CIOs are in a unique position. We own the technologies that run our companies.  We also need to understand finance and the bottom line, how products are developed, marketed and sold, and how our business interacts with other businesses from ordering through invoicing. 

CIOs need to understand cyber security to keep cyber threats out and intellectual capital in.  We need to understand the infrastructure to connect all locations so we can seamlessly communicate.  It takes a special person to understand the business of IT and the business of business.  CIOs can no longer afford to specialize in just technology. This is especially true in manufacturing.  Lead times are short, production cycles are complex and margins are wafer thin.  Our only hope is to collaborate.

Purchasing and planning need to collaborate to make sure there are sufficient components for the frozen production window.  Sales and operations need to collaborate to make sure capacity matches the forecast.  In reality, these groups do not always collaborate and sometimes battle for position, hoard data and build silos.

The CIO has an obligation to play the extremely important role as facilitator to break down silos and re-engineer business processes.  We architect secure applications to provide automation for effective business processes. The CIO sits at the table of the senior leadership team.  The CIO also needs to have the skillset to drive collaboration for business process improvement. 

So CIOs, here is your Action Plan:

Formalize Business Process Re-Engineering – Take the initiative to start a business process re-engineering function in your organization. This team should report to the CIO. Draft a business process re-engineering charter. Keep it simple. I suggest “The charter of this team is to design processes, deploy solutions and modify attitudes to eliminate silos and foster an environment where people want to work together.”

Draft a list of the business-critical processes – If you have an ERP and a warehouse management system, you already have your list. Just step through the main menu. Quickly eliminate items that add little or no value to the overall efficiency of the organization. You’ll need a process for product development, item setup, order processing, manufacturing, distribution and quality control.

Perform a SWOT Analysis – Identify the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats associated with all of your current processes.  Eliminate political correctness from this discussion.  If Dave in accounts payable is a boat anchor, say it. It is a weakness in the process.  He is probably a great guy, but find something else for him to do. If Tracy in quality control is a HiPo, get her into a role that will exploit her abilities.  She is a strength.  Here again, CIOs are uniquely qualified to facilitate this discussion. We are politically incorrect by our very nature.  We thrive on being early adopters and controversially outspoken. This is your chance to shine.

Re-Engineer the Processes – Assemble a small team of business subject matter experts (SMEs).  Your SMEs should be knowledgeable and experienced.  The output from this session is a documented process flow with swim lanes for each department.  This chart will identify process ownership, handoffs and interfaces. 

Assign a Process Owner – Each process (lane) needs an owner. The process owner is the person who wants the process to be successful more than anyone else. The controller wants month end closing to be short and accurate more than anyone.  The process owner dictates security and function. The process owners must be empowered to make changes!  The CIO ensures the IT team complies with the requirements outlined by the process owner.  It is a checks and balances thing. The CIO still has overall ownership of business process re-engineering.

Perform Annual Reviews – The CIO will review the processes every year with the process owners and the senior leadership team.  Business conditions change. The environment changes.  Mergers and acquisitions happen.  Key resources leave.  Strategic plans change.  The CIO is responsible for keeping the business process fresh and current.

Here is Your Key Takeaway – You have to collaborate to document current procedures, perform a SWOT analysis and draft new processes. Most importantly, when people come together to draft a new process making the business run more efficiently, their pride of ownership forces them to collaborate and communicate to be successful.  It all happened because the CIO took the initiative.  Sometimes, without speaking a word, the CIO can foster an environment for people to talk together and work together. The CIO can become more valuable to the organization and be more than just the executive that approves help desk requests. The CIO should be a technology leader and a business leader. 

By John Miller, Real-CIO

Real-CIO, LLC is a professional services organization founded to provide CIO consulting services to companies that cannot justify a full time CIO or IT department.  It provides mentoring services to those looking to enter or advance in their technology careers.  Most importantly, it is founded to give back to an IT community that has been so good to us all.