Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Language curriculum for CIOs or ...

The Chairman of the Indian entity of a leading global IT vendor addressing a gathering of CIOs stressed on the (now so obvious) fact that CIOs should speak in business language. Everyone in the audience agreed and appreciated this repetition like the fact that “sun rises in the east”. The senior statesman then went on to present a dozen slides on why virtualization and consolidation should be on the CIO agenda.

A group of CIOs visited an international event hoping to learn from interactions with their global peers and gain different perspectives. While the IT vendor companies represented in the event were somewhat similar considering the global nature of the IT industry, the speakers were different providing a local flavour of the country. Majority of the sessions stressed on the same fact “sun rises from the east”, I mean CIOs need to speak the language of the business. They however presented in complex detail the technology solutions that they wanted the CIOs to buy.

Excuse me ? Did we (the CIOs) miss something? No, we did not doze off during the presentation and neither did we see you skip some slides in your presentation which may have connected to the obvious fact. We were attentive and so was everyone until the tech stuff started. There were many messenger, text, and email messages flying in the room to check that we were all in hearing the same thing. Excusez-moi or should I say Entschuldigen Sie, maybe if you like I can try another language. But where is the connection ? How many of the CIOs in the room were part of your sample size ?

Over the years, IT was nudged, pushed and coerced to discard techno-speak in favour of what everyone else speaks in the enterprise; the quick compliance and transition surprised many and helped bridge the perception about individual and team capability. Projects were no longer about the next big technology or the latest versions of the fancy devices, they embodied holistic discussions around internal process and external customers. On the other hand for some reason the industry refuses to acknowledge the change continuing to cite examples of a shrinking minority of change averse IT leaders.

So how can this perception be changed ? How do CIOs ensure that what they say is what the IT vendors and consultants hear ? I believe that it is time to start challenging the well-wishing speakers to cite examples when they talk about the language course CIOs need and not hide behind the global research reports of named companies to justify their spiel. Can they speak more from personal experience ? For them to be heard, maybe they need to talk business, unless this is a ploy to hide their inability to speak the new language of the CIO.

For the CIO, the sun indeed rises in the east, but maybe just maybe it needs to rise from the west for the vendors and consultants to notice that the CIO has passed the language course with flying colours; maybe it is the vendors and consultants who need the course after all !


  1. I agree with your comments. Hopefully most CIOs are already speaking the language of business. If they aren't part of the business, they likely won't be on the job long.

  2. Siju Narayan1:08 PM

    Well said, Arun. There are two aspects to what you have recounted - one, about IT vendors not walking the talk and two, perhaps not adequately explored, is about how receptive is the business to the fact that technology can actually help them land their plans better? It takes two to tango and am afraid, even the business has not scaled up to look beyond their boundaries and seek out technologies that could probably help them a lot. Only CIOs talking business WILL NOT help - Business, too, needs to be receptive to the fact that they need IT help - especially in today's times when business differentiators have a small shelf-life - either they are copied or are rendered redundant in a short span of time.

  3. Siju, it would appear that your experiences are as different as our frame of reference is. It is never about the technology, but always about what is the business context. Is business willing to listen? The answer is dependent on the dialogue. If the discussion is about technology, they will not, if it is about solving real business problems, they will.

    IT vendors need to work with the CIOs to co-create the shift especially where the CIO has challenges due to culture, ability or traction.

  4. Siju Narayan2:16 PM

    Agreed, Arun. Technology is only an enabler - the means to a business end. Hence the dialogue should be about solving a business problem and not presenting a technology solution to EVERY business scenario. Some business problems could be related to process re-engineering alone or sheer execution discipline - with no technology intervention. The convergence of business and technology to create that critical something is absolutely crucial to surface up the "business relevance" of technology. And the messaging is crucial to generate stake-holder interest.

  5. Subbu5:04 PM

    Excellent Arun. I totally agree with you "Sun rises always in the East". Same applies with the role of CIO...a leadership role similar to anyother CXO's role in an Organization. As a leader...Today most of the CIO are playing the role of Business Leader and speaks the common language of Business.

    Next comes IT has to be part of Business and IT Business Aginment or vice versa...which is another most talked subject. If IT like other functions is part of an Organization and a business function similar to other functions like Finance, HR, Marketing...etc....then question of IT part of Business doesn't even arise and should be questioned. Alignment comes from how any function be it IT or other's is aligned to Business Goals to deliver value. In case of IT...how we aligned to Biz Goals and have syngery among other functions accross the value chain to leverage IT to deliver business value continually.

    Alignment is a journey not a destination. As Business grows and continually grows...as matures with the growth...moving from Good to Great...synergy among functions becomes imperative and then gets into alignment to deliver value to customer.

    As Dr. Peter Drucker said...The fundamental purpose of any Business is to create and manage Customers. So every function includes IT has only one common goal..."Deliver Value to create experience for the customer".