I never gave my grade school English teacher a present because we didn't get along. Other kids did though, going far beyond apples and candy. I always thought they were cheapos and fakes – traitors to the youth cause.
Why, then, would I encourage my IT kin to spend hard-earned cash on trinkets to impress our information supremos? Well for one simple and subtle reason -- with luck, you're giving to get something far more valuable in return.
[CIOs can learn from Consumerization 2.0 issues like shadow IT and BYOD. Read Hey CIOs, Stop Saying 'No' To Consumer Tech]
Before calling me a teacher's pet, let me present my own inexpensive apples:
#1 Healthy tech fruit. This falls into the category of stuff you actually want yourself -- like a bowling ball, fishing rod, or a spa treatment -- but the potential reward is well worth the rebuke. One great "piece of fruit" a developer friend of mine recently gave as a gift to his CIO was a Raspberry PI -- that credit card-sized, single-board computer designed to teach basic computer science in schools.
Before long, the bemused CIO presented the device back into the eager hands of my friend, with an extra spoken gift: "See what your team can make of this." Naturally being smart, she took it and the directive, initiating a "disruptive tech fight club" to stimulate app dev creativity and improve team morale.
The last I'd heard the security team had joined the club and were looking at embedded device and Internet of things related security issues. Not a bad result for a $35 investment.
#2 Something cool to wear. Ok, buying something like a $150+ Pebble watch isn't exactly cheap. But what if you "gift wrap" the device with a couple of simple business apps that your development team create using secure APIs? For example, show off an app to provide alerts for key business services underpinned by IT. Now you're demonstrating that you see practical applications across the enterprise. Go further by integrating the technology with your businesses products and services. Who knows? You might just have helped your beleaguered CIO create a whole new line of business.
#3 An open invitation. By this I don't mean entertaining your bosses in your own home -- not unless you're a real corporate ladder-climber with great soufflé making skills and a couple of really charming kids. Nope, I mean inviting your CIO into your own workplace. Even thirty minutes at the IT support coal-face (help desk) will help IT leaders understand much more about IT service management than any collection of reports, surveys, and whiz-bang dashboards.
It doesn’t have to end with customer support. Why not invite them to a 15-minute agile sprint for a taste of business stakeholder engagement, or a mobile threat analysis session to see first-hand the new types of security issues facing your business?
#4 A book before bedtime. CIOs might not have much time to read, so be careful with this one. Personally I'd avoid lengthy tomes like What Makes a Great CIO Leader? or IT Governance in 50 Easy Steps, and consider short insightful reads.
For example, one CIO friend of mine complained that she was tired of IT vendors bombarding her with tech terms and jargon, so I gave her a copy of On Bullshit, by philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt. In another case a colleague couldn't get his head around DevOps (there are many who can't), so I suggested The Phoenix Project and The Goal -- both great novels that perfectly illustrate (in both IT and business contexts) how team collaboration and coordination are key to removing constraints, bottlenecks, and development delays.
#5 Fun toys. Finally, the cheapest of the cheap is to present your CIO with amusing novelty items. These could be any free giveaways you grabbed from your last trade show, like cloud-shaped stress balls, garish T-shirts, or even garden gnomes. (Funny the lengths vendors go to get your attention at a conference.) Sure, they're not particularly useful (if you discount washing the car with the T-shirt), but might provide a humorous interlude for the stressed-out executive.
Great CIOs don't expect gifts. They won't need invites, tech toys, good reads, trinkets, and tchotchkes. On the contrary, they should be providing the presents -- business insight and support wrapped in tech savvy. If they're not doing this, resorting to gift-giving won't get you anywhere. In that case, save your cash and maybe start looking for a new leader.
Engage with Oracle president Mark Hurd, NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle, General Motors CIO Randy Mott, Box founder Aaron Levie, UPMC CIO Dan Drawbaugh, GE Power CIO Jim Fowler, and other leaders of the Digital Business movement at the InformationWeek Conference and Elite 100 Awards Ceremony, to be held in conjunction with Interop in Las Vegas, March 31 to April 1, 2014. See the full agenda here.