark where you are today, and there must be ongoing monitoring of change. You need to document your programs and audit them every day. Find a tool that tells you what’s working and what’s not.”
But good governance requires more than just good tools. It needs people who are aware and accountable. “It’s not about the data,” Adler stressed. “It’s about the people.”
“The people” is what SIM is all about, Kevin Ryan of SIM’s Regional Leadership Forum told Baseline. “IT professionals need leadership competencies they can put into action on a day-to-day basis. They need to communicate effectively with others in the organization—especially businesspeople. They need to be leaders in the business and with the business.”
To help achieve that goal, SIM’s Leadership Development Institute runs Regional Leadership Forums to help its members achieve that level of competency. During a nine-month period, forum attendees spend two days away from their companies every six weeks to participate and lead discussions on topics such as governance, ethics and innovation. The objective is to nurture leaders who can change the corporate culture and help the company—and its employees—become successful.
That’s also the goal of SIM’s Advanced Practices Council, which creates programs and research for close to three dozen CIO and senior IT SIM members. “They share best practices and even talk about what doesn’t work in their organization,” Madeline Weiss of the APC told Baseline, “and that’s very rare. These leaders collaborate and build relationships that often last for years. They share knowledge and foster holistic thinking that takes IT across its traditional boundaries.”