CIO’s are not recognized as experts: start acting like an expert

In a new report by Fruition Partners 100 CIO’s in the UK were asked about their opinions and observations in regard to Cloud Computing. In an article on Business Cloud News on this report I’ve found this intriguing quote:

“Over three quarters (78 per cent) of CIOs stated that the rest of the business frequently does not seek their advice when it comes to the procurement of public cloud services, and about one in two CIOs believe their employees are side-stepping their own IT departments and going directly to cloud service providers for application support.”

It doesn’t surprise me that that most CIO’s feel that their IT departments are sidestepped by employees. And the fact that the 78% of the CIO’s are frequently not asked for advice concerning the procurement of IT services doesn’t come as a shock either. There are several factors at play here.

First, most IT departments are working very hard to keep their IT infrastructure and applications working. They have to spend a lot of time and effort on the continuity of the systems by solving problems and upgrading hard- and software. Every week there are new fixes and patches that need to be implemented at once to ward of evil spirits and keep the company safe. With this focus on keeping the systems alive there is not much room for new initiative and to look into alternative ways to support the ever changing user needs. The first reaction of the IT department is to either turn an user initiative down right away (to say No) or to put it on a long list of changes that have a low priority (taking forever in the user mind). In the end the answer that IT will give to an user request is predictable and there is no need to keep asking IT for help.

Second, most IT departments are run in a way that encourages the behavior mentioned above. The CIO reports on IT performance often from a cost-perspective: the money spend on keeping the systems alive. The CIO is not rewarded for renewing his IT services portfolio and for offering IT services that are requested by the business. The CIO is rewarded for running a tight ship, keeping IT costs under control and keeping the IT systems relative stable. Most user requests for new applications or IT services will increase IT costs and will threaten the IT stability. The way IT budgets are managed often gives a good indication how new IT initiatives will be assessed by the CIO.

Third, it is a communication challenge as well. Business users are mostly interested in the functionality that IT services are promising. They are interested in the results, often a little bit influenced by the promises made by marketing department of the providers.The CIO and the IT department are often mostly interested in the technology behind the IT services and how the results are delivered. And most IT departments tend to be a bit skeptical about marketing to begin with. A dialogue between business users and their internal IT department is often a “glass is half-full versus glass is half-empty” discussion.

In short, it is mostly a management and human problem than a technical challenge.The CIO needs to make sure that the role of the IT department is clear to the board, the business and his own staff.The IT department can be a provider of specific services, like the other (cloud) service providers. In which case the IT department should focus on delivering their services in a cost-effective way. And the CIO is than not responsible for IT services which are not provided by his own department. The other service providers are therefore competition and the internal IT department will need to learn some marketing skills in order to compete.

Or, the CIO is responsible for controlling all IT services in use by the business. The IT department will need to focus on learning the IT specific needs for the business and how to deliver the IT services in the best possible way. That might mean that the IT department will outsource IT services or will procure external cloud solutions. I sometimes differentiate between the CIO responsible for IT strategies and policies and the IT director responsible for delivering the IT services.

Depending on the outcome the way the IT spending is organized needs to be aligned. An internal provider will be more of a profit than a cost center. And a CIO that is responsible for all IT needs to be able to show value on the IT investments. In most case the IT department is run as an internal staff department (cost center) while the business they support is expecting their own IT service provider (profit center).. Aligning IT finances to the expected role of the CIO and the IT department will do lots of good to the position of the IT department in the long term.

When the role of the CIO and the IT department is clear, than the second step will be to find a way to have an open dialog with the business on their IT needs. Fruition Partners advise CIO’s to create a Service Catalog. That might be a good medium to focus the dialog, although their is a risk that IT departments will use the Catalog as a shield to hide behind. In the past Gartner advised IT departments to work on their reputation first by using the service desk as a marketing tool. In both cases the key is that the IT department needs to find a way to listen to the business first before they try to solve the situation.

When the CIO wants to be treated as an expert in his field, than he needs to act like an expert. An expert is a servant to his client and find ways to help his clients answer their questions. Unfortunate for the CIO is expertise not something you can claim but that is recognized. The business that will ask the CIO for his expertise before they will consult an external provider will have seen the expertise of the CIO in how he deals with their questions. I admit that there is more risk in allowing the business to by pass you when they haven’t acknowledged your expertise as CIO yet. As the survey by Fruition Partners shows, the business is already doing that..





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