Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
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8/27/2008
03:02 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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Keep IT In Touch With The Company Culture

It takes about 30 to 60 days to drill a new natural gas well. That helps explain why CIO Cathy Tompkins avoids pitching 18-month IT projects to her fellow business leaders at Chesapeake Energy, a fast-growing, fast-paced producer of natural gas. And it's an example of how IT needs to be tuned into and share the same culture as the company it's part of.

It takes about 30 to 60 days to drill a new natural gas well. That helps explain why CIO Cathy Tompkins avoids pitching 18-month IT projects to her fellow business leaders at Chesapeake Energy, a fast-growing, fast-paced producer of natural gas. And it's an example of how IT needs to be tuned into and share the same culture as the company it's part of.Tompkins spoke at the Oklahoma IT Symposium Tuesday in Oklahoma City, sharing the process her team went through in evaluating IT's effectiveness at Chesapeake. The thing she focused most on during her talk -- and wished she'd spent more time on during the process -- is making sure the IT team's practices, from project planning to meetings to training, are in sync with the company's overall culture. She warns that IT often wants to pursue more elegant or complicated solutions than business units have time for or even want.

An example: Chesapeake works with brokers who get land data by visiting county government buildings, and who usually write it down by hand. The company got a chance to get data from one county electronically and gave the IT team all of one day's notice that the data was coming in and would need to be shared. "My IT instincts would've been 'No, we can't do that in a day,'" says Tompkins. "But if we do that in IT, we really miss the boat." The team found a quick way to collect and share the data, and then over time has been able to build a more robust content management system.

Most IT departments appear to be in sync with their companies' culture in a broad sense, our Tomorrow's CIO research finds. About two-thirds of CIOs and VPs of IT think their IT teams' culture is consistent with the overall company, and an even higher share of non-IT managers see it that way. The one disconnect is a notable quarter of CIOs see their IT teams as more aggressive than the company overall; just 6% of non-IT managers see such a swashbuckling attitude in IT.

What Tompkins described is a balance between IT instincts to analyze deeply and build robustly against a company's need to move quickly. "I don't apologize for being technical," says Tompkins. "We often can see the better way to do things through technology. But we have to do it in a way that's acceptable."

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