I receive no shortage of advice on how to do my job--research, articles, books, seminars, conferences, boot camps, blogs…the list goes on. I hold a position that must be the most surveyed and over-analyzed on the planet. Every vendor wants to know what keeps me up at night so that it can help me sleep better.
But the most valued advice I receive comes from other CIOs. Their only bias is the same as mine: getting the job done right. It's with this thought in mind that I'll be writing a regular "Dear John" column on InformationWeek.com starting next month. If you want technical, organizational, career, or any other kind of professional advice from a working CIO, send me a Dear John email at email@example.com and I'll answer select ones in my next column.
I promise you this: I'll give it to you straight. Do you work for an overbearing IT director or a line-of-business executive who thinks he knows more about IT than you do? Are you facing an intractable software rollout or upgrade? Do you need guidance on dealing with a specific vendor? Are you a vendor exec who can't figure out why you keep striking out with a particular CIO? Tell me about it and let's see what we can do.
And if you want to offer me advice based on what I've written in one of my Secret CIO columns (access them at informationweek.com/johnmcgreavy), I'm all ears. Maybe we'll solve a problem or two together.
As a premise for my Dear John advice column, here's my overall philosophy: Don't get things done too right, impairing your ability to succeed in the future.
Put another way, if you deliver the goods consistently but too quietly, you may find yourself and your organization taken for granted. This isn't the voice of resentment; it's the voice of experience. And when you're taken for granted, the conditions needed for your success start to change.
If your IT organization is seen as executing each new strategic initiative seamlessly, the job can't really be all that difficult, right? If costs are always in line, services are always delivered on schedule, and emerging technologies are in place just in time, maybe this IT thing is a walk in the park. Maybe you don't need that place at the executive table.
And if you and your organization then become disengaged from executive discussions, you no longer have early visibility into corporate changes. And you're no longer able to inject your influence into the executive process. The result is a slow decay in IT effectiveness. Here's some advice.
1. Communicate near-misses. Make sure all of the top executives know what could have happened if that major IT project had gone sideways. You know how tricky that ERP upgrade was? What would have happened if the database conversions had failed? Billing wouldn't have run the next day, adding how many days to receivables and infuriating how many customers?
2. Compare yourself to competitors. Ask a recent hire from a competitor about the IT systems at his or her former employer. How was the access to information? Were the systems reliable? Was the IT organization responsive? Find weaknesses and make sure your senior management team understands them.
3. Point out other companies' misfortunes. Examples of IT catastrophes are plentiful. Don't revel in them, but use them to your advantage. Create a sense of relief that your company has never felt those kinds of awful, painful experiences under your watch.
4. Describe what can go wrong if strategic IT initiatives aren't handled correctly. A little FUD doesn't hurt from time to time. Do you insource certain key operations? To reinforce your strategy, highlight a few examples where outsourcing of similar operations failed. Help your peers understand the pitfalls you have avoided.
5. Don't expect pats on the back--that's not the point. The point is that the better you and your organization get, the more you may fade into the background. Ensure that there's a clear understanding company-wide of your strategic relevance. It's your job to make sure you and your people are appreciated.
Meantime, email me your questions and problems.
The author, the real-life CIO of a billion-dollar-plus company, shares his experiences under the pseudonym John McGreavy. Got a Secret CIO story of your own to share? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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