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Associations Now

Strategy Before Technology

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, July 2013 Technology

By: Katie Bascuas

Summary: Don't let technology become an antidote for symptoms of a larger issue. [Titled "Strategic Vision" in the print edition.]

With so many technology advances disrupting business strategies, tech improvements are often viewed as a quick fix for what are more likely deeper, underlying issues within an organization. And when organizations supplant the need for a cultural change with a new website or email system, they're merely targeting symptoms, says Kyle Vickers, CAE, CIO at National Quality Forum (NQF).

"That's where, ideally, a CIO can be sort of the canary in the mine, saying, 'Hey, we've got a bigger issue here,'" Vickers says. Whereas other departments are "eyeball deep in their own issues," technology leaders often have a bird's-eye view of an entire organization and can help bring about discussions that lead to better business solutions.

Take for example, the recent need for NQF—an organization that brings together industry professionals to improve the country's healthcare system—to implement more virtual meetings given budget constraints on federal employees attending meetings.

"We literally exist to meet," Vickers says. And the obvious solution—virtual meetings—is posing challenges for the organization.

"The natural inclination is to kind of shoot the technology, [to say] it's a technology problem," Vickers says. "It really has very little to do with technology. It all has to do with how we run our meetings." The kind of work that goes into planning and implementing a virtual meeting is different from what's needed for a face-to-face event, so behaviors have to change, he says.

So how can a CIO or CTO help identify the organization's deeper issues?

"You have to take every opportunity to shift the discussion, because the problem is people put the spotlight on what they think about, what they know, and they don't necessarily look beyond that beam," says Vickers, who compares IT staff to traffic cops. "We're at the scene of the accident. We're at the crossroads where all the different departments intersect."

At NQF, Vickers and his team created an interdepartmental group that meets every couple of weeks to discuss the organization's ongoing IT projects. Everyone can hear what's going on, and the IT department is better able to manage staff expectations.

"You have to clarify those expectations and get that alignment with expectations and reality," he says. "And when those things begin to align, then things really start taking off."

Katie Bascuas is associate editor at Associations Now in Washington, DC. Email:

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  LaTrease Garrison , April 08, 2014
Having the bird's eye view does give the IT unit a great advantage. The business unit consistently says we need to "automate"...but you just can't automate the paper process. We need to think about the business process and how can we make it more effective while automating. Great article.
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  David Ricciardi , January 08, 2014
I think this is right on target. In our business, we have where a company believes the problem to be technological, but it is really process or organizational. Process and organizational issues is very difficult to even diagnose, much less fix, so one’s inclination is to point to the technology, which odds are only exists to support the process and people in place.


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