I recently met with rock star CIOs at a conference focused on enterprise mobility. Here's a snapshot of what I learned:
Stories by Gary Beach
Whenever we ask readers of CIO US what their critical issues are, keeping up with new technology is always in the top 10.
I was thinking of CIOs’ penchant for new technology when I visited a summit hosted by a major venture capital firm. I enjoyed mingling with CEOs from start-up companies and learning about what they were doing.
At a recent CIO Perspectives conference, I sat in on an interesting session. On stage three CIOs debated the topic of reporting relationships. The crux of their discussion: should a CIO report to the CEO or the CFO?
The consensus seemed to be that it is much better for a CIO to report directly to the CEO (or COO). At companies where the CIO reports to the CEO, information technology is viewed as an investment. No one argued for a reporting relationship to the CFO because panellists claimed those companies that have one see IT as a cost to be managed, curtailed or cut.
A sales representative of a major storage vendor was having difficulty getting a meeting with the CIO of a US drugstore chain. All efforts failed until he came up with a game plan to visit the managers of 20 stores in the chain. He theorised that the store managers were actually the customers of the chain’s CIO. He was right. The visits unearthed a major storage problem that the CIO was unaware of, leading the salesman to get a visit with the CIO. A big contract followed.
Salespeople are paid to craft innovative ways to sell. But what about you? How good a salesperson are you?
Get out your PDA and look at the past year. How much time did you spend in the market with cash-paying customers? Probably very little.
Warren McFarlan, senior associate dean at the Harvard Business School, told the audience at February’s CIO US Enterprise Value Retreat about a CIO who spends 25% of his time in the field with customers. That’s a quarter of his time — one entire week a month.
The power of customer conviction and the power of new ideas on how to serve customers better is the by-product of visiting customers regularly.
When you meet face to face with customers, you have an opportunity to really understand their concerns and preferences. Ask customers what they worry about. Ask them what they would like your company to start doing, stop doing and continue doing to serve them better. Ask them how much they know about your company, its values and its other customers.
If they know very little about your company, its products and its strategies, it would not take much for them to switch to your competition.
Getting in touch with your customers can also help you do your own job better. Want to get your frozen budgets approved for the rest of 2002? Preface your monthly presentation to your management team with how the proposed IT investments will serve customers better. Frame your comments in the customers’ voice, not yours. Position yourself and the IT department as customer advocates.
Customers and prospective customers are the most valuable asset on your company’s balance sheet. Make getting out in the field to visit them an important part of your job as well as that of your staff. Customers, not the CFO, will show you the surest way to enhance your company’s shareholder value.
Gary Beach is publisher of CIO US. He can be reached at email@example.com.
“If you want to sell more computers to the home market, sell more computers to the enterprise market.” That was how a Gartner research analyst answered an inquiry from a representative of a tier-three PC company in October 1995. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If I stare at a Dell computer on my desktop all day at work, Dell will most likely be top of mind when I’m in the market for a home computer.
I was thinking of that Gartner moment when I visited one of those hip Apple Computer retail stores and watched two IT professionals go ga-ga over the new iMac personal computer. I asked them what they thought of the machine.