CIO: Is it time to unify business critical systems?

September 16, 2020 | David Daly 5 Mins read

A CIO at a major multinational today has many responsibilities, most of which involve the optimal use of technology to ensure a business is making the most effective use of its key infrastructure and resources.  A CIO therefore will be particularly interested in how the major infrastructure at the organization interacts with the various systems and processes in place within the business-critical functions.

The role of the CIO is to lead the technology strategy for an organization and interface between the technology department and the rest of the business, while looking for ways to improve or optimize the use of technology within an organization.

The CIO will be analyzing the frameworks and structures in place to see if the right level of optimization is happening or if a different approach is needed. If the technology infrastructure in place is not being leveraged in the most advantageous way, then there will be scope for positive change.

In this article, we’re going to ask the question as to whether or not it is time that a CIO looks at unifying key technology infrastructure in place in a number of business-critical units within a multinational organization.

Separate goals. No unity.

A lot of multinational companies in existence today have been around for many decades. This means they do not have the luxury of operating from a blank slate, going out and investing in multipurpose technology that is hugely compatible in nature, enabling a process whereby several business-critical units can operate in synergy with complementary technology.

New companies, startup enterprises or venture capital backed entities are in a much stronger position to put in place powerful technology that interacts with and unifies business critical systems from day one. They have the benefit of sometimes operating from a blank sheet and assessing what functions need to share crucial data in order to operate in a streamlined and efficient way.

With the right planning, they might be in a position to have unity and efficiency right from the outset or at the very least built into the process very quickly. Efficiency is much harder to achieve when there is a lack of unity between business-critical functions that could really benefit from sharing data insights and trending information.

The vast majority of businesses operate with departments which have historically pursued their own strategic goals and invested in technology stacks that best suited their needs. This investment was not focused on creating unity with other systems and processes within the business- the result of all of this is a number of business functions operating in silos, with disparate technology that may have become dated and no longer fit for purpose. Even if this technology is still capable of delivering day-to-day operational activity, it was not designed to interact and share data with other business critical units- and the scope for unity and efficiency is therefore, much diminished. Most CIOs find themselves working in this environment and looking for solutions.

Where to start?

A good place to start is by looking at the business functions that have some clear parallels and opportunities for synergy. Global payroll, finance and HR fall into this category. These are business critical departments and there is a lot of crossover between them in terms of system structure, dataflows and compliance requirements. A lot of crucial business insight can also be extracted and aligned between these departments if a technology stack could be implemented that permitted the various systems within them to interact with each other in an optimized way.

HR inputs need to flow into the global payroll department to ensure accurate and on time payment of all employees. On the other side, global payroll data needs to flow back to the HR Department so key data analysis and trending information can be viewed and analyzed. Global payroll data contains crucial information around payroll costs, individual employee costs, country comparison costs, exchange rate exposure costs and many other informative pieces of information. The finance department can also benefit from access to this data and insight as they will be keen to develop predictive costing analytics so that they can manage budgets and develop financial planning based on useful strategic information.

In most multinationals today, the CIO will be faced with the inevitable scenario that these three departments operate in silos due to reactive legacy spending that focused on buying technology that was needed at the time for a very specific purpose as opposed to an investment in a wider strategy that could benefit a number of departments at the same time.  A CIO can look again at this situation and make a decision that now is the time to invest in a technology stack that aligns these three business critical functions in a way that sees them working together, sharing data and processes that make all three departments more efficient.

Digital Journey

The CIO will require buy-in from all stakeholders in the individual departments and they will also need to convince the wider leadership team that there will be cost savings or other benefits to be realized by making a long-term investment in a technology stack that serves all three departments. The CIO will know that no single technology can bring three departments with separate identities together, but investing in technology platforms that allow for smooth integrations and feature digital tools that enable straightforward dataflows and secure information exchanges, can result in a level of technology synergy that aligns these business critical functions.

This is about going on a digital journey with an end result that optimizes business processes- in this case, three interlinked but separate departments that were previously working in silos will now have aligned processes and technology platforms in place to quickly and efficiently share data. Such a process would allow for immediate cost and productivity gains to happen in the individual departments, while the introduction of crucial data sharing functionality would enable the sharing of this data with the wider leadership teams to help drive strategy and future growth. This is how unifying business critical systems can benefit the wider business as a whole.

A CIO will be looking for innovative or emerging technologies that could potentially make this a reality- these technologies would feature next generation digital tools that allow for a simple and seamless data flow between several connected systems. At an advanced level, the technology would have built-in capabilities for recognizing which data flows are of most use to which partner department and then send this data directly to the department in a fast, automated fashion.

Innovative Approach

Unifying two or three disparate but interconnected functions within an organization using a digital approach represents a level of innovation that is likely to appeal to any CIO. In this way, the CIO is using their skill set, digital knowledge and technical expertise to introduce a level of process improvement and alignment of business-critical functions.

Critical departments with aligned technology and digital processes that enable data sharing are much more likely to play a role in the strategic development of the organization. Departments that operate in isolation and are not very digitally advanced do not easily lend themselves to being drivers of business strategy as they lack the digital innovation and necessary flexibility to move with speed and agility. Any business-critical function that does not represent the future of the business, by default represents the past and a CIO will always be looking to avoid this scenario.

Innovation is not always about investing in next generation technology or the kinds of digital tools that make media headlines. in fact, many CIOs today are looking to maximize and get the most out of existing technology like cloud computing. Cloud applications are advancing all the time and the limit of their capabilities has not yet been reached. A strong cloud platform, capable of enabling significant digital change and transformation, remains something that a CIO will focus heavily on. There is still massive scope within cloud technology to run digitally innovative and pioneering projects that can have a transformative effect on multiple business critical departments at once.

Cloud technology represents opportunities for digitalization, innovation and culture change – a CIO who chooses to focus more on this kind of thinking and less about creating a huge legacy estate filled with costly next generation tools, will be in the best position to develop a set of customisable solutions to broad and inter-connected business challenges.


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Using Payslip, we can manage all our payrolls across nine in-country vendors on one platform. When the global Covid-19 pandemic arose, it was not an issue from a payroll perspective, and critically getting everyone paid. The Payslip platform enabled continuity for our international payroll service including the fast and seamless implementation of the Payslip Employment Self Service during this time.

Colin Smith

Payroll Manager, LogMeIn

With business and employee growth rates of above 50%, we rely on our vendors to deliver on time, every time. Payslip’s workflow automation, enables Phorest to manage our payroll provider process – data driven, real time and transparent. Payslip saves us time so we can focus on our business growth.

Ana Kelly

International Payroll Manager, Phorest