Become a Super CIO

Q: But you need more than the right people, right? Don’t you also need some sort of IT governance or best practice methodology?
It’s probably a bit of both. But it’s the selective use of methodology. It’s a pretty well-known fact that the blind application of any methodology doesn’t make you better off. Good guideposts and guidelines are what you should be thinking about. Take ITIL — no one said it solved all problems, but they did say this was a great investment to figure out what we should be thinking about, and in a few critical areas they decided it was something they would absolutely adhere to. An analysis of how those methodologies can help you and which pieces matter is helpful.

We say that a methodology is a good, generic guideline, but at the end of the day you will be governed by your specific situation. Only the CIO can know that.

Q: What do CIOs need to know about business, and about the business?
CIOs have to force themselves to understand how senior executives make decisions. Ultimately the CIO should be an important member of the senior executive team in a company, and if they don’t understand how they make decisions it will be difficult for them to operate as such. Getting there is a matter of self-education and run time with the senior team.

The other one is to continue to broaden business skills. If you want to know what marketing guys are thinking about, you need to know a few things about marketing. Understanding other disciplines is pretty important. I would encourage CIOs to understand pretty well accounting — it’s the language of business. Most of the folks running things speak accounting pretty well, even if they aren’t trained as accountants. That would be the one skill to improve.

The book has a litmus test for CIOs to tell if they have shifted thinking to be more in terms of the business. Can I name our top five customers — who are they and what did they spend with us last year? When was the last time I went out and visited a customer of our company or talked with one? Do I know all the other top executives, business unit organizations, corporate processes?

These are the things a senior executive in almost any company can pretty much tell you off the top of his head. It’s litmust test to see if you are thinking as a business person.