21 Feb What do CIOs want? Fusion2007 speakers weigh in
Madison and Milwaukee, Wis. – By now, after nearly a decade of well publicized information technology meltdowns, it’s pretty clear what chief executive officers want in their technology leaders.
The ability to consistently deliver projects on time and on budget, combined with an expectation that CIOs understand the business and the needs of each business unit, are among their demands.
But what do CIOs need from their CEOs, and upper management in general, in today’s business environment?
The answer is relatively simple: A willingness to “talk IT” and engage and communicate with their CIOs, according to three technology executives who will attend the Fusion 2007 CEO-CIO Symposium in Madison on February 27 and 28.
The annual conference will open with John Swainson, CEO of CA, Inc., delivering a keynote address titled “Transforming IT – How the Business Benefits.”
The transformative nature of information technology is one reason the CEO-CIO relationship has evolved in recent years. David Cagigal, chief information technology officer for Alliant Energy, said the need for the closest possible collaboration has never been more evident, and that’s because the relationship has never been more important.
“I think it’s even more important as technology budgets either increase or become more complex,” he said. “Every $1 spent on a technology initiative needs to be wisely aligned with the business purpose and what the business strategy is trying to accomplish.”
For Cagigal, alignment only comes from working with the CEO and the officers of the company and its major business units. If IT is connected to corporate intent, he said, then it can ensure that the technology dollar is wisely expended.
“What I expect from them is the time and consideration to be able to share what they perceive as their technology challenges, and then collaborate to define what a long-term investment strategy might be to get to that future state.”
Rick Davidson, senior vice president of global information services for Manpower, looks for opportunities to engage with the company’s senior executive officers and board of directors. And that’s in addition to regularly scheduled appearances before the board, including the annual presentation of his department’s three-year strategic plan.
“I know that I have a good relationship with my board today because a couple of them have referred their CIOs to me, so board members that are senior executives in other companies have asked their CIOs to spend time with me, and that’s a compliment.”
Obviously, the best way to build credibility at the boardroom level or in the senior executive suite is to make commitments and deliver on them, but Davidson indicated that the relationship has to run deeper than that. That’s especially true when projects don’t go as planned.
“We stumble occasionally, and I think if you’re honest about why you stumbled, and you go back and you address root causes, and you’re open about that with your senior leaders and the board, that builds even more credibility because our board members are smart,” he said. “They know things aren’t always rosy.”
Although there is some disagreement about who initiates the alignment process – upper management or information technology – Cagigal views it as a dual – and welcome – responsibility.
“We cannot be waiting for the orders to come to IT,” he said. “We need to be proactively engaged in the major business units or with the CEO, himself.”
Davidson agrees, noting that the need for executive engagement – from beginning to end – is the best lesson he’s learned from IT implementations. Without that level of engagement, mistakes can occur anywhere along the solution delivery cycle, and the original business purpose can be lost in the shuffle.
“Most IT projects are the tail end of a larger business process initiative,” Davidson explained. “If you look at it that way, then that partnership will always exist because there is a change effort that is taking place on the business side, and technology is just a part of that, not all of it.”
Ed Meachen, associate vice president of learning and information technology for the University of Wisconsin System, isn’t convinced that IT project failures have played a major role in transforming the CEO-CIO dynamic, but he does think IT-business alignment is a shared responsibility. CIOs, he said, not only must have a seat at the table for every decision about large enterprise systems, but they need a CEO who is not put off by information technology.
To Meachen, it’s valuable to have a CEO who can sit down and discuss information technology and its business value, even if the chief executive isn’t completely versed in IT vernacular. “Maybe 10 years ago, a CIO was operating more independently,” he said, “but over the past decade IT has become everyone’s domain.”
• CIO Leadership Series: Ed Meachen, University of Wisconsin System
• CEOs and CIOs must be ‘joined at the hip’
• Fusion 2006 symposium focuses on making IT work for businesses
• Byron Glick: CIO Leadership Series: David Cagigal, Alliant Energy