How CIOs and IT Departments can Transition Toward Supply Chain Management Roles

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@andyoheikkilaAndy O. Heikkila

The only thing constant is change, and the roles and responsibilities of the CIO, and the entire IT department for that matter, has been shifting a lot over the last couple of years. EMC’s Ken Oestreich intelligently predicted this shift about five years ago with his post for GigaOM, discussing why he thinks that the CIO would essentially become the new IT supply chain manager. He writes that “IT and its organization will gradually shift in the following domains,” then citing “functional roles, skill sets, consumption models, and operational functions.

Oestreich was right. CIOs are the new caretakers of the supply chain, and you can see it in each of the four areas he was writing about. Of course, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to understand why — the digitization of just about everything means that IT departments and CIOs have taken on myriad roles and functions in their organizations. Nevertheless, not everybody has fully embraced this melding of IT operations with supply chain management yet, and might need a little help doing so.

Here are a couple of tips for CIOs IT departments in the beginning stages of implementation who wish to transition smoothly and successfully toward supply chain management. These strategies aren’t all-encompassing but they’ll give you a good jumping off point, and from there you can cut your own path.


Transitioning into the role of “supply chain manager” demands that the CIO adopts a style of networking that is both farther reaching and more succinct than before, but internally and externally facing. This is because internal IT supply chain management is akin to 3PL, 4PL, and even 5PL supply chain logistics strategy.

Tweaking your internal networking strategies will allow for more frequent and efficient cross-departmental communication and collaboration, allowing you to effectively monitor the tech-status of the entire organization. Building rapport and capital with other departments means that when they have problems, they’ll have no qualms coming to you for support. Conversely, you’ll have an easier time with new technology adoption and implementation.

External networking exists to supplement and support your internal networking and operations. Through your contacts you’ll pick up product knowledge and the latest in industry trends, and will be able to select from a wide variety of vendors and products integral to your organization’s operations.

Internal Networking

If you haven’t already, set up a couple of meetings with the head of each department you’ll be directly interacting with. Give yourself a little bit extra time in these initial meetings to address all concerns that those department heads might have, and you’ll gain much more in capital than you’ll lose in production. This means you might end up having a month that is dominated almost solely by meetings — but it will be worth it. Find out exactly what technologies and processes each department deems “mission critical” and reassure them that they will have everything they need to do their jobs.

After recording these needs, wants, and expectations, exercise proper business courtesy and individually email the department heads you’ve met with detailing their specific requests as you understood them. Use this as a means to open up direct and ongoing communication lines with individual department heads, and encourage them to come to you first if there’s ever an issue or request. Let them know that you’ll take care of them to the best of your ability, prove it through action, and in return you’ll be given more willing and understanding responses to any changes — future or present — that your team will have to implement.

External Networking

Based on what you learned from the department heads, either try to integrate existing technology into new services, or find solutions that are familiar to cut down on integration downtime. Whether you have a vendor representative that visits you on-site or a contact that you speak to remotely, try to become acquainted with a single point-of-contact for each vendor or solution that you utilize.

If you build a relationship with external entities, you’ll end up finding the best price as well as unique, tailored solutions. Make sure to touch base with these contacts every couple of weeks to stay informed of updates and new releases as well as any other information that might be pertinent to your operations.

Last, make sure you pass along customer feedback from department users, positive or negative. Honest customer feedback is a vendor’s lifeblood, and they probably appreciate it more than you know.

Staying One Step Ahead

Networking both internally and externally will also allow you to direct technology choices and prepare the system for security issues.

Building a Catalogue

Take what you know about your internal departments and their needs, combine it with what the market offers, and create an easily updatable digital catalogue. Let each of your internal contacts know that the solutions offered within the catalogue have been inspected, vetted, and approved for use by the IT team.

This is not to say that solutions outside of this catalogue are impossible to obtain, just that the catalogued solutions are deemed safe and integratable by you. If employees in any department wish to use any solution outside of this catalogue, a request must be submitted via the chain of command to IT. This gives employees clear choices and decreases the chance that your company will have to deal with Shadow IT.

Building for Security

Run a risk analysis report on each department to determine where risk is and to prevent security breaches. Using this, shore up your risk pain points — this means that you may need to build some new internal infrastructure, but it will be well-worth it. Make sure the technology is extremely relevant to your company and that you’ve communicated why it’s important. For example, security measures from acquisitions should follow PCI DSS compliance measures if they’re using customer data.

“While internal security processes can be easily implemented and managed, external threats are more difficult… boost network configurations and VPN protocols for an added line of technology defense,” write the experts at Kombea. “The availability of consumer data online (social media) has made it easy for hackers to build a convincing customer profile and then use it to commit fraud.”

Also, track employee use patterns and build your infrastructure around that. For example, innovations in connectivity mean that people using personal devices and working remotely are at an all time high. This means that your infrastructure must be securely built to accommodate telework.


Disruption and constant change have become commonplace in the Age of Apps, so constant integration is to be expected. This is where external networking can come in extremely handy, because, if you can keep your finger on the pulse of technological trends, security updates, etc., you’ll have a better chance of anticipating industry changes and acting upon them it in a timely manner.

Once you know that changes are necessary, immediately invest time in preparing the system for the upgrade. Your main enemy when it comes to integration is downtime, and the more prepared you are, the less downtime you’ll experience. Transitions are tough as well, because learning new software doesn’t always come easy. The more you prepare, however, the better you’ll anticipate and successfully navigate hang-ups in each department.

Consistent Orientation

Even though it’s the last point on this list, it is by no means the least important. Transitioning your team to this “supply chain” mindset is absolutely critical to the success of the transition itself. Level with your team, and talk about how the changes are affecting you as a CIO, and how your day-to-day is changing as the IT department takes on more supply chain-oriented operations. After that, open up the floor for other employees to detail their experiences and take note of any shared production snags or negative trends.

Team orientation will be an ongoing operation, and will probably creep its way into every IT meeting that you have while you’re transitioning and even after. Take note of where you’re at on the project each time you meet, and make sure that you’re not only still on schedule, but are still understanding of the mission and not getting sidetracked by frivolous details.

Final Word

This is not the end-all be-all on the topic, and these are just a few strategies that CIOs could implement. They’ll allow you to build a solid foundation toward shifting your role and your IT department’s role to that of IT supplier. They’ll shift your organization’s idea of what IT does, and in time will help you to launch new technologies or upgrades.

These changes in industrial and business paradigm aren’t coming — they’re already here. Still, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stay looking toward the future, because we should. Drones, for example, are quickly looking like the future of shipping logistics. It’s only a matter of time before industries the world over begin employing them, and those that follow the above tips will be well-prepared to implement those changes when necessary.

The only choice now is to embrace the change or go the way of the buffalo while your organization and its members embrace the change without you.



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