CxOs talk about IT

By Stijn Viaene, professor Management Information Systems

No CIOs this time. Instead, three CEOs, a Group Controller and a General Marketing Manager. With these speakers on board, our annual Leadership in IT meeting was immediately renamed Leadership and IT. An afternoon and evening programme prepared for some 70 participants in the context of our successful 10-day Vlerick IT Management programme. I’d like to share the highlights with you.

The afternoon was kicked off by Rik De Nolf, CEO of Roularta Media Group. The first one of the day – but not the last – to apologise for “not being an IT person”. Nevertheless, Rik was a hit with a story about “happy with all the new IT [media] – we don’t have a choice”. Suddenly, strategic experimentation and open innovation with research and industry partners had their place in the IT portfolio. The CEO also emphasised architecting as a critical success factor in the context of a future vision founded on efficient information-assembly in a multimedia world. The biggest challenge will be to get the different entrepreneurial IT teams to pull on the same oar.

That some Controllers really are favourably disposed towards IT was illustrated by Hans Mattheeuws of Tessenderlo Group. He pronounced his Corporate Performance Management project a resounding success with a “Thank you, IT!” Strategy, organisation, processes, systems and people maturing together, step-by-step. And yet, afterwards, Hans was uncertain whether the IT audience had really enjoyed his story. Maybe because he had also praised IT as the ideal crowbar?

We had the Marketer of 2009 on the stage in Philippe Wallez of ING Belgium. Philippe is co-architect of the successful “direct if possible, advice when needed” ING service and distribution model. With great panache and a sense of humour, he won the audience over with a “competing on analytics” story. Recently, this “customer information value stream owner” has had about 250 IT people join his team. He literally and figuratively put them right next to the marketers and the analysts. So why did he protest so much when I proposed to crown him CIO?

Fons Leroy, Managing Director for the VDAB, was probably the surprise of the day. The priorities plopped down in the 2011-2015 management agreement with the government are ambitious at the very least and require serious investments in “information management” in the broadest sense. The VDAB in fact sees itself developing into the “labour market orchestrator” for all citizens and all employers. Many efforts are being made to build bridges – between business and IT as well. For the first time, the IT planning is totally synchronised with the annual organisational planning. Did the VDAB take a lesson from LinkedIn for its strategic My career project? Fons apparently seeks inspiration from models like Google, Amazon and eBay. Marvellous! But, aren’t those companies staffed by scarcely available IT professionals?

Bart Verhaeghe, CEO of Uplace and celebrated entrepreneur, provided the high point of the day. The audience knew Bart as the chairman of Belgian soccer team Club Brugge. Bart’s opener hit home immediately: “I’m not an IT guy, but I’ve certainly made a lot of money with it. The impact of IT continues to be enormous in the things I do.” When making IT decisions, Bart gladly seeks assistance from a number of trusted advisors, and his nature is such that he always wants to make informed decisions. The key question he asks is this: Do we have enough entrepreneurs in our IT crowd? Bart didn’t refrain from cheering us on!

Our speakers all brought a story about business model innovation. In each of the configurations that were presented, we saw a prominent role reserved for technology. The word “together” was emphasised so often that it’s clear that our CxOs count on an IT management that is fully aligned with their innovative business models. There’s no place for duality. If, in the past, blame has been directed towards IT management, these five speakers have cleared the way for a warm – but not obligation-free (!) – invitation to work together towards the goals of growth and innovation.

I wish to thank Rik, Hans, Philippe, Fons and Bart heartily for their inspiring talks!

Stijn Viaene
Programme Director “IT Management”
Deloitte Chairholder “Bringing IT to Board Level” Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School

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