Last month, I did an informal online poll to get feedback on what I believe are the top mistakes CIOs make. I based this list in part on errors I've made during my career, as well as those made by my peers in the field.
The following are what I consider to be the top mistakes made by CIOs.
Trusts a vendor
Thinks responsibility is delegated
Not connected to the business needs
Thinks social is a fad
Overpromises and underdelivers
Prices themselves out of a job
Makes assumptions about capabilities
Any CIOs in the crowd will recognize some or all of the above as errors senior IT people make that hinder business goals. But I'll note that, on my poll, one humorous individual chose "Other" and wrote in the answer: "Waste time on useless polls." That gave me a laugh, but perhaps it rings true, considering that only 18 individuals chose to vote at all -- while almost 500 took the time to view the poll.
Nevertheless, I found it enlightening that half the respondents chose "Not connected to the business needs" as their top choice. That was my No. 1 choice, too, as I firmly believe the enterprise is at risk when there's a lack of connection between business goals and IT. In fact, a Google search demonstrates there are more than 1.6 million hits on the topic, making it clear there's still a big, gaping hole between IT and the business for many. This is troubling, as it's now more important than ever for business and IT to be aligned, considering both sides are evolving at ever-rapid rates.
But while that one may be the top mistake, all of the errors listed above are ones CIOs often struggle with, and they're weak points individuals must overcome in order to lead the IT division effectively and best serve the business. So let's address them.
Trusts a vendor: A great CIO will always ask questions of vendors and request contract alterations when necessary. Think ahead and plan accordingly when investing in software and services for your enterprise.
Thinks responsibility is delegated: The CIO role is not just a technical one, nor are CIOs simply IT directors anymore. CIOs who want to be treated like leaders must act like leaders. They must set priorities and strategy and not make the mistake of waiting to be told what to do.
Not connected to the business needs: As noted above, IT and business goals should always (especially today) be aligned.
Thinks social is a fad: Any CIO who still thinks of social media as the enemy is putting him/herself, and the company, at a disservice. Take it from me, a reformed "anti-social" IT guy: CIOs must embrace social, recognize its benefits, and leverage it to better suit business goals.
Overpromises and underdelivers: This is, of course, something any business leader wants to avoid. Rather than fall into this trap, establish what the business problems are in advance, and then set realistic goals in trying to solve them.
Prices themselves out of a job: The job market isn't what it used to be, and surveys show CIO salary in particular has taken a hit. As Kim Davis wrote in a recent blog on Internet Evolution, "Compared with 2010, total compensation in 2011 was eroded by reductions in bonuses, stock options, and benefits, while salary itself stayed relatively flat." CIOs should expect this or risk getting overlooked for a position.
Makes assumptions about capabilities: How often have you lost a skill or ability that was specific to an associate, or made an assumption about a past capability only to find out that the process or tools were replaced, or licenses were canceled? By not being in the front lines as an IT leader, how you apply a past capability will change as you put trust in others and allow them to evolve that skill. Make sure you always understand what your team is capable of today, and not make the assumptions about how you used to handle something.
All in all, the CIO who can avoid making these critical errors will be in a better position to lead the IT division and, in turn, be a successful business leader.
Kichenko, I don't think the right answer is selling an idea to teh CFO, but rather see it as partnering with teh CFO to ensure that the organization delivers measurable benefit at an appropriate cost.
The detail is what gets most CFO's so again stay away from the techno babble and discuss it as a business problem. When there is a difference between needing cash and giving cash, that's when the CEO may wish to get invloved as ultimately that role owns the primary risk manager role for the firm.
Kim, Thanks for your comments. I couldn't agree more with the message about selecting the right people to be in the CEO's network of trust to oversee the specific areas of the business.
Perhaps that makes sense in a smaller arena that the CEO be broad in the skill sets, but as a firm gets larger the CEO has beeter things to do than worry about HR, Admin, or iT parts of their business.
I think it re-inforces the message that if the CIO can make his/her way through with Techno Babble so others go along not wanting to seem out of touch, then that CIO is a good mechanic and not a leader and shouldn't be the CIO.
The problem of overpromising and underdelivering is a particularly tricky one. I've listened to one CIO give an account of his experience on the job at a fairly large organization. He stated that most of the things he was unable to deliver was as a result of not being allocated sufficient funds. Hence he was always at war with the finance director, and felt he was his obstacle. I don't know how this plays in but it looks like one of the things a CIO must master is selling ideas to the CFO.
I certainly believe that there are many CEOs who delegate technology, HR, etc. - but isn't that what a good CEO should so, assuming the tasks are being delegated to good people, with all due benchmarking and accountability. I am sure nobody would advocate the opposite situation -- the busybody CEO who tries to be hands-on everywhere.
I definitely agree about the drawbacks of a CIO who doesn't understand the business. However, what's worse is one who thinks he/she understands.
In fact, with any support organization, I ask that first and foremost, they do no harm. It's the business version of Star Trek's Prime Directive.
CIOs cause harm when they make decisions in the best interest of the CIO, not in the best interest of the business they support. Our previous CIO didn't understand our business drivers, but made decisions that benefitted the enterprise in general. Unfortunately, that meant decisions that made it easier for support organizations to affect policy rather than actually support the business.
For instance, CIOs, along with HR, often craft a social media policy that usually is website permission policy. Ours blocks access iTunes and the business benefits of having access to iTunes. In our election office, many candidate websites are blocked by ITS because they fit the porn filter (drum and cymbal noise here, but still a real issue).
Or, a hardware standardization process that favors Dell because Dell was very good at worming into government accounts 15 years ago and not because the pricing or availability of hardware is competitive.
Worse is the CIO who is not an uber-technologist. You need a business mind above a technical mind as any senior officer, I think, but the CIO should be pulling the organization, not being pulled.
What if, for instance, Steve Job just wanted a cell phone for emergencies?
Speaking of Apple, our previous CIO and his leadership team refused to address a usability issue in our site with Safari in 2008 becuase they really didn't see Safari being a browser anyone would use. (The iPhone, by the way, had already been released).
So, yes, to a degree I'm riding the CIO bitter train, but I think this column could be changed to say the Top Mistakes CEOs make when it comes to CIOs, and the first thing would be to delegate technology.
CEOs who do this already delegate HR, finance, and other decisions to "the experts," and there are more CEOs like this than you might think.
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Technology is not a strategic asset to any organization. Find that hard to swallow? Let me explain. You can be in the same business as I am in. You can buy the same software from my partner and buy the same hardware, but it is the people and processes that make each organization unique.
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