The CEO’s Wish List

Getting on the same page financially and strategically with your CEO in the beginning of the economic recovery is imperative. Here’s what I’m asking from my CIO to ensure we flourish in this challenging environment.

1. The expected: security and reliability.

I don’t want my company to grab headlines for becoming the next Gawker–whose Website and backend database were published on the Pirate Bay Bit Torrent Site–or as a victim of Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks devotees. Any publicity is not, in fact, good publicity. As a payroll company, our customers expect security and reliability–after all, we’re dealing with people’s paychecks. We’ll always find the budget for security, and our CIO knows it. Whether it’s new technology, staff or contracted services, nothing receives the green light until security and reliability are addressed.

2. Innovation.

My company, like yours, needs continually improved technology that will differentiate us from the competition and grow our customer base. Leaders have to lead. The product that brought your company success 15, 10 or even five years ago won’t stand the test of time indefinitely. Competitors will imitate your idea and improve upon it. Market demands will change. Resting on your laurels simply doesn’t fly in the Internet economy. I routinely ask our CIO what we must develop to be the leader in payroll innovation. That means working with, not against, the VP of product management to turn vision into reality–quickly.

3. Ease of use.

A good litmus test for ease of use goes something like this: See if your mother can use your product without hours of formal training–or, worse, her calling you to walk her through the process. Your customers aren’t interested in becoming product experts in your industry–that’s what they pay you for. And your employees don’t have time to learn the nuances of complex systems. I expect our CIO to apply the same concepts of usability and quick adoption to any new technologies and solutions being introduced for our customers or our own internal users.

4. No surprises and no delays, please.

Knowing the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from our CIO is vital. Sharing the whole timeline and scope of all projects with your CEO is a must. Believe it or not, we CEOs realize it’s difficult to create updates in a short time frame. If you’re not releasing in iterations, now’s the time. An agile approach to development fits our needs best: The waterfall approach grows more obsolete with each passing year. And, unlike Google, we can’t afford for our developers to devote 20 percent of their time to pet projects.

5. Perspective on the past.

Learn lessons from past experience, but don’t use past experience as an irrational fear to impede progress. We recently expanded our implementation to include customer service operations. Our CIO and I heard every objection imaginable. The switch ended up being one of the easiest in our history–something our technology employees will admit, too. Don’t be afraid to lead your team when objections are based on perception, not reality.

Michael Alter is president and CEO of SurePayroll.

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