Andres Richter, CEO of Priority, talks about the dynamic challenges facing businesses around the world, the importance of the CIO’s role and what Priority’s newest release has to offer in a world of developing technology.

New technology not only changes our private lives, it changes organizations and the way they function. One such change is in the role of the CIO, who is expected to steer the company through technology’s stormy waters towards achievement of business objectives. What is the essence of the change?

“As part of our work, we’re in touch with thousands of CIOs in multinational companies of all sizes, in a range of industries. Over the years we’ve witnessed changes in the role of the CIO. Originally, the CIO was responsible for automation, as well as management and operation of the company’s processes. Today, this is a prerequisite, but not enough to survive in the new world”, says Richter, who was appointed CEO of Priority six months ago and was VP of Finances before that. Richter has a lot of experience in the world of IT, including VP of Finances and Operations at Ness Israel.

“Today’s CIOs are responsible for achieving business goals by means of new technologies. They are responsible for business outcomes no less than any other member of the board. It is no longer about focusing on operational systems, it is about analyzing and identifying market trends, generating knowledge and insights, forecasting causes and effects of business activities and finding and implementing systems that will proactively advance the company. For example, the CIO can initiate a dedicated system that will identify and issue a warning about dissatisfied customers that might leave in the future, or a system that monitors changes in customer behavior, etc.”

Today’s CIO is not the CIO of the past

– In reality the CIO is not always a member of senior management. You present a different vision.

“True. Not only has the role changed, the CIO’s place in the organization is also changing. The role can be perceived as an IT Strategy Leader. The way I see it, the CIO should be a member of the executive board. VPs of sales or marketing are not the only ones responsible for the company’s results. The IT manager should be the CEO’s aide-de-camp in expanding the company. The CIO needs to identify trends inside and outside the company, to define new initiatives and to discover any barriers or problems involving the company’s automation and the advanced capabilities that information systems enable. “

– Has this change already taken place or is it merely a vision?

“Companies expect CIOs to be innovation hunters. Even if the company isn’t an ‘Early Adapter’, the CIO must be at the forefront of technology and must be the one who brings the company to that point.

“Unfortunately, this change hasn’t happened everywhere. There are many obstacles preventing CIOs from implementing these principles. Often it is because they are busy putting out fires and taking care of ongoing maintenance of information systems instead of hunting for innovations.

“Sometimes the added value the CIO can give the company has to be pointed out. It’s the CIO’s job to be the professional umbrella, the person responsible for promoting everything linked to technology and in possession of a broad vision of company needs and appropriate solutions.”

Updating tools and technologies

– What has to happen in a company for this change to take place?

“There has to be a change in traditional IT tools and the ways they are used, to streamline resources and the attention they demand and to make sure they work. One way of achieving this is through cloud services. Moving to cloud technology frees the IT department from dealing with the server farm and details such as temperature in the server room, UPS, etc.

“Obviously systems have to work from everywhere and on all devices. 50% of all content today is used by mobile, even the world of trade is gradually getting there. This also is something that shouldn’t take up a lot of the IT manager’s time and resources. Information security should be a top priority but simple to maintain. Information gathering also has to develop to enable effective data analysis and cross referencing.”

– The CIO isn’t the only one governing the area of information systems and the purchase of software applications. How does this affect the company?

“One of the challenges the CIO has to face is that various managers often request new applications on their own, creating IT chaos in the company. As a result, systems don’t always communicate smoothly with each other, and it is difficult to produce data or perform activities involving vertical information from several departments. For example, in order to yield data about a customer for sales purposes, you need data from billing, CRM and behavior tracking systems. If there is no effective way of transferring information between systems, the ability to generate significant insights, sales or income forecasts, etc., is limited.

“All aspects in today’s organizations depend on technology to greater extents. The marketing department, for example, won’t launch a campaign without measuring and monitoring success in real time. The IT department is not always responsible for leading these technologies and systems.

“There is no reason why the initiative to buy a new application shouldn’t come from any of the company’s departments, especially since the internal customer’s understanding of technology is so high today. However, only the IT manager has the broad, professional vision necessary to decide. When systems are not compatible, reporting becomes complex or almost impossible. This is where leadership on the part of the CIO comes in.”

Open systems

– What else can be done to empower the CIO?

“A reliable, integrative, and easy to operate program with all of the company’s information is critical; this is why ERP is so important. ERP has to be open to new systems on the one hand, but capable of keeping data integrative on the other hand. It has to make sure that data is consistent, but it also needs to be highly flexible and responsive.

“Unfortunately not all of the classic systems support these elements and often any change can be long and painful”.

– How do you fit into this puzzle?

“Obviously, our most important task is to understand the needs of the company and all of its departments and develop an ERP system that is simple to operate and easy to implement. The company can choose modules to implement by drag & drop, and the system will be open to external modules and additional programs as necessary. On the other hand, it should be flexible enough to allow customization according to the company’s unique needs, because every company is different: an international retail chain’s needs are not the same as a pharmaceutical company or a manufacturing enterprise.

“One of our challenges is to create a convenient system for both users and IT staff who have to implement and maintain the system, so as to free up their time for other tasks.

“Moreover, we have to increase functionality and innovation. A major demand of information systems today, and consequently of us, is to provide the ability to draw conclusions and even deliver business insights. IT systems are asked to incorporate abilities beyond the BI layer, intelligence abilities that not only analyze past performance, but generate forecasts and make recommendations to managers based on this type of predictive analysis.

“For example, a company can utilize forecasts and recommendations for a range of processes, such as product pricing, production management that takes into account external supply and demand, suggestions of alternative delivery routes based on price changes, fuel price forecasts or even weather considerations. It seems far off, but industry is already changing in that direction.

Meital Peleg
Excerpted and translated from Globes, March 9, 2015