This column's goal is to reveal myth-obscured reality to enhance IT and vendor collaboration to deliver enterprise competitive advantage. (See Figure 1.) Sources of wisdom include IT executives, vendors, consultants, user groups and experience.


Figure 1

Approximately 30 percent of U.S. CIOs turn over each year. Many punch the eject button after just 18 months in the cockpit, parachuting even before targets (CRM, SCM, BI, BPM) are negotiated at the start of the job.

Often, implementation proves more complex, expensive and lengthier than promised. Missing the mark, however, is often not an indication of incompetent technical skill, but more a manifestation of the disconnect between dominating business priorities dictating IT schedule - requirements which show little regard for well-planned implementations.

How can the enterprise stop loss of skills and knowledge, and avoid costs associated with the replacement of a CIO (estimated to exceed $100,000)?

Myth #1: CIO Must be a Technology Whiz

Let's examine how IT serves as a tech factory producing knowledge-centric tech wizards and how CIO missions require horse-trading business judgment skills that are completely unconnected from technical mastery.

IT absorbs and creates technology wizards. With its unique rhythm, IT delivers meticulous results and cultivates focused skills specialization. IT professionals master hardware systems, programming languages, applications and procedures - structured rules that respond in a predictable pattern. These rules require complete conformity but deliver excellence. This is where the experts are forged.

The technically skilled, curious and expert bunch strives to maintain a technical edge: clean design, efficient programming, clean interfaces, good documentation, timely delivery, test runs and optimization. They are kings of their domain and proud of their prowess. They can make the systems dance to their tune. They know all the moves: how code will react, how long a query will run or how to stop the run routine when a catastrophic failure is imminent. They are masters, and they are in control of their applications and systems environment.

Proud and often shy owners of designations such as King COBOL, MVS Queen or Java-Man cherish their hard-earned stripes and are not always inclined to share their secrets. They are technology artists performing for excellence rather than soldiers executing under a hierarchy of command. Their mission is often to be the best in their specialty, and most guard their secrets. Collaboration outside their silo is welcome, but collaboration within it is not.

In one top Global company, I found that the infrastructure architect and software architect were not on speaking terms. Progress was halted because one architect had challenged the other's projection. In another case, interviews with technical systems analysts who had resigned their well-paid jobs at a Fortune 50 company revealed that technical training, career path and respect were higher priorities than pay. These tech superstars wanted to deliver competitive advantage through technology, but demanded respect. Tech whizzes thrive on knowledge and shun managerial politics. These are big (talented) guys and gals with big egos.

Apart from individual skill and expertise, IT's operational culture also promotes technical focus. The IT team supports the enterprise mission by enabling its knowledge sharpshooters to focus on delivering solutions. Excellence further requires immersion in technology and application, and ongoing professional training and certification. The end objective is to prioritize, configure and implement technical options from applications to infrastructure.

Virtually all technology silos refresh at a dizzying speed. Operating systems refresh every 12 to 18 months, application programs refresh two times per year and connectivity options one time per year. Integrating new storage technologies for minimal latency, optimizing server cache and connectivity, speeding portal access, tuning data warehouse performance and building analytic applications require innovations be translated and applied to the enterprise. Any of these could take a 12 to 24-month rollout. Good IT management shelters tech experts from the constantly escalating business dynamics. Requirements are locked down, placing new ones in a pool prioritized as a part of the change management process. IT experts do what they know best - make the systems deliver their design.

Reality

The reality is that mastery-level technical skills and CIOs' leadership charter are unconnected requirements. Serving the enterprise as a CIO requires more than making systems dance or being a COBOL king. Mastery-level technical-silo expertise is not a critical CIO need. In the overall scope of the job, it is trumped in hierarchy by leadership, communication, collaboration and teamwork skills. It is mature management skills built on a solid understanding of architectural frameworks that are valuable for CIO success.

Executing CIO mission at a strategic level requires critical assessment of:

  • A 3 to 5 year enterprise plan - business and user IT requirements.
  • Current and projected vendor skills and system maturity.
  • In-house expertise, integration testing and implementation plan.
  • Funding for test, implementation, monitoring and improvement cycles.
  • User training and adoption plan.

Critical assessment tests validity, feasibility, resource allocation, funding, schedule, management sponsorship and company culture (see Figure 2 for a critical assessment template).

Figure 2: Assessment Requirements for Execution of CIO Mission

The operational challenge is to execute while under heavy fire of urgent business needs: lowering costs to match competitors' prices (SCM), increasing revenue per market-basket by matching customer preferences (CRM), increasing cross-sell revenue with well-timed promotional campaigns (CMP) or testing new options (BPM). The right timing can propel the enterprise into best of its business class; delay can lead to catastrophic results.

The CIO needs to excel at communication acrobatics. Boardroom executives must sponsor projects, bless priorities, provide funding and endorse schedule. Customers (internal and external), suppliers, vendors and the IT team must buy-in to the plan. This is no easy task. No functional manager trades off requirements without repercussions - enterprise and personal growth. No IT team is satisfied delivering a system without a solid testing and debugging opportunity. No customers, internal or external, are willing to give up either schedule or detailed and specific requirements. The CIO needs to craft the proposals to earn trust based on sound business judgment.

Mature business evaluation and management skills are critical. First, they provide dynamic and skillful leadership for collaboration. Second, they deploy motivation tools to uplift and support the collaborative teams' enthusiasm. Choices include whether to invoke executive mandate (brut force escalation) or allow cross-functional teams to determine deliverables priority; how to seek collaboration from those departments that do not stand to gain either productivity, cost savings or even visibility, but are required to divert resources and cost so other (competing) departments may improve efficiency; what evalutation criteria to use to engage in-house experts versus vendors; determination of critical skills and infrastructure investments for current year through 5 years; and how to provide a challenging and growth-oriented environment to retain valuable talent. These mature skills serve, lead and inspire.

Today's CIOs need charisma and the skill and charm of a symphony conductor in addition to business savvy. They must breathe life into the score, make the music come alive, and create an uplifting and fulfilling experience.

What a tech whiz does with his systems, a CIO must recreate and augment with people and teams with competing objectives - understand real motives, skillfully horse-trade (portfolio management), form alliances, cajole teams, build loyalty. Technical excellence is a valuable attribute, but not the critical success factor for a CIO. Hire the right skills!

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