Lacking In Communication

IT has always
been over-managed but under-directed. This fact by itself accounts
for at least 80% of the problems I’m defining as the disconnect.
Many CEOs acknowledge that strategic business objectives have not
always been carefully communicated. Many have neglected to consult
their IT staffs until after they have formulated such strategies.
Others have been unwilling to acknowledge that IT occupies a central
role in fulfilling these objectives-or that a growing number of
technical executives do operate with the big picture in mind. For
their part, many technical executives have not developed the
business and communication skills that would enable them to
communicate more effectively with CEOs. While acknowledging their
limitations, these technical executives have pleaded for an
enlightened attitude among CEOs and a place at the strategic
planning table, where they can gain the insight necessary to answer
the fundamental question for IT-What business are we in, and what
can we do to maximize our value to that business?

[Dialogue]
CIO: You know, it’s at time like this, when I’m six months
behind on the project, with no clue what to do and the company
depending on me, that I really wish I’d listened to what my father
told me when I was young.
CEO: Why? What did he tell you?
CIO: Excuse me. Did you say something? I wasn’t listening.

One classic
indication that IT is too self-centered and is not supporting the
company’s business objectives is the user’s perception that IT is
playing an obstructionist, rather than an assisting, role. IT must
acknowledge what users want, not just give them what IT believes
they need. This means responding to user requests with choices
rather than restrictions. Even when user requests are not feasible,
IT must provide alternatives and solutions instead of reasons,
however technologically astute, why the requested project is not
feasible.

[Speech to
CEOs]

There’s enough blame to go around
If CEOs stay at their average level of ignorance about IT, they are
doomed to failure.
Why expect your CIO to understand your business-or even business as
a concept-when you yourself have reached maturity and never bothered
to understand the simplest aspects of technology? If blame must be
assigned, it might be best shared.
When you hired your CIO, did you ask how IT improved profitability
at the CIO’s last workplace? Did you ask if the CIO identifies as a
technologist or a businessperson? Did you inform the CIO that his or
her principal responsibility would be to the bottom line, or did you
merely murmur in assent when he or she talked about great changes,
the technological cutting edge?

Did you ask if
the candidate had ever taken a new assignment and stated that
everything looked in order, and recommended nothing be changed?
Don’t be surprised if few CIO candidates are able to admit to
accepting the status quo. Revolution is the constantly uttered
byword of IT.

[Anecdote]
PC Potemkim Village
One of CA’s regional sales managers recounted an experience that
still makes me shake my head in knowing disbelief.
It was in the late eighties, when he was closing a major sale at a
large consumer products organization in the Midwest. The group
concluding the negotiations was invited to the office of the CEO of
the company. The sales manager was amazed to see a glittering,
state-of-the-art PC on the polished teak credenza behind the desk of
the executive. He was duly impressed, not only by the fact that the
executive had a PC, but also because it was such a powerful model.

At a moment
when the others were busy reviewing a document elsewhere in the
large office, the sales manager peeked behind the credenza. He was
looking for the presence of twisted-pair cable, evidence that the PC
was connected to a network, going into the wall.
But what he saw amazed him and told him a lot about the
organization. The PC of the CEO of a $5 billion company was devoid
of a single cable. It wasn’t even plugged in. Completely
inoperative, the system was only for show.

What are the
most common complaints CEOs have about CIOs? What are the most
common criticisms CIOs whisper about CEOs? I decided to see if I
could answer these questions. Using an informal, decidedly
nonscientifc approach, I simply asked the next 200 CEOs and CIOs I
spoke to. There were just two conditions. First, I asked them to be
specific in their criticism. "Oh, he just doesn’t
understand!" is not criticism, it’s blame. I have no use for
blame. Second, I promised anonymity. After a full year of
questioning, I have come up with the following short list of the
most common symptoms of the disconnect.

First, let’s
look at the complaints CEOs make about CIOs. The CEOs had little use
for CIOs who:

  • Communicate
    in technical terms instead of business terms.
  • Lose sight
    of the business when dealing with technological decisions.
  • Were
    ignorant of the company’s customers and didn’t keep them in mind
    when setting up large, internal information systems.
  • Fail to
    protect the CEO from IT vendors.
  • Don’t keep
    key systems operational.
  • Harbor
    judgments that nontechnical people, such as most CEOs, are
    pitiful.

Next, let’s
consider what complaints CIOs have about their CEOs. The CIOs had
little use for CEOs who:

  • Are not
    comfortable sharing strategic objectives.
  • Resist
    having the CIO as a direct report.
  • Refuse to
    explore how computer technology can help solve business
    problems.
  • Persist in
    thinking of IT only for automating accounting functions.
  • Neglect to
    consider technology managers for added business
    responsibilities.
  • Treat
    information technical professionals as less than equals.
  • Are too
    insecure to ask technical questions for fear of appearing
    ignorant.
  • Are not
    prepared to consider their colleagues managing IT as peers.

Five
tips for the CIOs

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