CEOs’ Tech Challenge: Bringing Order to Chaos

As technology opens new doors for associations, their leaders are faced with new responsibilities to match IT decisions with organizational strategy.

“Welcome to the era of information chaos.”

With those words, John Mancini set the tone for association CEOs at ASAE’s 2013 Technology Conference & Expo Wednesday in his CEO Pathway Thought Leader session. It’s a sobering reminder that the vast new capabilities technology has created for associations in recent years bring with them an equally imposing set of challenges for the leaders of those organizations.

Decisions that were once tactical technology questions have turned into strategic business decisions.

Mancini, CEO of the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), explained to fellow CEOs that major trends like consumerization of technology, cloud and mobile solutions, and the changing nature of work have turned decisions that were once tactical technology questions into strategic business decisions. And that means CEOs now must be much more involved with technology, whether they like it or not.

“How do you deal with [employees] finding solutions that they can find on their own and get them integrated with your other systems? That is a big, big challenge,” he said. “I think the CEO has to be involved in helping the organization to figure that out.”

He acknowledged, however, the balance a CEO must find between guiding technology decisions and not getting caught in the weeds. Reflecting on his own experience, he said, “I wish I had been better at asking the right questions.”

Knowing what questions to ask requires a personal understanding and familiarity with technology—if not knowing exactly how it works, then at least understanding what it can and can’t do. That’s a responsibility that Mancini places directly on CEOs. (See Mark Athitakis’ interview with Mancini last week for more on that.) Even in large organizations that can hire a chief information officer, the CEO must develop that knowledge, Mancini said. In smaller organizations, the CEO must take on the role of technology strategist that a CIO might otherwise serve.

As Mancini has experienced ups and downs in technology strategy at AIIM, he has learned lessons along the way, and he shared a set of principles that guide his tech-infrastructure decisions:

  1. Choose simple solutions rather than complex ones.
  2. Rent technology when possible, rather than buying it.
  3. Seek solutions that are stable and predictable.
  4. Opt for open, standards-based solutions.
  5. Don’t customize technology solutions; instead, configure pre-developed products.
  6. Decisions should be driven by the business side, not IT (though they should work hand in hand).
  7. Tech decisions should be tied to business strategy and results.

Mancini’s presentation served as a kickoff for the CEO Pathway, one of five tracks for attendees at the conference, and he aimed to get CEOs primed for a new mindset toward technology.

“Saying, ‘That’s not for me. That’s for the kids.’—that’s a recipe for doom,” he said.

The Technology conference continues Wednesday and Thursday; follow along via Associations Now‘s live coverage or via the #tech13 hashtag on Twitter.

(photo by Sabrina Kidwai)

Joe Rominiecki

By Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications at the Entomological Society of America, is a former senior editor at Associations Now. MORE

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