Leadership

A CIO's Seat at the Table

The relationship between CIO and CEO is broken.

Concord co-founder Stu Nutting breaks down the conundrum and solves the mystery in true Columbo fashion.

CIOs Need a Seat at the Table

As an owner of a technology consulting company, I have the unique opportunity to talk to the CIOs, CEOs, and other business leaders of large companies frequently.  I ask them all sorts of questions. I like to pretend that I’m Columbo trying to find the smoking gun. Since I’m not very technical myself, nor did I graduate from Harvard Business School, my questions are usually pretty basic:

  • “What are your key business initiatives?”
  • “Where are you finding the greatest return for your money?”
  • “What is bringing your margins down?”
  • “Whose ass did you have to kiss to get this job?”

Just kidding on that last one. I only ask my close friends that. All jokes aside, the answer I get from CIOs to one question in particular often leaves me wondering what the hell is going on – “When all of the execs were out at the summit planning meeting discussing next year’s strategy, what did you say your department would do to help move the needle?”

More often than not, the answer is this: “I wasn’t at the executive summit meeting.”

What? Why not? Were you sick?

“No, I wasn’t invited.”

Well then. Let’s figure out whose fault is that.

“Whose fault? What do you mean, those jerks should have invited me.”

Maybe…but let me ask you this, Mr./Mrs. CIO: When was the last time you stepped into the CEO’s office and said, “Hey, I found a way to show marketing some data that can help them sell more.” or “I’ve been grinding over a business process with our operations leader and I found a workflow that will greatly reduce our labor cost.” In other words, have you been anything other than an order taker?

CEOs Aren’t Off the Hook

Now, I can just hear the CEO reading this and thinking, “Damn straight. My CIO just keeps showing up in my office telling me he needs money to fix problems that we should never have in the first place. Never comes to me with a single idea, just whines about needing a bigger budget to blow money on pointless nonsense.”

Au contraire Mr./Mrs. CEO! You aren’t off the hook here either. It’s safe to assume your 2018 business strategy will require quite a bit of technology investment, but how well is your technology leadership aligned to your business strategy?

“Well, I assume they are aligned. We sent them our business strategy, because they kept asking for it. Mumbled something about needing to make a plan.”

Okay, so do you believe what you want IT to do is realistic and feasible with the staff, budget, and timeline you have in mind?

“It better be! We need our plans completed to stay a step ahead of the competition, otherwise we’ll get our lunch eaten.”

So did you invite IT leadership to be part of the business strategy planning for the year?

“No, why would I? They keep asking my business people questions about why we need the things we request.”

Is it possible they’re trying to understand your strategy and make sure they don’t build you a Rainbow Play System™ when all you wanted was a tire swing in the backyard?

“Well, I guess I wasn’t sure we could even speak the same language.”

Now, obviously, these conversations are exaggerated to get the point across, I know you all are smarter than that, but the relationship between business and IT is fractured and needs to be repaired. If left unattended, it will just cost you money.

The Big Mystery Solved

To the CEOs: Your technology people actually want to deliver for you on time and on budget. Know this, though – technology ain’t easy. It’s actually quite hard connecting systems and making them do all the magic you need them to do. If you never invite the CIO to the table, you will never get what you need. Good IT leaders want to understand the problem you are trying to solve and help you get to the solution faster. If that’s not the case, send them out to pasture.

To the CIOs: You cannot continue to be order takers. You own the ability to make magic. Seek to understand the business in a way that allows you to bring ideas – and value – at the right time. Demand a seat at the table and when you get that seat, don’t spend your time talking about how the sausage is made. You’ll bore them to death and you won’t be invited back. Now, if the business views IT as a necessary evil and you cannot get a seat at the table…move on. They don’t need you. They just need a Commodore 64 and a copy of Oregon Trail.

Bridging the gap between the business and IT isn’t easy, but it starts with you as leaders. You both want the same things – success for your organization and a fat bonus check.

Let Concord know if we can help.