As I attend conferences and events and tell people I am the Bank’s CIO, the discussion usually turns to the latest technology in payment processing or concerns with cybersecurity or some other esoteric tech subject. These are interesting discussions and fun topics to chat about but I must admit they are not always at the top of my concerns list. In my day-to-day activities, I am concerned about three issues that do not necessarily involve technology.
IT professionals are not always known for their customer service skills. Not that they intend to be rude or short with people, they just tend to be to the point and often assume users have more technical prowess than they really do. And let’s face it, even though you stress that the users within the bank are customers of IT and should be treated as such, deep down everyone knows that they have nowhere else to go for support and this sometimes gets reflected in the service the users receive. So how do we resolve this? Whenever the training department starts a new customer service training initiative, make sure that the IT team is in the training rotation. Although some elements of this training may not apply, much of it will and can give the IT staff some important tips on how to give good customer service, particularly when dealing with those ‘certain’ users. Have you ever promoted someone from the branch, maybe a teller or a new accounts person, into the IT area? It’s refreshing to see their approach as they start out for they tend to bring that branch customer service approach into IT and that can have an amazing effect. Also, one item I have noticed after years in IT is that users really appreciate when an IT technician truly owns an issue. Too many times the users hear, “You’ll have to call HR to get that resolved” or “Facilities will have to help you with that.” Although those statements may be true, good service calls for the IT tech to reach out to whichever department(s) needs to step in and help the user make that initial connection.
I like to start my team meetings with some type of customer service tip or suggestion and one of my favorites is by Bob Farrell and his story of the pickle. I encourage the staff to find out what each person’s pickle consists of and give it to them. Very powerful.
How do you keep a team of highly qualified and talented IT professionals motivated? Working in a bank, you can only Google-ize the department so much. I’d love to let everyone wear flip-flops and t-shirts and use headsets every day but that’s not practical.
And IT folks usually aren’t too fond of games or the cutesy approach to motivation. So what’s a CIO to do? I believe allowing them to get out of the office occasionally for training and events (Cisco Live, for instance) to have networking and education opportunities is invaluable. Also, encouraging them to pursue additional schooling and gaining industry certifications helps them to know you are confident in them and their abilities. Interacting with all levels of the technical staff can also be motivating in itself; kinda that ‘management by walking around’ approach. I find that the more I take time to discuss issues and challenges with each person directly, the more they know I am truly interested in their work. And of course the occasional Starbucks run or doughnuts never hurt either.
Is there an IT department at any bank that isn’t stretched to its limit with projects and compliance issues? This is probably the number one concern of my IT staff on a day-to-day basis and rightfully so. Every department in the bank seems to have its next big software system to implement and each one brings with it its own set of problems and challenges. Whether it be a new server to install on a VM system, a new cloud-based solution, or a hybrid configuration, each one will require a completely different approach to implementation. And each one requires a different set of due diligence and regulatory processes. No longer is simply obtaining an SSAE16-SOC1 report going to suffice. Vendor management has become a discipline of its own, often requiring a full-time staff member and a dedicated software system.
Then, just about the time you may feel like you’ve got your arms around the situation, in steps internal audit, or external audit or a regulatory exam to take away more of your time, followed by a new list of audit items that each needs some kind of follow-up. And the proverbial weekend software update or hardware replacement brings additional pressure.
What’s the answer? I don’t claim to know completely but I do know that this is where some of your skills as the leader in IT come into play. The CIO/ CTO must become the gatekeeper at the IT project gate, making sure, anything that enters is thoroughly vetted, and that all participants understand the timelines, restraints, and expectations of everything that enters. Doing this without becoming the department of ‘NO’ can be a challenge. Maintaining an active IT Project List and reviewing the list at every IT steering committee meeting becomes essential. The more you can communicate the resources required for each project, the better.
IT professionals are accustomed to working long hours (and all hours) and weekends and often, their hobby is their work. I love this about them. But it is important not to take this for granted and let this become job burnout. Remember that everyone needs a break and making sure to recognize their efforts can go a long way. Keeping your finger on the pulse of everyone’s working hours is important in helping you manage the time of the department.
I love talking bits and bytes and enjoy the discussions we have regarding anything from data communications to SAN systems to cybersecurity. But often I recognize that being successful as an IT leader is not always about technology. It often requires time focused on those things that keep the technology running on all cylinders, which are many times the non-technical parts.