Secret CIO: Time For Technology Leaders To Get Nosy

If you're in a senior technology function, you must have, or develop, a genuine interest in various business disciplines.
The expanding role of the CIO is a hot topic in management consulting and academic circles. While this expansion may not be formal within your company, bet on the fact that change is under way. I feel it. The opportunities for my CIO peers and I to stick our noses into others' business are growing every day.

Fortunately, I have a genuine interest in many business areas. If you're in a senior technology function, I hope you have or can develop such an interest. You need it--now.

Maybe you can fake it. I suspect that feigning interest is a decent approach and will get you more influence in a particular line of business. But then it's pretty easy, and embarrassing, when you're inevitably called out.

Here are a few areas where I'm getting more involved.

Our customers and potential customers are industrial companies, and we're late in establishing connections to them via social media and other Web channels. Vic, our VP of marketing, realizes that much of the global business community's marketing efforts are moving in this direction. And for our young guns in marketing, who grew up on Facebook and now Twitter and use Google in place of personal knowledge, that's just a given. Vic and I are now working together to understand how these customers learn, shop, and buy online.

You might think this is really a marketing play, and as the CIO, I should simply enable access to the appropriate platforms. But this isn't the approach we're taking. Online search is evolving daily. Understanding the technical implications of authority and indexability, for example, is relevant. Creating digital media in a way that can be efficiently managed and accessed from many different entry points requires well-designed data architectures. Different rendering platforms, from smartphones to tablets to PCs, require different content design and branding approaches. A close partnership with marketing is a must if we're to be successful in this area.

I'm also sticking my nose into our HR director's business. A new recruiting strategy is on Rich's to-do list, and I can help him with that. Is LinkedIn part of that strategy? What about commercial e-recruiting technologies and services? Should we integrate all of those directly with our HRIS? Are we using any social listening tools to find out what our employees and customers are saying about us?

Our customer service organization now relies on GPS-based technologies to get the right technicians to the right clients. A few years ago this was all done on paper. This afternoon, I will be meeting with Sandra, our VP of client care, to explain how location-aware and event-based real-time alert systems can take our service to another level.

While Sandra is a customer service wizard, location-based technologies are entirely new to her. I need to help her see the possibilities, and she needs to help me understand key drivers of customer satisfaction.

If you're a vendor in our industry, consider my evolving role as you look for ways to build your business with me and my organization. I may not need help with your products; I may need a better understanding of manufacturing fundamentals. Or I may need to quickly learn the intricacies of foreign exchange hedging or reverse auction bidding. Our conversations need to change.

Sticking my nose into others' business is becoming a career-building move. And I have the right nose for the job.

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 [email protected].

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