The good folks at Tech Republic gave me the green light to put together an idea I've been mulling for some time: a "Dear Abby" of sorts, targeted to those of us struggling in the management ranks and trenches of corporate IT. While I likely can't help with your marriage, solve problems regarding your intrusive mother-in-law, or provide tips to cure hiccups, I will happily take a stab at your toughest IT strategy challenges.
The rules of the game are simple. Drop me an e-mail at the address in the bio at the end of this article and explain your problem. I'll change your name and any identifying details and will not mention your company name unless you specifically request that I do. I reserve the right to choose whatever submissions tickle my fancy, edit your queries for clarity and brevity, inject some humor into them, and respond to them here, although I will try and let you know if I choose your submission so you can watch for the related article. Without further ado, here comes our first "victim":
Dear IT Strategy Guy,
As CIO, I feel like a B-team player in the boardroom. I'm brought in last for most discussions and get most information secondhand through the CFO, despite supposedly having a dotted-line reporting relationship to the CEO. I hear about the key decisions well after they are made, and in short, I get no respect.
R. Dangerfield, CIO
Dear Mr. Dangerfield,
We've all heard the trite bit of advice that "respect has to be earned," and like most trite adages that our mothers used to tell us, there's an element of truth therein. While there may be a number of factors at work contributing to your lack of respect, usually in this situation it is some combination of these three factors:#1 IT is perceived as having little value.
Even the lowest level employee lacks patience for the people, groups, and tools he or she perceives to provide little value. This is especially the case as you move up the chain, and you must demonstrate increasingly compelling value to get the ear of the key players.
Even if IT works flawlessly, with nary a moment's downtime, it may be perceived as having little value in the eyes of the CIO. In many cases, IT is a utility that deserves as much thought as the overhead light; it simply works when you flick the switch and the CIO hunting around the boardroom looking for accolades plays as well as the ConEdison rep showing up demanding praise.
In this case, spend some time listening to what the key concerns of your peers are. Don't immediately offer technical solutions; rather seek to offer ideas on processes that might help assuage their concerns, where technology is the "special sauce" that makes them all the more effective.#2 You are not demonstrating success (of the right kind).
Related to the above, no one in the C-suite really cares about uptime, data centers, bandwidth, or the like until it presents a problem. Rather than touting the behind-the-scenes metrics that are important to the CIO but few else in the boardroom (unless something goes wrong), seek to share the details of where IT projects helped make a business process or line of business more effective. A CRM system might be marvelous and might have saved a great deal of money, but presumably it also reduced sales lead time, decreased the quote-to-cash collection cycle, or impacted some other metric that is near and dear to the CEO's heart. The IT rags hold ROI as the "holy grail," but most businesses have a handful of other metrics that will instantly perk up the CEO's ear. Ensure that you have fresh "wins" to talk about; no one likes hearing about that last successful implementation six years after it went live.#3 You don't talk the talk.
Ever try and talk with a 13-year-old girl? You're like, so, like, not even speaking the same language, LOL, or something. Similarly, if you are in the C-Suite and regaling your peers with tales of VoIP, clouds, virtualization, and SANs, you will be rapidly tuned out. An odd paradox of the CIO position is that technology and the language of technology is supposed to be second nature, but talk "tech" in the boardroom and you'll be instantly ignored. All this despite the technical language of finance and accounting that is used on a regular basis!
While it may not be fair, the fact of the matter is that you are expected to speak the language of business and couch any technical concepts in that language. You are a translator of sorts, and the most effective CIOs are the ones who can take a complex business problem, identify ways IT can help, and then articulate their strategy in plain business terms. Listen to those around you, adopt their linguistic frame of reference, and get your head out of IT occasionally so you have conversational fodder that matches that of your peers.
PS: You also might want to loosen your tie.
The IT Strategy Guy
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.