Talk the talk - are CIOs up to scratch as communicators?

The modern guardians of corporate intelligence might just be too guarded...

IT leaders, as true business executives, need to dedicate time to managing relationships carefully

IT leaders, as true business executives, need to dedicate time to managing relationships carefullyPhoto: Shutterstock

The CIO's job is by definition all about information. But on a personal level, just how good are they at communicating? Mark Samuels reports.

The clue is in the job title - the CIO's role is all about information. A great IT leader manages data to create useful intelligence for the business.

Such knowledge is the lifeblood of the organisation. Executives across different lines of business can use up-to-date information to make crucial decisions about internal projects and external customer-facing services.

Malcolm Simpkin, CIO of Aviva, agrees with the sentiment that the IT leader plays a crucial role in helping to create intelligence for the business. The information-aware CIO, he says, is more than simply a necessary executive evil.

"The IT leader has much more of a role to play in leading business," he says. "I think senior people in the business see the digital world as an advantage but also think of it as a bit of a mythical beast."

The persistence of such mythology might seem surprising because IT leaders have worked hard to detach themselves from the corporate view of technology in the 1980s, where the technology organisation was viewed as an untouchable ivory tower. Modern, social IT is all about collaboration.

But as the contemporary guardians of corporate intelligence, are CIOs too guarded? Do IT leaders communicate sufficiently with their internal and external peers? Simpkin is not convinced.

"Because of competition, I wonder whether we, as CIOs, share enough information," he says. "Do we talk about opportunities and benefits for the potential of customers and the industry? There's probably lots of stuff taking place internally and externally that could help us, and which we don't know about. It's a business issue."

Importance of open dialogue

Simpkin is not alone in believing CIOs can be a little too guarded. Mark Foulsham, head of IT and operations at insurance firm esure, also believes IT leaders probably do not share enough information: "And I'm not necessarily any better than my peers, but I do believe in open dialogue," he says.

"If you want to do well, you have to understand the issues at hand and know why people make decisions. You need to build a strong internal network with your peers across the industry."

Foulsham tries to meet up with one of his CIO peers at least once a month. When such two-way knowledge exchanges take place, Foulsham says discussions normally lead to at least half a dozen good ideas.

"If I'm interested in a topic, I'll look for a specialist peer who can offer advice," he says. "The danger of not networking is that...