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.

Tony Pagliarulo, Partner, New Vantage Partners

October 17, 2014

5 Min Read

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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About the Author(s)

Tony Pagliarulo

Partner, New Vantage Partners

Tony Pagliarulo is partner and practice leader of IT Transformation at NewVantage Partners.

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