Leadership

Roche CIO discusses IT, consultants, and the Devil's Triangle

In this ZDNet podcast, Roche CIO Jennifer Allerton discusses the CIO's evolving role, success and failure on IT projects, and the IT Devil's Triangle.

Podcast

This is a guest post from Michael Krigsman of TechRepublic's sister site ZDNet. You can follow Michael on his ZDNet blog IT Project Failures, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Jennifer Allerton is CIO of Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Roche, where she reports directly to Roche's CEO and oversees an IT / informatics staff of 2,500.

During this conversation, I asked Jennifer to discuss the CIO's evolving role, success and failure on IT projects, and the IT Devil's Triangle. We met at the launch event for SAP's Business Suite 7 product in New York City.

If you care about CIO or IT issues, this seven-minute podcast is essential listening. To hear it, click the player at the top of this post.

Here are a few excerpts from the recording, just to give you a quick flavor of the conversation. I've edited these quotes to keep them short.

Please describe a CIO's primary challenge?

The CIO must determine the best way to apply technology to the business. Historically, the CIO placed multimillion-dollar bets on uncertain technologies and therefore had to be a technology expert. Today, the CIO's role should involve 80% business and 20% technology.

What about the gap between IT and the business?

We've done a disservice to ourselves by using three-letter acronyms to create a myth around IT, when technology investments are actually no different from investments in other parts of the business. Today's CIO should remove these myths by explaining IT in business terms.

It's hugely important for a CIO to learn about the business, understand his or her industry, and be seen as someone who talks business and not three-letter acronyms. IT should be a strategic partner in the business.

What's the relationship between the CIO and CFO at Roche?

I work for the CEO as part of the executive team that drives strategy for the business. In the larger countries, the local head of IT reports into the general manager. But in the smaller countries, the site IT head reports into finance. This mixed model works well for us.

How does Roche ensure business transformation initiatives are successful?

Project success is all about people and getting change management right. In the past, many CIOs focused on technology, making the business responsible for project success, which didn't work.

To be successful, you must pay attention to mundane things like job descriptions, the communications program, and training. The key elements in change management include getting buy-in, along with talking early and often about the project.

Does Roche consider IT project success and failure issues as strategic?

Yes. We have a strong governance process in which each business area decides its own development priorities and determines how much it is prepared to invest. These plans are then gathered so senior management can view the overall requirements for the business as a whole. At the beginning of each year, we determine which projects will get priority executive attention and tracking.

In addition to quarterly milestones, we've built project success into our overall business scorecard. I get monitored quarterly on progress. This system lets us catch problems early and escalate them all the way to the top of the company very quickly.

On the IT Devil's Triangle:

The customer, vendor, and system integrator all have vital roles to play in project success.

The average life of a system is seven or eight years so, love them or hate them, you must work collaboratively with your key vendors. With systems integrators, the hardest thing is getting them out the door at the project's conclusion. Defining a clear project endpoint is hugely important.

[Photo of Jennifer Allerton via IDG.]

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