3 Common & Costly CIO Mistakes - InformationWeek
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IT Leadership // CIO Insights & Innovation
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10/17/2014
09:06 AM
Tony Pagliarulo
Tony Pagliarulo
Commentary
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3 Common & Costly CIO Mistakes

CIOs are often undone by sticking with old systems too long and failing to market themselves. Here's how to right the ship.

CIOs continue to be under massive pressure to innovate and deliver new technologies that boost the bottom line. Simultaneously, they must improve legacy systems and infrastructure and make sure they have a talented and motivated IT staff.

No wonder CIOs feel as if they are juggling chain saws while walking a tight rope. They're so focused on critical projects or keeping basic services running that they often make crucial mistakes, many of which can be career-enders. 

[Digital initiatives are where the action is. Read How IT Can Spur Digital Innovation]

Drawing upon personal experience and dozens of conversations with current and ex-CIOs, here are some of the top CIO mistakes and how you can correct or, even better, avoid them.

CIOs stay married to technology for too long
Technology projects tend to be time-consuming, complex, and very expensive. So once a company has made a large investment in infrastructure or deployed a complex application, it often stays wedded to that technology too long and resists looking at alternatives. 

Tech-savvy customers and users expect more now. Aside from the BYOD buzz, CIOs need to find new ways to improve the user experience while balancing cost, complexity, and security. For example, although it might seem easier to stick with your legacy on-premises messaging platform (which vendors will encourage), you might be better served with a cloud-based collaboration platform that combines messaging, voice, video, and social capabilities. 

The larger question is: Does your company have a dynamic IT strategy and technology roadmap aligned to your business strategy, or have you fallen so far behind that you don't know how to catch up? Frank Modruson, former CIO at consulting giant Accenture, says, "The key is to start and end with the business; your IT strategy has to have business buy-in and needs to stay fresh."

Your technology roadmap must always factor in changing business requirements and allow for experimentation and pilots. 

IT loses touch with users 
Typically, CIOs take direction from senior management and cater to their needs and priorities. Pleasing your boss is one thing, but losing sight of users' and customers' needs is quite another. All too soon, user dissatisfaction makes its way quickly back up the management chain.

The ubiquity of technology, and its easy access and instant gratification, has dramatically increased IT business users' expectations. 

Global organizations often have a distributed workforce with over 80% of users in remote or home offices interacting only with corporate IT through the help desk or a company-provisioned device. Given this disconnect, it's not surprising that one such company's annual employee survey results highlighted a lack of effective IT tools and technology. But senior management and the CIO were shocked by these results because they had recently invested tens of millions rolling out a new unified communications platform. The disconnect was big enough to end that CIO's career with the company.   

IT groups need to proactively measure all of their consumers' sentiments and act on them. Simple surveys are a great way to measure the community's IT pulse. One CIO created a blog and social platform where she shared her strategy and challenges and responded to user posts. And defenders in the business often rose to contradict negative posts.

Failure to market and communicate IT's value 
The CIO's failure to create a formal IT marketing and communications plan is a major problem. Let's face it, many CIOs and their leadership teams have grown up in technology and aren't comfortable marketing and communicating the value of IT. CIOs are also concerned that marketing their successes too strongly will end in a backlash if a project fails.

CIOs and their teams are also usually too busy to proactively communicate with key stakeholders and with the user base. Although they're never going to make everybody happy, when CIOs try to communicate IT's strategy, show some wins, and are transparent when things go wrong, users are more understanding and supportive. 

CIOs can use an effective marketing campaign to build a positive brand and also use it to motivate the IT staff. To win, this IT marketing plan should contain:

  • IT strategy. The strategy needs to reflect the company’s business strategy and must look out three years. It should be translated into the business jargon of the company and/or industry. Most importantly, keep it simple.
  • Technology roadmaps. Publish your annual technology roadmap and broadcast it to your users. Update it quarterly and reflect key deliverables and milestones. For example, if you are rolling out a new UC system, focus on new features and highlight benefits for users. Get ongoing feedback through surveys or online communities.
  • Metrics. Publish a set of simple quantitative and qualitative metrics. For example, what's the availability of critical systems, quarterly CSAT results, etc.? You should even share cost benchmarks to compare your IT organization to peers. Being transparent and acknowledging mistakes as well as successes will go a long way to establishing creditability.

Will your IT organization's brand and reputation stand up to these challenges? The bad news is that, in many cases, the answer will be no. The good news is that these are problems you can tackle and turn around. The sooner you start, the sooner you avoid becoming another shocked, ex-CIO.

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Tony Pagliarulo is partner and practice leader of IT Transformation at NewVantage Partners. View Full Bio
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SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
10/28/2014 | 11:03:34 PM
Re: Left behind while standing still
"I totally agree, it is more than just saying "this needs to change", a CIO needs to understand how that change will affect people and be able to evaluate if it is going to make things better or worse.  Sometimes the tech leaders are look to in the name of updating systems but if you update the systems and the people using them aren't up to speed you're going to cause some damage. "

But then there could be proper damage control. When smartphones were introduced people went "well why on earth would we need a smartphone that can automatically read out our messages when we command it to?" but now the sales of smartphones have eclipsed the sales of normal phones.

Damage control when introducing a new technology is a CIO's job, because he's the executive officer of the IT and he must be aware of what can go wrong in a particular strategy.
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
10/28/2014 | 10:59:16 PM
Re: Benchmarking with peers
"This is very interesting. Most of the CIO's forget to align their strategies with the company strategies and fall in to trouble.  "

@shamika: Just like the path Nadella took was wobbly at first, but now he seems to have picked himself up. CIO's have a risky job to manage, because they must work in tandem with the industry standards while pushing the enterprise to innovation.

From Wikipedia:

"As the CIO has a large number of responsibilities such as provision of finance, recruitment of professionals and development of policy and strategy, the risks are consequently vast. The CIO of U.S company Target was forced into resignation in 2014 after the theft of 40 million credit card details and 70 million customer details by hackers. CIOs carry out a large number of roles and therefore the chance of failure is very high. In this way, any CIO must be knowledgeable about the industry so they can adapt and reduce the chance of error. It is this high risk factor that places the role of Chief Information Officer as one of the highest paid IT/Business jobs."

 
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
10/24/2014 | 3:34:19 AM
Re: Benchmarking with peers
This is very interesting. Most of the CIO's forget to align their strategies with the company strategies and fall in to trouble.  
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
10/24/2014 | 3:10:51 AM
Re: Benchmarking with peers
I agree with you and I have similar kind of experience. They always try and cater the top level requirements rather than understanding the exact business need.
BruceHarpham
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BruceHarpham,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/23/2014 | 9:42:10 AM
Benchmarking with peers
Tony, I like the concept you suggest here:

" You should even share cost benchmarks to compare your IT organization to peers."

How can one do this? For example, imagine you are the CIO of Wells Fargo. How would you obtain comparable cost benchmarks from other large financial institutions? How would this be done as a private company?
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
10/21/2014 | 7:17:23 AM
Re: Left behind while standing still
I totally agree, it is more than just saying "this needs to change", a CIO needs to understand how that change will affect people and be able to evaluate if it is going to make things better or worse.  Sometimes the tech leaders are look to in the name of updating systems but if you update the systems and the people using them aren't up to speed you're going to cause some damage.  
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
10/20/2014 | 9:10:05 AM
Re: Left behind while standing still
And then there's the people factor in such a change, SaneIT. Changing to a cloud collaboration system, for example, might mean you're asking people who ran systems hands on to now spend more time coaching end users on how to get the most out of the new capabilities. Those are different skills, and CIOs need to be transparent and realistic about how they're asking people to change. 
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
10/20/2014 | 7:54:50 AM
Re: Left behind while standing still
Knowing the difference is where a CIO can be truly effective.

Agreed, SaneIT. A strong CIO can help the enterprise evaluate where it makes sense to replace a system versus keeping one in place.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
10/20/2014 | 7:52:12 AM
Re: Left behind while standing still
To the point of sunk costs and always looking for better options I think there is a bit of a balancing act required.  Yes you should always be looking for better systems than you currently have but you will run into times where what you have is the best option for right now and changing for the sake of change is just doing to be damaging.  Anyone can go in and say system Y needs to be replaced because it causes a bottleneck but often enough I see that system replaced with one that isn't any better it is just different.  Knowing the difference is where a CIO can be truly effective.  
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
10/19/2014 | 8:39:05 PM
Re: Left behind while standing still
Those are major challenges, SachinEE. I'd agree that IT is often plagued by market changes (new technology comes and goes multiple times per day) and communication (that is a very common problem). As for managing, there are good and bad managers in IT, as well as in any other field.
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