The CIO tamer

In the first of an exclusive two-part series, IT executive development specialist Brinley Platts reveals his secrets for CIOs looking to best leverage their personal and business growth.

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By  Imthishan Giado Published  February 22, 2009

How do CIOs better sell the value of their division?

What they have to do is first and foremost, put the business first. We have an expression: "You are a businessman first." If you go into a meeting of senior executives or meet with the financial director with an attitude of attempting to defend your IT investments, you're probably not going to do very well.

What you have to do is go in there wearing a very strong business executive hat. You need to talk about thinking in the medium term, think about when this ends. Everyone's just thinking about now - let's think about 12 months, 24 months, maybe three years later. When this ends, we want to be in good shape; there's going to be tremendous opportunities then.

You have to go in wearing a very strong business executive hat and talk about thinking in the medium term, think about when this ends. Everyone’s just thinking about now – let’s think about 12 months or three years later. When this ends, we want to be in good shape.

Let's investigate how we can keep our investment programme in place but maybe fund it differently or bring forward some of the benefits that can enable us to make savings in other parts of the business. I think that's the line of argument and then it's up to the rest of the business to defend against it if they don't want to do it.

If an IT leader just takes the view: "We're strategic, you shouldn't cut us," that's not going to work. It does require a sophisticated engagement with the rest of the business.

What is the main pitfall that CIOs need to avoid?

They can allow themselves to get a bit siloed. There are issues of maturity even today with organisations not completely understanding what IT is about. For example, if you look at the offshore industry and India for example now, there is still a tendency for executives to go ahead and ask: Why don't we get rid of this?

Once they have done this, they are then faced with some quite difficult decisions. With further investment in that section, they then throw their hands up and say: "I thought we got rid of all this." They're just reluctant to engage and understand how IT has to operate.

It's incumbent upon IT leaders to take that battle on and insist that they understand. That's tough and especially so for people if they are a little bit anxious that they themselves do not completely understand the business.

There is inevitably a change in the technical areas so a lot of the traditional focus on skills like programming and analysis - the sort of thing you were encouraging 22 years - is now mostly offshore.

In the West, certainly Britain and North America, the skillset for an IT professional has got to change. It's got to be more about management leadership, influence, engagement. It's about leveraging other people's capabilities to get things done with other resources that you don't own.

It's a quite a big call, actually for people who came into the business where they perhaps wanted a job that they could focus and get it done and not worry too much about people - so maybe engaging with people wasn't their first choice.

Is it possible for IT professionals to retrench into new roles?

It requires quite a big personal growth commitment. Plenty of people can do it with the right kind of coaching and support. Some people can't - and that's sad because they are going to be left behind. It's this group in the middle who could if they believed they had to - that's the group we have to get to.

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