Whatever pundits may say about the importance of social media for successful interaction, CIOs have very different views about good communication. Mark Samuels reports.
CIOs know that you are going to get left behind if you are simply an IT director who's good with technology. Technology chiefs who make a real and lasting contribution at the executive level are able to communicate the benefits of IT in terms the business can understand. The successful CIO is now, more than ever before, the communicative CIO.
"I network with a lot of CIOs and I see that the successful IT leaders are socially adept and communicative," says John Adey, chief operating officer and CIO at Star Technology Services.
"The best IT leaders have business influence because of their soft skills - if you can influence people, your technical skills won't matter. A lot of IT people come up through a technical background but the successful CIOs are business-savvy; they talk about benefits not technology."
So how does that communication become manifest in day-to-day leadership? For Mark Foulsham, who is head of IT at insurer esure, great communication relies on a commitment to interaction without the need for design by committee. Foulsham implements change and simply has no choice but to engage with the business.
His method for preventing a long and winding route to transformation is a one stop shop for business change, including analysis and testing. This method of interaction means the business "doesn't have to suck resources when change projects are on the horizon", says Foulsham.
Avoiding design by committee
IT decisions at esure are then made quickly and over-elaboration is strictly avoided. Rather than relying on design by committee, Foulsham tries to create an approach that leads to prompt and successful change: "It's all about breaking holding patterns; I want to land the plane and move on," he says.
"We work in a hugely competitive and dynamic industry. If you're not careful, the business will get overtaken and lose the initiative; I always think that it's better to deliver a partial benefit early. Clever architecture allows you to create early benefits and then scale up. We have a culture of 'suck it and see' - we evaluate while we're trying to get the benefits and we're not afraid to pull a failing project."
Other senior executives would concur with Foulsham's approach. Top-notch IT leaders understand what the business requires and will not be fixated on technology as an end in itself. The communicative IT leader will be able to be flexible and demonstrate how a change in business processes can increase competitiveness.
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Mark Samuels is a business journalist and editor at IT leadership organisation CIO Connect. He has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Government Computing and Times Higher Education.