Willie Neumann Co. Discusses the Rapid Pace of IT Innovation and Budget Constraints
Willie Neumann - Columbus Tech Power Player Honoree
Willie Neumann Company
President and Founder
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CEO for Willie Neumann Co., Willie Neumann, discusses the rapid pace of IT innovation and budget constraints.
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JF: We're here today with Willie Neumann, who is the founder and CEO at the Willie Neumann Company. His company provides contract CIO services here in Central Ohio. My name is Jeremy Florea and I’m with Stafford Technology, and I will be your guest moderator today. Let's get started. Willie, what are some of the significant challenges facing CIOs today?
WN: Thanks, Jeremy. I think that there are a number of things that we face in this market and that people face all around the country. Technology has changed so much that a CIO has to be much more technical than they were in the past. I've been doing this for 30-some years, and there were points in time where people relied more on leadership and organization of teams, and that was the focus of a CIO in an organization. Now you have to be very, very up to date on the technology that's out there so that you can make important decisions for the business. I think another huge thing happening in the CIO space right now is acceptance by your peers in an organization. I go into many different companies and I'm at a C level. Other people at C level have budgets, have the means to do new and innovative things in those organizations, but for some reason, many organizations that I've been in always pull back the reigns on spending when it comes to technology. And what we're seeing today is every business out there is in some way or another a technology company. Many organizations – peers of mine, whether it’s a CFO or CMO – will go to the leadership team and say, “I'm going to spend X number of dollars doing something,” and there's very little pushback on that. But when it comes to technology, from the CEO down, everybody always pulls back and says, “Hmm, do we really need to spend that money or not?” So, I think it’s a surprisingly challenging thing for CIOs right now to get accepted at the peer level, and to also get the same spending latitude that other people at that level have. And when I talk to other CIOs that are doing this, we all come up with the same conclusion that we don't really have peer status in the leadership of the organization, and I think that's extremely challenging. And it makes it difficult for a business to grow if they're not willing to accept technology as one of the legs of the three-legged stool that they need to pay attention to going forward.
JF: When you've had success at getting that acceptance, what occurred, or what advice would you give as it relates to helping somebody at a CIO level gain that acceptance?
WN: I think the biggest thing that we need to do is we need to talk to our peers as business people not talk to them as technologists. There have been engagements where I've been hired actually to be an interpreter, and the CEO said, “I need somebody who can talk to me in lay terms about where my business is going, how it can be successful, how we can use this technology to be successful. But I don't want to hear about megabytes and all that stuff.” So, I would say that, understand what your business does, understand what the business’ focus is for growth and success. And then when you have conversations about bringing technology into that organization, tie it to the goals of the business. Don't tie it to, “It's a great technology. It's something we should adopt. Everybody else is doing it.” Make sure everybody understands that you’re a peer in understanding the importance of the business and the growth of the business.
JF: Yeah. Thank you. That's great. OK. BYOD.
WN: Yeah. BYOD is really kind of a funky thing to deal with these days. I recently worked in an organization where we'd have a lot of HIPAA-related requirements, and the BYOD idea is a great idea from a support perspective because there's a lot that you can push off on the user as opposed to supporting the devices, whether it's a mobile device or a laptop, whatever. You can push a lot of the support back on the user because they own the device and they're responsible for. But you really have to come up with a mobile device management solution to be able to do it effectively because, inevitably, somebody will lose a cell phone at an airport or something like that. And I recently heard a situation where somebody left a – believe it or not – a Blackberry in an airport and they were fined $250,000. So, it was a HIPAA fine of $250,000 because there was personally-identifiable information on that device. So, again, being in the HIPAA space, we have to be very, very cognizant of the fact that we're holding very secure information for our customers. And if you don't have a solution in place to manage that device once it falls out of the hand of the end user, then you're in a lot of trouble. And Microsoft provides solutions. IBM provides solutions. There are a number of different vendors that provide solutions for it, but I would say investigate those solutions. Pick the one that's appropriate for your organization before you go down the path of doing the Bring Your Own Device policy.
JF: How do you fuel innovation efforts within the organizations that you help?
WN: Well, I'm kind of in a unique situation in that I’m a contract CIO. So, I go in and oftentimes the staff that reports to me is not my staff because I'm not a full-time employee of the business. But what I always try to do with folks is give people the latitude to learn what they want to learn, and make sure that I protect them. Because when you have IT folks that report to you, they really are not viewed, again, on an equal plane as other employees in an organization. Lots of times an organization looks at those folks and says, “Well that's, you know, our PC guy or that's our PC woman.” They don’t really like that marker, they don’t like to be called that, because they feel they have more value to the organization. So, I always try to make sure that the folks that I work with have a straight line in to me to talk to me about anything that they need to talk to me about. And I also make an effort to discover what they're interested in when it comes to technology, and they all are interested in technology. So, they may be looking at some new solution that's out there that I haven't thought of or that the organization hasn't thought of, and I want to give them the same level of influence on the strategy of the IT part of the business that anybody else would have. To bring them into the fold and include them in those conversations and showing them that their ideas are good and have results and impact the organization, really helps people become more motivated and be more innovative about what they do.
JF: Thank you for your time. This is Jeremy Florea and Willie Neumann. To learn more about us, visit comspark.tech. Goodbye, until next time.
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