We talk a fair bit about how IT executives need to be more involved with the overall strategy of the organisation they are working for, but what happens if the business doesn’t ‘get’ IT? The question sprang to mind when I met Toby Clarke, CIO at specialist insurance provider Abbey Protection Group (APG), last week.
Clarke joined APG more than eight years ago and during that time, the business has done well: from a private business that was valued around £4m, the company floated and now market capitalisation has surpassed £84m.
IT systems had to evolve to keep up with the expansion and during the first few years, most of Clarke’s job was to ‘put the house in order’ and deal with IT integration following acquisitions of other businesses: virtualisation and voice over IP were among the technologies introduced at the time, as well as a remote working set-up.
Now that the IT shop is ticking along nicely, it is time to maximise the technology investment and prepare for the future. Clarke is now budgeting for the next year and wants to fine-tune business processes, collaboration and create new product propositions by bringing in approaches such as unified communications.
“[My job] is no longer about the nuts and bolts of technology, it is more about the social aspect of IT management, improving business processes and getting people to realise the benefits IT can bring,” he said.
However, Clarke may be a victim of his employer’s success. The fact that the company has achieved consistent growth over the last decade has led to a certain resistance to change from stakeholders when it comes to IT and changing the way things are done, despite the obvious benefits.
“The last thing I want to say is ‘I told you so’,” the IT chief said.
Despite the challenges, Clarke remains positive and adds that the fact that he reports to APG’s chief executive removes some of the hurdles. But what if he is about to hit a brick wall?
“There isn’t ever going to be a wall that you can’t get over, around or through; there are always options. Besides, I am not one to give up,” he said.
As businesses decide to stick to their guns – rightly or wrongly – there may a danger that those in charge of technology will be left paralysed and unable to use their skills to introduce positive change.
Last week alone I heard from two senior IT executives looking for a new job following differences with the board over strategic direction. That seems to confirm a worrying trend that businesses are still disregarding the opportunities and efficiency that could be achieved through an intelligent IT proposition. It’s their loss, but possibly a smarter employer’s gain.