One of John Furlong's pet peeves is IT employees who don't dress like their clients.
"Look at the way your clients are dressed. Make sure your IT organization matches them," says Furlong, managing director and CTO for UBS Global Asset Management. "That means in my organization in the investment room, guys tend to be in khakis or jeans or T-shirts, and that's great. But if you're in the sales organization, that's not the way to go. You want to be their peer."
The theme of getting more respect for IT was pervasive at this week's CIO Forum, a gathering of 300-plus CIOs and other high-level IT executives that takes place at sea aboard the Norwegian Dawn cruise ship sailing out of New York City.
Furlong says a key to making sure IT and business groups understand each other is rotating IT people in and out of the business groups. He cites his own experience of working in jobs on both sides of the fence during his 25 years in the financial-services industry (for example, he worked for IBM for 12 years and also headed technology development at Paine Webber).
"Cross-function job rotations are critical," Furlong says. "Make sure that your [high-potential] people are developing a sense of different parts of the business. . . . You wind up having a whole cadre of middle-level executives who know the IT organization and are able to discern strategy."
IT groups that don't brainstorm and work closely with the business side run the risk of simply becoming order takers, Furlong says.
Cathy Ellwood, who runs a job-rotation program at Nationwide Financial Services, says putting such a system in place isn't for "the faint of heart." It can take years to get such a program really up and running, she says, as you need to do everything from defining what you want employees to get experience in, to putting an infrastructure in place to make sure your day-to-day IT operations don't collapse when good employees rotate out. She cites an example of taking one of the insurance company's CFO potentials and putting him over the IT procurement area, which includes handling vendor contracts and driving costs out of IT infrastructure.
"It wasn't necessarily something that he aspired to do," she says. "On the other hand, he's going to bring a lot of discipline and training to that organization."
One dicey issue with job rotations is salary. Moving from IT to another group might ordinarily mean an increase or cut in pay to align with others in the group. That can be an issue with both the employee and the department, which might not want to pay the salary and benefits, says Ellwood, who reports to the CFO. "We made a decision that each business area or IT organization where people go will cover the expense," she says. "It's an investment in our future."