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ITFMA Journal

What Keeps C-Level Executives Awake at Night?

Larry Graham, Managing Partner, Paularry Partners, LLC

This paper presents a brief summary of phone interviews conducted with more than one hundred C-level executives over a six month period in 2008 that focused on the major business challenges which kept them awake at night. (C-level executives are generally those with a "C" in their title, such as, CEO, CFO, etc. – usually those with significant span of control and interest not only in operational but strategic aspects of the enterprise.) The executives who participated in these interviews represented major and mid-size companies throughout the United States and across many vertical lines of business. While addressing specific concerns in personnel resources, finance, management of assets and corporate spend, the executives’ concerns clustered into four main categories. Not identified as in any order of importance, these were:

• Lack of timely and meaningful decision making information

• Better service to both external and internal customers

• Risk management

• Cost efficiencies

It is interesting to note that no issue belonged to just one of the four categories; but rather, at least two and even more frequently, all four categories were involved. These categories and related issues are outlined in the following, as taken from our interviews.

Lack of Timely and Meaningful Decision Making Information

The C-level executives expressed great frustration over the lack of timely and meaningful business decision information in their companies. Most agreed that their company was already doing a reasonably good job in collecting data through disparate reports and a variety of other sources. However, the costly, labor intensive effort required to turn this data into reliable and usable information for making better and more timely business decisions and gauging the effectiveness of operations was the major cause of their frustration.

The challenge for senior corporate executives is how can they ensure that the expended effort or soft costs (time and dollars) associated with projects, processes and systems do not exceed the value of the results without having quick access to real time business information. While many companies are outwardly focus on the marketing, advertising and the production side of business, most of the executives interviewed agreed that the back office and support units were critical to building and maintaining a sustainable and growing entity in today’s competitive world. Without process improvement for these back office and support units, C-level executives continue to be handicapped in their efforts to effectively manage and control their business.

Ultimately, this translates into the accelerating need for a management information tool or enabler that brings with it, a high degree of confidence in the reliability of its information and presents opportunities for smart, timely and efficient management and control. The ideal enabling solution would select and present data with a few clicks of the mouse specifically customized for every level of management. Although significant pre-thought and hard work comes well before determining if or which software tool can do the job in the most practical and efficient manner, implementing such an enabler is the goal of most of the progressive C-level executives and those reporting to them.

Better Service Delivery to Both External and Internal Customers

Delivering better service to customers, both external and internal, presents multiple challenges to the C-level executive group. These challenges involve reliability, speed and access in presenting information and the ability of the service provider to consistently meet its service level commitments to its customer. The expressed goal is to give every customer, permission and the ability to access information necessary to manage their own business operations. Additionally, discussion arrived at the need to provide the customer with information through independent action that does not intrude on confidentiality and that does not require the need for unnecessary routine and costly staff intervention. Ideally, this becomes a cost efficiency while giving both user and service provider the improved ability to meet and adhere to their own service level objectives.

Also addressed was the belief that systems that can offer reliable access and enable user independence not only provide multiple levels of savings by supporting customer’s and their business opportunities but clearly enhance the image of the service provider as a proactive business leader and enabler.

Frustration also was expressed over the need to take advantage of existing data with the goal of not wasting resources by recreating that data already existing in the company. This is not only wasted effort but it’s a huge source of data inconsistency. Executive struggle to have data and information available anywhere in any internal system made available in part or in whole to those with permission to have it through flexible and transparent system’s integration. They want reliable data transformed into information using the right tools and processes that will provide information for action at every level of management. These are issues that executives find themselves facing in the mix of consistent challenges.

Risk Management

During the phone interviews, C-level executives frequently talked about their increasing concerns about effectively managing risk with its far reaching tentacles extending into all aspects of the business. Management and control of these issues can now provide opportunities for smart and improved risk management through access to improved and timely information using automated access and streamlined processes. Typically addressed as an example in frustration are all types of leases that expire without warning and before alternatives can be evaluated for proactive action that will avoid painfully higher non lease rates. Automated alerts, notification of actionable alternatives going out to all interested parties are sought. In the management of administrative and operational variances, alerts are sought that will be set off as boundaries are approached with time for proactive action. These enhancements and their options would provide the C level manager with confidence that that controls are in place and working and that variances that are moving out of target range will ring the alarm for management intervention. Risk management in this regard also follows processes to ensure that systems are continuously providing critical and changing information from multiple integrated sources that reflect the current environment and business conditions. These concepts factor into concerns that executive have for the ability to stay on top of complex issues and operations in ever changing environments.

Cost Efficiencies

Cost efficiencies are of a different concern from cost cutting and cost reductions, all of which are of course, of interest. However, C-level executives while not wanting to spend unnecessarily, at the same time want to be assured that budgets, projects and programs, especially those that were hard won, are continuously scrutinized for efficient management, control and results. Here, the goal is budgeted but not forgotten. Again, reliable data for comparisons followed by timely comparisons with automated exception highlighting and alerts that provide the time and information necessary for proactive decision-making are crucial to the expectations and services for which C level management is responsible.

For C-level executives, under constant time pressures, having the ability to quickly access and view critical, real time information through a few mouse clicks is vital to meet their ever increasing challenges and demands from customers, shareholders, boards of directors, managers and staff at all levels.

In conclusion, we condensed well over one hundred hours of talk with more than 100 C level and senior corporate executives and the challenges they face which fell into four major categories. However, it should be kept in mind that these were not discretely pigeon hole issues but were typically woven together when executives talked individually about lack of timely and meaningful business decision information, demands for service delivery, risk and cost efficiencies and always, the precious time available to do their job.

The interviews summarized in this article were conducted by Paularry Partners, LLC, on behalf of USU Ag, the premier German PC-based, business software solutions corporation with more than 450 global and mid size customers. USU’s Valuemation Business Management solution has satisfied its customers for more than thirty years by offering an easily implemented, rapidly customized software solution, which successfully addresses the issues summarized in this article and that keep C-level executives awake at night. For more information regarding the contents of this article please contact Sven Wilms, Executive Vice President, International Business,

Copyright © 2010 by the IT Financial Management Association. 


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