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Reviving the CEO relationship with his IT Heads

By Glen Francis –President, Ideation Edge Asia, Ng Tiong Gee– (CIO) SVP, IT, Engineering and Estate Management, Ideation Edge Asia

Reviving the CEO relationship with his IT Heads

Glen Francis –President, Ideation Edge Asia, Ng Tiong Gee– (CIO) SVP, IT, Engineering and Estate Management, Ideation Edge Asia

We know that technology is the future for nations, organizations and individual productivity. We see a vast majority of the human population using technology on a day to day basis. Yet, a vast majority of these individuals, many of whom work for corporations, do not care about their IT (information technology) function. Is this of any surprise?

We see companies moving their Head of IT roles to a CFO, a COO, or other lines of functions. If we agree that technology is the future of society and if a company wants to remain competitive and not be disrupted, why does the CEO not want a crucial role to be reporting to him? He could make a world of difference for the company, grow the business in new ways, streamline business costs using tools, enter new markets, innovate, and so on...why, is he not interested in IT?

A CEO shared that his CIO only knows how to spend money. His IT department had spent millions of dollars a year. However his CIO could not demonstrate the value that it brings to the business. When pressed for more clarity and details, he was presented with a deck of over 100 slides detailing system architecture and implementation details, which he had no interest in. What he required from the CIO is in fact very simple, he did not require a 100 slide presentation but would rather be informed in fewer slides that explain to him the business value, how it can help in the business in business terms and not 'geek talk'.

There are organizations and employees (non-IT) who struggle to appreciate the value of the internal IT organization and the use of technology to enhance their business operations, to help with innovation and business growth. Similarly many IT employees have not helped themselves as they struggle to explain how IT can help their company besides doing the basics - laundry 101 – of keeping their machinery working, clothes cleaned and then ironed. IT heads struggle to make themselves relevant to their business because they do not know how to or want to engage with their non-IT colleagues. At times living in one’s IT world is a good one as vendors treat us well. Why bother with other colleagues who do not care about what you do. 

There is also an expectation gap. CEOs want their IT heads to lead and tell them what is needed. IT heads prefer to wait for directions, and when they do engage, they talk in terms that their CEO might not appreciate. “We have to do cloud, big data, analytics, we got to have this mobile app, our storage and networks need an upgrade, etc”. We probably have all but 30 seconds of the CEO’s attention. 

Having said the above, this is not true of all companies or leaders we have met. 

There are technology savvy CEOs, there are IT functions that report in to the CEO, there are CIOs and IT heads, who are business savvy and are able to engage well with their colleagues across function. There are CEOs who understand how to leverage technology to the advantage of the business. He knows what he wants and if his IT head cannot meet his need, he replaces him with someone who can. 

"There are organizations and employees (non-IT) who struggle to appreciate the value of the internal IT organization and the use of technology to enhance their business operations, to help with innovation and business growth."

What could be done to strengthen ties and form lasting relationships between the CEO and his "CIO"? This is a symbiotic relationship. CEOs who fail to appreciate how technology can help their business WILL be disrupted. CIOs who fail to engage with their CEOs will have their careers disrupted. 

There are companies that recognise that CIOs need to play a more strategic role. In fact some have started to have a COO of IT to look after operational aspects of IT, freeing up the CIO to concentrate on engaging the business and working on strategic business initiatives. Whether this will become the future of IT functions depend very much on how the CIOs engage their CEOs.

To the CEO

  • Take interest in technology and learn from competition how technology can be harness to innovate;
  • Relook your relationship with your CIO and begin to re-engage;
  • Get involved with your CIO and work with start-ups for ideas;
  • Leverage your IT to check for new ideas;
  • Develop clear business goals for your IT to achieve;
  • Where CIOs lack the business or finance skills, groom them with training. 

To the CIO (Head of IT)

  • IT needs to start being creative by thinking outside the box;
  • Always have an inquisitive mind to learn soft skills
  • Be active and join professional associations to network and practice your engagement skills;
  • Join the Boards of companies to practice facilitation and putting your skills of influence to practice; 
  • Be open to learn from IT leaders who have done well;
  • Pick up the sales skills from your vendors;
  • Learn the language of business.

With most businesses going through a digital transformation, there has never been a better time for CIOs to prove his value as a business leader. He needs to be able to execute all the points listed above and more. The tasks might be daunting, but the rewards and satisfaction that come will be outsized.

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