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Essential CIO skill: Self-promotion


brian_mcdonough.jpgBy Brian McDonough, Discover Performance managing editor


The newest issue of Discover Performance includes an article summarizing the lessons of the debut chapter of the Enterprise 20/20 crowdsourced ebook, describing the skills that CIOs—or aspiring CIOs—will need to have on their resumes by 2020. The e20/20 community focused on four attributes that will be critical to becoming one of these future IT executives: Driver of innovation, cross-discipline collaborator, information enabler, and balancer of security, risk and performance. 


Piet Loubser, a senior director in HP Software who focuses on metrics, suggests there should be a fifth vital attribute: the ability to communicate these skills and their results.   “It seems to me that the CIO will compete with lines of business for technology dollars,” Loubser notes, “and the CIO will not only have to be good at these four things, but will have to be able to demonstrate it continuously to the CEO and the rest of the business.”


One challenge is that many IT leaders come from a more technical, operational background, which Loubser says can make them somewhat inward-looking.


“They can be pretty defensive about their stuff:  ‘IT is a black box, you don’t understand it, so don’t question it,’” he says.  “That’s changing, but when you’re in a leadership position, you really have to abandon that mindset.”


Your black box is broken

To the degree that the IT department was ever a black box, that box is falling apart pretty fast.  Technologies like cloud and SaaS mean that IT staff are no longer doing it all themselves—they’re also sourcing and monitoring outside platforms and applications.  They are no longer purely custodial or operational, and instead must think not just of how IT works, but why it works—how it fits into business goals.


Piet_Loubser.jpg“Some CEOs I’ve talked to say there’s definitely a group of CIOs that don’t get it,” Loubser says.  “Many of them are former technicians who are not thinking about this new transition. They’re not understanding what’s needed from IT now, and they’re not understanding that they need to earn that seat at the executive table.”


The first step is proving yourself a true steward of the company’s IT investments who is aligned with the company’s goals, and relate their performance to those objectives.  Start with your metrics. In addition to such basics as percentage of service level agreements met or mean time between failure, are you tracking the percentage of your projects that are connected to a strategic business outcome? Do you know when a certain maintenance update or feature rollout is connected to a new revenue channel or line of business?  Other KPIs that help align with the business include your capex versus opex ratio, the average time to introduce new services, and time invested on strategic projects.


Be seen, be heard

Once you’re tracking the right outcomes, you need to know how to communicate them.  “You have to learn to be visible,” Loubser said.  “To be, and be seen as, a business person, not just a tech person.”


Learning to identify and communicate the right metrics means learning to speak the language of business.  Your business users don’t care about server SLAs, they care about whether key applications, or their entire business process, works for them.  Framing your IT metrics through the business (read business service versus infrastructure) lens will facilitate the right level of understanding between you and your business partners.


Effective communication with the business will make IT more transparent, and Loubser warned that many IT leaders with a black-box mentality might find that a daunting proposition.  “I was making a presentation in Vienna last year about the HP IT Executive Scorecard, and the audience wasn’t embracing it, wasn’t responding,” Loubser said.  “Finally, one guy raises his hand and says, ‘Maybe it’s just me, but I’m uncomfortable with this level of transparency.’”


It wasn’t just him.


“The whole room exploded, almost everyone agreeing with him,” Loubser says.  “I was shocked.  These were project managers, and I thought they’d embrace openness and transparency, but many of them were saying point-blank, ‘We don’t like it.’  We had a long discussion, and everyone agreed that more transparent IT is inevitable, but the transition is making many people uncomfortable.”


Be ready

Many CIOs are confronting these challenges today, but many potential CIOs of 2015 or 2020 are working their way through the IT ranks right now, and should be building the skills and shaping the career that will take them, as the saying goes, to the next level.


“Many of today and tomorrow’s business innovations will be technology-driven. So, the CIOs are going to need a sort of blended personality that brings together technologist, business person and self-marketer,” Loubser says.


Read “The CIO of 2020: Will you be right for the job?” on Discover Performance, and weigh in:  Are these the skills of tomorrow’s CIO, and which are most important?  Are today’s CIOs doing enough to “sell” IT to the business?


 For more insights on the future of IT and how you can optimize IT performance to drive business results, subscribe to the Discover Performance ezine.

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