Friday, January 01, 2010

IT enabling the CXO

A close friend narrated this incident about a CEO who asked the IT organization for three laptops. The first one for use in the office, second during travel, and the third to be used at his residence! It was one of those unchallengeable CEO mandates. My friend thought of this incident as a compliance issue or misuse of power vested with the position. To me, it was interesting that the CEO even thought of such an arrangement without realizing the improbability of how it will aid his work.

Every organization endeavors to define and execute policy with minimal exceptions. These are discussed, debated and agreed upon by the management — signed off too, in a few cases. Everything works well until the first exception request. Such requests typically come from a high performer or a CXO who states constraints within the defined boundaries. Thus begins the dilemma which is normally taken as an acceptable deviation to aid the CXO/high performer, as no one wants to leave any room for doubt when it comes to performance.

The IT organization struggles to maintain normalcy, since the precedent is taken as the new norm. After a while, only two choices remain — change the rulebook or try to save face by diligently documenting each exception. The third alternative is really not an option, since it means that you have to take a tough stance and deny the request. Is there a way out of such a predicament, especially when you consider that powers vested with the CIO are not absolute and can be overridden by the “business requirement”?

Coming back to the story of the “three laptop” CEO, I asked my friend about how the CEO proposed to use this distributed computing to his advantage? Did he not realize that he was misusing his executive powers which may be challenged by the Board of Directors or may set an avoidable example for other CXOs to emulate? I was advised that the CEO was creating value, and by virtue of this, the Board may allow such small indiscretions and look the other way.

In such cases, I believe the relationship and openness existing between the CIO and CEO will play an important role (where healthy discussion and debate exists), as does a possibility of influencing the decision. CIOs should work diligently to build and sustain this relationship to remain relevant and successful within an enterprise.

What about you? Would you acquiesce to such a request?


  1. Being in IT is one of those places where you typically get such requests. In majority of the cases such requests (‘3 laptop phenomenon’) come up because of misconceptions about technology. One CEO had problems with sending meeting requests while travelling across time-zones, wanted a laptop for each of the different time-zones he works with! I guess once the challenges to the user are explained and alternative solutions discussed the ‘compliance’ problem will become a non-issue.

    It could also be one of those assertions of power or being seen as getting favours. Being a CEO I would guess He/She would be above all these petty things about display of power, but such requests do come to IT from ‘high performers’. The challenge here is NOT seen as a challenger of power but a trusted enabler for 'true' power/growth.

    Meeting both these types of challenges needs a level of trust that IT needs to build with-in the organization. And this is hard work after all.

    I will dig deeper & understand the needs before making a decision on the request for the 3 laptops.

  2. The logic of the CEO to have 3 laptops need to be understood. If I were the CEO, the logic would be as follows:
    1) Need a home PC with Gaming and Learning Experience and would need a laptop/Desktop with features of Integrating with home surround sound, Music, TV tuner and entertainment.
    2) Need a Office Laptop which is a replacement of Office Workstation hence Strictly business Data and connectivity docking with Lan, wireless of office only.
    3) Since the office Laptop which is a workstation replacement cannot be taken easily to International meeting and venue hence need a light portable unit with sync, wireless 3G, wimax, ADSL etc options for connectivity to office on move.

    A Sync between all the PCs and workstation with DR as well as security for all the notebooks/laptops or workstation is available. A requirement of having NAS/SAN for home use or Encrypted Storage containers with Encryption among the Mobile Laptop is also common. Am not sure if CIO's understand the Cxo logic or importance of the IT Asset request the same can be addressed whether it is a waste of resource request or business enabler. Even if it is a waste of resource the demarcation can aide the CIO to ensure that the CEO is not the rule breaker on security policy and enforcement planned in the journey by the CIO...