The Recipe for Running a Successful IT Organization

Julia Davis, SVP, CIO, Aflac
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Julia Davis, SVP, CIO, Aflac

Some people viewcooking as a science and others see it as an art -for me, it’s both. You can have a stunning chocolate cake (my favorite), but if you accidentally switch the sugar and the salt – the aesthetics won’t matter much. Likewise, your cake could taste exquisite, but if its layers are lopsided, you might have a tough time finding someone willing to try it. Whichever side of the culinary continuum you fall on, a high-quality recipe is a must. As IT head chefs, CIOsface growing pressures to reduce costs, keep up with rapidly changing technology, manage the needs for a multichannel consumer experience and deal with growing security risk demands. To face these challenges, CIOsrequire the right recipe with four integral ingredients to run a successful IT organization.

Season your workforce with the best skillsets

Having the right organizational structure in place is key to meeting short-term and long-term business goals. This involves taking a look at the current skillsets and knowledge among your IT staff and creating a structure that supports the corporate strategy. Rapidly changing technology requires a constant demand of the latest technology skillset and necessitates assessing and adjusting your workforce accordingly.

According to a 2016 survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers,[1] 75 percent of CEOs say that a skilled, educated and adaptable workforce should be a priority for business. This situation couldn’t be more real, as we face a mass exodus of retirees in the next 10 years. As a result of the shortage of skilled IT employees across all business sectors, Aflac is steadfastly closing talent gaps in our IT organization. For example, through our IT Apprenticeship Program, we hire talented college graduates into an IT training program that helps to fill areas with a skillset gap. Balancing the right mix of experts to lead their own fields and the best blend of personalities helps create a team that collaborates and communicates. Just like a good chef knows the right mix of flavors, successful CIOs understand it takes a properly seasonedteam to carry an organization.

Bind things together with an Agileapproach

CIOs must also look for ways to create structures that keep teams collaborative to widen knowledge and perspectives.When I first came to Aflac in 2013, the IT organization was modeled after a traditional waterfall structure. Because this was not conducive to providing deliverables at a fast enough speed to meet the needs of the business, it became necessary to change to a consultative, Agile structure. An additional benefit is revealed in a survey conducted by Hewlett-Packard[1] showing that the top primary motivator for organizations moving to an Agile methodology is enhanced collaboration between teams that don’t typically work together. Adopting anAgile approach isessential to foster the unity and partnership of teams within IT and the business.

To accomplish this goal, in 2014, I led the IT division through a complete Agile reorganization from the top down. With this new alignment, we have gained the ability to focus on establishing the priority of projects and completing one effort at a time according to the priority. The attention and efforts directed with such precision allows for dedicated teamwork, cross-functional training and a strengthening of our internal culture. This structure provides increased accountability, efficiency and organization that help Aflac IT to be poised and ready for the next opportunity, producing results at record speed. Like eggs to a cake, Agile is a binding agent giving structure and volume to your workforce and the business.

Stimulate growth with strategy and a technology roadmap

Strategic vision and the proper communication of that vision are fundamental to an effective IT organization. CIOs at the Wall Street Journal CIO Network event in 2015 came up with their top-five priorities, and thesewere narrowed down to two general themes: security risks and strategy. When it came to the latter, CIOs agreed that they wanted their IT organizations to be the change agent at their companies and that they themselves need a business-centric vision.

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