Fight or flight?

Fight or flight?

The new chief executive has a dim view of IT and its value to the business. We ask three CIOs whether it's time to build bridges or look for another job.

THE SCENARIO A management restructure in your organisation includes the appointment

of a new chief executive officer. As information chief, you have held

your own, delivering some innovative business and consumer services in

recent years. But you get the distinct impression the new boss doesn't

look favourably on information technology. You have invested a lot of

time and effort in your job and are considering your options. Do you

try harder to sell yourself and your team to the new CEO or admit

defeat and cut and run?

Tony Pollock

Chief Information Officer

Angus Knight

This type of scenario is becoming increasingly common as strategic

chief information officers follow the investment curve of their


IT is in a continual state of evolution that has recently begun to

accelerate. Factors such as the growth of dynamic business systems,

migration towards a service-based economy and the commoditisation of

many traditional business services are contributing to its


Today, strategic CIOs are being asked to show quantifiable value from

IT investments, often a company's largest capital investment. IT is

expected to generate innovative business services, improve internal

collaborative capabilities and support dynamic business systems. IT

must now be run as a business with a service-delivery focus.

Yet while IT has become integral to the success of many companies, the

ability to articulate its value has remained elusive. One possible

explanation is that a conscious and concerted approach to managing IT

from a service-oriented business perspective has been lacking.

CIOs need to help the CEO justify reshaping the organisation to

include the chief technologist among the top decision-makers. To do

this and to participate in the company's agenda setting, the

information chief has to learn to frame technology solutions in an

enterprise construct and to balance them against other business


CIOs can't argue for technology in a vacuum; they must champion it

through comparison with other options the company has, and by using

expertise to describe the transformational opportunities specific to

the organisation. They must articulate the core technology vision. How

and what flows from this vision will affect the business' financial

and operating performance.

Chief information officers also need to acknowledge that the chief

executive has to look beyond the requirements of the company's IT

infrastructure and, to that end, CIOs must know business.

By failing to separate IT service from IT strategy - and comprehending

that the CIO is ultimately responsible for both - chief executives

often grow frustrated with their chief technologists, confused as to

whether they should be asked to provide utility or something more

critical. Information chiefs need to manage both, and for the

relationship between CEO and CIO to work, that dynamic has to be

understood and a partnership formed.

To effectively sell, CIOs need to empathise with other divisions while

understanding the business formally, politically and personally. What

do really great salespeople do? They paint a persuasive picture of how

great your world will be once you buy their product.

The first step: understand your product. In the case of a CIO, that's

IT. Without that knowledge, no matter how good you are at step two -

understanding your prospect's world - you'll have no way of

progressing to step three, which is putting that knowledge and your

product together and working with the CEO to deliver real business


Mark Carmichael

Chief Information Officer

PKF Chartered Accountants

Starting an IT career in the early 1990s, I worked in a back-office

environment; held in contempt as a necessary evil while other

shared-services divisions were viewed as adding more value to the


Of course, in those days, there was the ubiquitous grey-haired,

bearded IT manager patiently working towards retirement and happy to

defer decisions and responsibility to the finance director.

Both of these scenarios sat uncomfortably with me. In my mid-30s, the

move into IT was my third major career change. For the previous 10

years I'd been a business owner/operator who was comfortable making

decisions and taking responsibility for them.

I strongly believe you make your own opportunities in life and, not

content to sit back and wait for change, I promoted myself through

hard work, innovative business solutions and a couple of corporate


The reporting structure for heads of information technology is quite

varied, so it is entirely possible that a new executive could change

and demote the position of IT within the organisation.

It took more than a stodgy old IT manager to promote the value of IT

to the business. It took - in most instances - driven,

business-focused IT professionals engaging with senior executives.

Moving from the back office was a reasonably slow process of building

relationships, listening to requirements, empathising and

demonstrating that IT had matured enough to work with (and not

against) the business.

For too long IT was (and in some cases, still is) seen as an obstacle

to productivity: the "technology police". Is it any wonder IT was kept

in the back room?

Meanwhile, administration, marketing and finance were endearing

themselves by paying the bills and wages, or promoting the business

with innovative strategies. For IT to "come out", there had to be

serious change.

So there's movement in the organisation, the incumbent CEO is moving

on and the new guy is making changes. The situation is normal; it

happens all the time and we've been there before.

Time to start building relationships, time to show a professional

business approach and, most importantly, time to demonstrate IT's

value to the bottom line.

Asaf Ahmad

Information security manager

NSW Fire Brigades

A management restructure is an important corporate event, especially

when a new chief executive is being appointed. It's pretty grim for IT

if you get an early impression that your department is not viewed

favourably, but the underlying reasons could be many, and even


The challenges a CIO faces are on numerous fronts and it is essential

to demonstrate the capability and tenacity to deliver results in

business terms. Companies are increasingly becoming dependent on IT;

adopting latest information technologies for efficiency, reach,

resilience, availability and even assurance.

IT has matured (sometimes it is even treated as a commodity) but it

will continue to be strategic as long as it gives the organisation a

competitive advantage. CIOs have come a long way in establishing IT as

a strategic component of the company and have earned a place in the

business decision-making echelons. The CIO, like any leader, has a

vested interest in taking the organisation forward.

To take up the challenge, the CIO must convey a willingness to work

within the new framework and convince the CEO about the strategic role

of IT. It requires a holistic view of the business to make IT a

significant part of the strategy being developed.

Another important challenge is to effectively execute IT strategy. The

CIO as a leader, and a strategist, is responsible for IT growth in the

organisation. The IT shop must have the ability to provide business

units with new capabilities that enhance their strategies. This can

only be achieved by providing an environment of trust, learning and

opportunity. A strategy that always works is to implement a few

quick-win projects for the business.

The CIO must plan to invest in the core IT infrastructure, to make it

resilient, reliable, efficient and accredited. This involves setting

up high-availability system technology and IT infrastructure, service

support systems, operations management software, process and procedure

documentation, and skilled resources to implement and support

comprehensive solutions.

One of the most important challenges is to create a culture where

business and IT work in partnership to develop and put in place

enterprise-level systems and automate end-to-end business processes.

IT must be able to adopt and support technologies that open new ways

of delivering IT services. It should also be capable of automating

business processes by orchestrating services across the organisation

as well as with customers and partners.

As a CIO, I must ensure that the user world, is satisfied by the

services IT provides and supports. The CIO must provide the right

tools and resources to the "service platform" for business and IT

services, which in essence means ensuring the utility of a service is

available as needed, with the necessary capacity, continuity and


To achieve all I have just talked about and more, an information chief

must try to develop a culture that will make things happen. A culture

that is prepared to change, adapts, and grows with time.

One very important factor that will put everything into perspective is

the implementation of best-practice management frameworks around

governance, strategic investment, information security, disaster

recovery, change management, service delivery and architecture.

Last, if not least, information technology must establish its own

identity by publishing newsletters and booklets, and organising

regular events where the team can share its achievements and plans

while socialising with others in the company.

Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

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