Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Is the CIO an Idiot ?

Congratulations on your new role ! We would like to come and meet you to understand your key priorities and challenges. We can help you in classifying your portfolio of applications, the technology landscape that you have, or consolidation and rationalization strategy, IT strategy and roadmap and help you align to the business. For multiple companies we have helped them optimize their IT operations and save costs. We can move dollars from BAU to innovation. Can we meet you in the next few days ?

Even if you are not new to the role, I am sure that all CIOs (at least I do) receive such messages from all kinds of vendors, consultants, research companies, and what have you with alarming frequency. They claim to have worked with companies who are highly successful in their use of IT; they make it appear that these customers would have remained in a challenged state if they had not come to the rescue with their frameworks and consulting practices that helped them get out of mediocrity to become winners.

They are aggressive in their approach and are willing to go across the layers of the company to get to you, as if the sky will fall by next week if you did not engage them. Some of them have retired or ex-CIOs as primary subject matter experts; most use decade old models as their base which were created by a few academicians. These frameworks can still be applied with reasonable success to most company’s IT portfolios throwing up opportunities for improvement or validating success for a well-run enterprise.

Having known some of their “subject matter experts” in their past avatars, I have never been too keen to connect with them with a bit of credibility crisis staring them in the face. Despite that, surprisingly the number of customers using one or more of these wonderful companies – who have answers to all the challenges faced by the CIO – appear to be overpowering with almost every enterprise that I know on the list. While I knew of some and their reasons, I found it hard to digest.

So I started connected with some CIO friends to ascertain what were their key drivers ? Did they face an identity crisis or they developed cold feet in putting forward their strategy, plan or take risks ? Behind the brave face that they put up in conferences and meetings, were they a bunch of scared or uncertain individuals struggling to figure out how to make things work ? I could not accept my own fears on this hypothesis and gingerly approached the subject lest I create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sigh ! The result was a mixed bag; in most cases the usage was to get endorsement or a stamp of approval from an authoritative source for higher credibility to the project or technology. In some I observed that the organization was risk averse or did not have the requisite confidence on the IT team and thus sought validation of the CIO proposals. Global and local research analysts and the models I referred to earlier give the requisite crutch or platform to the CIO to get endorsement and alignment.

The more interesting insight was with a few CIOs who did need the help to get there. They were bright individuals with technology expertise but limited ability to create a business case or put across a transformation agenda to the Management or Board. They were smart enough to work with these companies to find solutions thereby overcoming their limitations. I stopped applying my filter criteria for evaluation of the proposed engagements from this plethora of value providers.

Considering there is indeed a segment that finds value in engaging such companies (which is why they exist and continue to thrive, demand supply equation you know), my sincere and humble submission to all the wonderful companies is not to assume that everyone they talk to has a problem that they are unable to solve. All CIOs are not equally created, some are bigger Idiots than others, and others believe “I” stands for Intelligent or Innovation …. I think I was an Idiot for some time, and that will pass. 

1 comment:

  1. Incidentally I work in a CIO advisory for a well known firm and is in this field for more than 2 decades. I tend to agree to your observations partially.
    1) The consultants do not have any magic wand and they should claim to be able to solve all your problems. However they have some framework which will help you in identifying your business objectives, IT capabilities and using priority can help you in creating a transformation road map. This is your area and finally your the best judge.

    2) I have found that quiet a few CIOs are risk averse and do not have great rapport with business. Hence they need external support in some of their projects or initiatives.

    3) Also some times the internal dynamics of the organization works against a CIO and without the help of external consultant they are unable to push their agenda.

    Hence some of these decisions by the CIOs are informed ones which they are aware of, but they employ consultant to get their way through the organizational issues and deliver the business values. IMHO