Monday, August 25, 2014

How do Businesses Perceive CIOs

Competence, vision, communication, and enthusiasm for the business are superior

Contemporary CIOs wear multiple hats and play different roles in information-abundant organizations today. So should a CIO have the ability to understand the mechanics of what they are the chief of - their information flows and processes, the knowledge representation effort, and key additions from there. How do businesses perceive CIOs? And what are the arena IT and business can work more closely to make a continuous improvement?

Knowledge: CIOs have to understand both sides of the coin -both business and technology. After all, the CIO’s primary function is really about leadership and management, and the majority of people the CIO interacts with (on behalf of the department) are not highly technical. As the CIO, you must lead the efforts of the department, but you also have to facilitate communications with stakeholders. A breakdown in communication foreshadows a significant number of perceived IT failures. If IT doesn't completely understand what the stakeholders are asking for; or if the stakeholders don’t understand what IT is delivering the results will reflect that disconnect. The importance of communication doesn't begin and end with the defined project either, it spills over into all of the operations and strategic planning; crossed every departmental boundary and affects every facet of the business. You might say it is a pretty difficult job. The highly technical leader who can’t communicate effectively with stakeholders (and the stakeholders decide if you’re effective, not you) may fail in the conference room to create allies and partners to take on the business’s needs. On the other side, the highly competitive business leader who fails to understand technology is likely to fail in communicating with peers within the IT department.

Trust: CIOs need to understand how technology affects each area of the enterprise. You have to speak business terms by area, not the technology. So when they ask what time it is, you don't have to explain how the watch works. You must do this without sounding condescending and simultaneously create a level of trust which transcends that discussion. Stakeholders, even the very brightest who are excellent at using technology as a tool will never truly understand the delivery of technology and why should they? If you want to succeed as a CIO, you need your department to succeed and that starts and ends with understanding and trust. Conversely, without trust, it is difficult to correct course on projects because it’s too easy for both sides to start making excuses.

Partnership: CXOs are all people fundamentally, and their approach to problem-solving and collaborative working is what shapes how either of the CXO would contribute. However, at lower mature organizations, IT has been treated as the backroom and business comes to them only when they need them. But more mature organizations treat tech as their partners and often engage them in situations of no real tech need in the short term. More often than not, in the latter scenario, the best business solutions emerge that leverage tech to the most. It is all about how the businesses treat people as core contributors, and not only expect answers to the immediate questions but genuinely respect their opinions even though they may not be direct answers at times. The common goal of the business partnership is to build business competency. Competence is competence. Competence with a vision is a good thing. Competence, vision and an ability to communicate is great. Competence, vision, communication, and enthusiasm for the business are superior. People don't tend to follow people who say "this is awful, follow me." They do tend to follow people who say "look at what we might do. We have issues to overcome but look at what we could be."

BVDs: An option can be to leverage Business Value Dashboards (BVDs). BVDs provide a metrics-driven approach to demonstrate the direct impact of I&O (Infrastructure and Operations) as it relates to business performance and objectives. IT Operations needs to have KPIs that show how IT is enabling the business. Projects need to have business KPI’s built into them that track the stated outcomes to hold the business accountable. And the board needs to improve its Governance, Risk Management, Change Management, and Process Management. Businesses need to see the technology around us and ask "how would that help my company." CIOs should be accountable for the information and technology just like the other C- level officers in that command and control chain because of their positions in the audit practice for the entity.

Walk the talk: The leader of IT needs to focus with his/her peers by putting together a solid IT Management Framework that matches the needs of the business, have a supportive management team, and let his/her management team execute. All IT needs to do is “walk the talk.” And the CIO should have the final say on technology because they are ultimately accountable for failure, and they certainly need to know the business they are in. If you prove yourself and your department to be a willing and capable partner, you will keep that seat at the table and that is good for everyone. The quality of IT engagement with its company's core activities should not depend on who is in the CIO's chair at any given moment, but rather on the establishment of good governance practices, sound architecture, and effective processes to ensure good communications. It's not magic, and it's not circumstantial; it's the result of discipline and hard work.

The head of an IT department is an important role that may (or may not) be filled by the right person. The best technology can’t ensure victory. How someone or the business perceives you as the CIO is your own responsibility. That perception may (or may not) be fair or even well informed, but you must take a personal approach to improve that perception. If you want a seat at the table, then spend more time knocking on doors and offering to help. If you prove yourself and your department to be a willing and capable partner, you will keep that seat at the table and that is good for everyone.


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