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Driving technology to business advantage, part 2

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Business and technology are more dependent upon each other than ever before. Today's CIOs need to lead IT departments in creating business advantage. Speaking during a keynote interview with analysts at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo, three high profile CIOs talked about the innovative tools and techniques they're using to accomplish the sometimes-elusive goal of business and IT alignment. Here is part 2 of that discussion with Joe Drouin, CIO of TRW Automotive, John Sullivan, CIO of AARP, and Tony Cicco, CIO of the General Accounting Office. Click here to read the first part of the interview.

Tony, you mentioned that you started looking at business and IT alignment about five years ago. Did the Y2K bug have anything to do with that?
That was one of the trigger events for me. We spent three or four leading years up to Y2K trying to make sure the process worked and that everyone could boot up come January 1. And it diverted a lot of our attention away from looking at the business. Since that time, two things have happened. As I mentioned, we tossed the IT plan. We also did a survey of our business managers, and that feedback wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear. But it showed that there was a gap. ... There were a couple of things that really helped turn that tide. How do you get knowledge of the business side of the equation into your IT organization?
I think it starts with where IS falls within your organization. I think it makes sense in different places for different companies. For TRW, I report to the Chief Operating Officer. ... The management aligned IS as part of the operation. It's a business unit. It's not a corporate unit. It's not a standalone unit reporting to the CFO or CEO. We're right there in the ling of business. Having said that, from the very beginning, our team acted like we were part of the business. How do you get knowledge of the business side of the equation into your IT organization?
One of the things that has actually helped AARP in this regard, is that we have an entire department within the IT organization that is sort of a designated to (business relationship management.) It does process management, it does what we call solutions management, works with business analysts, and project managment. Those are the most popular people in our organization. First of all we steal from other business units, so they don't have to have that technology background. Is there any indication that IT people can understand the business, but business people might be a little more challenged to understand technology?
From my standpoint, I think that I've seen some successful cases of people coming to work from the business and having to learn the technology to perform. ... I haven't yet seen it at the CIO level. But I think that if those types of people surround themselves with trusted advisors that really understand technology, and they listen, they can still be successful. What else can IT folks do to help learn the business?
I started ten or twelve years ago as a COBOL programmer writing mainframe applications for manufacturing. You talk about learning the business. ... Really learning the business means that you're out there side by side with guys who are building parts and shipping parts and dealing with the day by day issues. That's really knowing the business. That experience, being out there in the factory which is the core business of TRW, has helped me to understand what the connection is (between business and IT.) What new roles does your IT organization have to create in order to really work with business the way you want to?
As John said, we've created a customer relationship group that really works within IT and focuses on our internal customers or internal clients.

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