CIOs: Don't Get Taken For Granted - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing
04:35 PM
John McGreavy
John McGreavy

CIOs: Don't Get Taken For Granted

If your IT organization is seen as executing each new strategic initiative seamlessly, the job can't really be all that difficult, right?

I receive no shortage of advice on how to do my job--research, articles, books, seminars, conferences, boot camps, blogs…the list goes on. I hold a position that must be the most surveyed and over-analyzed on the planet. Every vendor wants to know what keeps me up at night so that it can help me sleep better.

But the most valued advice I receive comes from other CIOs. Their only bias is the same as mine: getting the job done right. It's with this thought in mind that I'll be writing a regular "Dear John" column on starting next month. If you want technical, organizational, career, or any other kind of professional advice from a working CIO, send me a Dear John email at [email protected] and I'll answer select ones in my next column.

I promise you this: I'll give it to you straight. Do you work for an overbearing IT director or a line-of-business executive who thinks he knows more about IT than you do? Are you facing an intractable software rollout or upgrade? Do you need guidance on dealing with a specific vendor? Are you a vendor exec who can't figure out why you keep striking out with a particular CIO? Tell me about it and let's see what we can do.

And if you want to offer me advice based on what I've written in one of my Secret CIO columns (access them at, I'm all ears. Maybe we'll solve a problem or two together.

As a premise for my Dear John advice column, here's my overall philosophy: Don't get things done too right, impairing your ability to succeed in the future.

Put another way, if you deliver the goods consistently but too quietly, you may find yourself and your organization taken for granted. This isn't the voice of resentment; it's the voice of experience. And when you're taken for granted, the conditions needed for your success start to change.

If your IT organization is seen as executing each new strategic initiative seamlessly, the job can't really be all that difficult, right? If costs are always in line, services are always delivered on schedule, and emerging technologies are in place just in time, maybe this IT thing is a walk in the park. Maybe you don't need that place at the executive table.

And if you and your organization then become disengaged from executive discussions, you no longer have early visibility into corporate changes. And you're no longer able to inject your influence into the executive process. The result is a slow decay in IT effectiveness. Here's some advice.

1. Communicate near-misses. Make sure all of the top executives know what could have happened if that major IT project had gone sideways. You know how tricky that ERP upgrade was? What would have happened if the database conversions had failed? Billing wouldn't have run the next day, adding how many days to receivables and infuriating how many customers?

2. Compare yourself to competitors. Ask a recent hire from a competitor about the IT systems at his or her former employer. How was the access to information? Were the systems reliable? Was the IT organization responsive? Find weaknesses and make sure your senior management team understands them.

3. Point out other companies' misfortunes. Examples of IT catastrophes are plentiful. Don't revel in them, but use them to your advantage. Create a sense of relief that your company has never felt those kinds of awful, painful experiences under your watch.

4. Describe what can go wrong if strategic IT initiatives aren't handled correctly. A little FUD doesn't hurt from time to time. Do you insource certain key operations? To reinforce your strategy, highlight a few examples where outsourcing of similar operations failed. Help your peers understand the pitfalls you have avoided.

5. Don't expect pats on the back--that's not the point. The point is that the better you and your organization get, the more you may fade into the background. Ensure that there's a clear understanding company-wide of your strategic relevance. It's your job to make sure you and your people are appreciated.

Meantime, email me your questions and problems.

The author, the real-life CIO of a billion-dollar-plus company, shares his experiences under the pseudonym John McGreavy. Got a Secret CIO story of your own to share? Contact [email protected].

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User Rank: Apprentice
12/15/2012 | 6:14:55 PM
re: CIOs: Don't Get Taken For Granted
Hi - I really appreciated the article. I am extremely technical and the people I serve are not. I have found they do not care how things run or want to hear about near misses or anything else. If you manage to bring these things up and near misses, you can almost see the eye-roll. Some of my not so nice colleagues like to say "everyone is replaceable". The only thing that ANYBODY cares about is that their "stuff" works and that the network is up and the internet is available. They want wireless as well but care nothing about security and make it pretty clear they do not understand NOR want to hear about any aspect of it except - get it done - so I did.

They do not care about the unreasonableness of making an I.T. person work as a manager as well as performing all of the budgetary work and the purchasing and contract negotiations. They do not care that this person is also their network analyst and high level technical specialist and the go-to person when the rest of the lower technology staff screws up or cannot fix the items. They do not care that asking this person to audit records for cost savings or to handle all of the phone line problems as well is too much. If you bring up the fact by putting it on your evaluation so you can get mention of it, they ask you remove it because it is part of your job description as "other-duties-as-assigned".

Feeling sorry for myself?'s depressing but I was fine until today - as they say "everything is running fine tetra, what's the big deal". They forget about the time the vendor for the financial services and the bank were at odds and payroll could not be made, employees were furious and due to my knowledge of code from a former job, I was able to walk through the data, manually edit it and make payroll pointing out to the vendor "where their problem was" - easily forgotten by management. All of the times I have done complete system conversions entirely by myself because the other persons could not make it in due to snow, I risked my life by not going home and completely converting everyone over so Monday morning they could walk in and have the new system waiting and ready. I was an idiot to do that - but my nature is to make it perfect and exceptional. I cannot wait to leave and take everything I know and do with me. Sorry, I can take being taken for granted and have become accustomed to it knowing that I was/am doing is a great job, BUT I cannot take abuse and blame where NONE should be and I will not allow it. I built it and I WILL WALK AWAY from it - with a two weeks notice.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/4/2012 | 10:33:59 PM
re: CIOs: Don't Get Taken For Granted
"The point is that the better you and your organization get, the more you may fade into the background."

I disagree with this to some extent. Yes, you want to let people know you are not screwing things up, or at least not as badly as other people are screwing them up, but there has to be some injection of business ideas if you don't want to be sitting at the kids table. If you are just keeping the lights/servers on and implementing the projects that the line of business tells you need to be done (and telling them all the reasons why their idea might not work), you are an overhead service and probably will be thought of as an impediment. I wouldn't even say that the goal is to find ways to reduce costs, overhead business units reduce costs. You want to justify increased IT budgets and be thought of as the idea incubator of the company, like IT at GE, UPS, Wal-Mart. In those companies, IT isn't the guys that keep the servers on and hassle people about passwords. They are part of the business. That is not to say that IT is going to be a think-tank, but you want to be bringing eCommerce ideas, embedded tech in product ideas, digital marketing ideas, etc to the lines of business. Reference other companies, especially those outside your industry, that have done something similar.
User Rank: Strategist
5/3/2012 | 9:54:44 PM
re: CIOs: Don't Get Taken For Granted
While I agree with your recommendations to help bring visibility to IT, I would stress one critical point, it's all about presentation. And presentation of the points listed above by John, must be done with a relative confidence. If done incorrectly and they start seeing you as an allarmist or pessimist with the storm cloud following you everywhere, the result may be incredibly swift and undesirable.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/3/2012 | 8:15:40 PM
re: CIOs: Don't Get Taken For Granted
The Hay Group are the worse consultants for this. They use HR oriented strict financial metrics to judge IT management and completely ignore the intrinsic, but not financially measurable value of a CIO. Their engagement model is completely designed for managers who have taken their CIO for granted to find data for CEOs and CFOs to explain their quick dismissal to a board. In one recent case in Florida, a healthcare insurance CIO who implemented a major enterprise package Trizetto with full server virtualization and world class HIPAA security and nailed down clients ahead of schedule and under budget without any issues to over 3100 end points and successfully fought off 2 major cyber attacks was judged to be "too expensive" and summarily dismissed. The CIO happily took the package and is now entertaining a number of offers from competitors. Even some consultants working for the firm when the CIO was there have suddenly turned their backs to the client, including some top security consultants.The staff is totally demoralized and the good, cost effective work this guy did is slowly going to pot even though his designated successor (this guy even had a plan!) has done a superb job of keeping things running despite the poor senior management.

If you are a CIO, watch out for Hay Group. IMHO, they are nothing but trouble for CIOs and add no value to a business.
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