Monday, October 14, 2013

CIO is a verb, not a noun

I heard the buzz from a friend that this company was again looking for a CIO; my immediate response was “again, why”? It’s a large company with dominant market share in some segments and had implemented some good IT systems in the past. The then CIO had a hurried exit reasons for which were speculated by everyone. Then in the last 5 years they had as many CIOs. And they had hired a CIO less than a year back after a longish search who I thought had settled down into the role.
The company has had challenges with their IT systems which worked in a combination of the legacy and the new generation ERP type systems. Almost a decade back they hired a business CIO who helped them renew their systems and set the roadmap for them to gain benefit from IT. Under his leadership the various business units adapted the new technology solutions globally and set the path for the next wave. Suddenly the CIO exited leaving behind what appeared to be a dissatisfied business team.
They floated a need for a CIO with specific technology expertise to rescue their IT and hired such individuals who claimed to be experts in the said solutions. They came and did fix parts of what was deemed broken and when the situation did not improve for the company, they were replaced by others. Each time there was a solution sought based on what appeared to be internal diagnostic for the ailment and the cure was applied. Each time there was no significant change in the situation.
The last hire came with strong credentials having been on business and technology sides of the table and a clear and consistent record of deliverables. While he was no star, the companies he worked with had benefited from IT. He was a team player and a good deputy for some visible CIOs. Thus he was expected to be able to recoup the losses and forge ahead. He came onboard and reviewed the situation and did put in a governance process that satisfied the management of intended outcomes.
He held meetings with his team and the business leaders getting into the details of every initiative and action taken. The new governance expected every decision to be endorsed by him before any steps were taken. The team ran with it for a few months and then started getting restless when they had no freedom to do anything. The endless stream of meetings resulted in no outcomes or movement. Soon they started leaving, starting with the brightest and then the professionals who wanted action.
The exit of the teams’ star performer raised a few alarm bells with the management but they let the CIO determine how to run the function. Time passed away and management meetings started getting hot for the CIO who was expected to deliver. Soon other team members started departing out of frustration leaving behind a challenged operation even for business as usual. Vendors who had supported the new CIO for a while in anticipation of a change in mindset were equally disillusioned with status quo.
The CIO was worried and afraid to move ahead with his risk profile being quite low. He had thrived under the shadow of his earlier CIOs who took initiative while he and his team delivered the projects and executed them. Now with direct accountability he failed to get the team together and deliver what he could have. The confidence crisis was beginning to hurt him real bad and he was blind to this fact. That is when the company decided to find an alternative who would take them forward.
Inaction or the low risk profile created a situation from which the CIO found it difficult to extricate himself. He could have taken charge and changed the perceptions of the past short-term CIOs who had different problems in their stint. The IT team supported him, his individual demons and fears anchored him. For the CIO, the “I” does not stand for “inaction”; get started, you have everything to lose and everything to gain. 

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