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Tech Triage

CIOs doctor ailing networks even as they diagnose a company's long-term, strategic technology needs.

Setting priorities. That's a top issue that all CIOs and IT managers must grapple with on a regular basis, and one that affects our performance as senior technology executives. It's my responsibility to keep our systems, applications and networks running smoothly. Like a doctor on the battlefield, I must quickly decide which is the most pressing issue of the day and deal with it first.

Ideally, I'd like to spend more of my time exploring emerging technologies and working with other senior managers to develop strategic initiatives to make us even more competitive. The reality is that I spend the majority of my time on tactical matters. This kind of "triage" work, which means informing other business executives of the tough choices at hand, is becoming increasingly common in many offices because of the unpredictable, malicious code, like computer viruses and spam, that regularly emerges to hamper system performance.

About one-third of my time is spent putting out fires. If the virtual fire directly and adversely affects our customers—the people to whom we provide services—that makes it an immediate priority. Another third of my time is spent ensuring that our brokers get the best service possible, and the last third is devoted to compliance matters. As a financial services company, we are particularly concerned about being compliant with government regulations. The risks of not complying are high, so in some cases we have had to put other IT projects on the back burner to focus on our compliance efforts.

We provide financial services, including a full-service brokerage plus investment banking. We also counsel high-net-worth individuals and institutions on capital investments growth. In our industry, clients aren't very forgiving when they can't get access to services because of a technology breakdown. They expect fast, accurate service all the time.

To be fully secure means not just having the proper firewalls, virtual private networks and antivirus software in place, but also having technologies at the desktop that help control access to networks and data. There's also a continuous need to educate our staff in how to properly use technology to reduce the chances of a harmful attack. That includes reminding people not to open suspicious e-mail attachments and dealing with the ever-growing volume of spam.

Even though I spend a lot of time on tactical issues, I make time for long-term strategic thinking and planning. I spend a couple of weeks each quarter working with our CEO and other senior managers to explore ways we can use technology to improve the business. Setting aside that time is critical because, if something comes up that jeopardizes our ability to deliver service, it's the priority of the moment. For instance, right now I'm looking at technologies such as IP telephony and an encryption chip coupled with a thumbprint biometric device to increase security.

Like many other CIOs, my job often involves juggling multiple activities. When performing technology triage, I have to prioritize projects—and the activities that always rise to the top involve providing end-users with access to services and information as quickly and accurately as possible.

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Jan 01 2005 Spice IT

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