The post-CIO future

In the second of an exclusive two-part series, executive development specialist Brinley Platts reveals to Imthishan Giado where CIOs need to be careful in their planning, how they can manage their departments more effectively - and where their career paths will take them.

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By  Imthishan Giado Published  March 21, 2009

In the second of an exclusive two-part series, executive development specialist Brinley Platts reveals to Imthishan Giado where CIOs need to be careful in their planning, how they can manage their departments more effectively - and where their career paths will take them.

What are some of the common mistakes that regional CIOs make?

You shouldn't believe what the vendors tell you. With the best will in the world, there are things that vendors don't know about their products. If you look at major ERP implementations, the number of problems and cost overruns can lead to costing people their careers. When you get in consulting support, sometimes it's still bad.

You have to do anything you can really, to give people an incentive to want to stay. If they stay three years, that should be their own investment in career skills to ensure their future path

What works well in London, for example, is that we have networks and communities where CIOs can talk to each other in confidence privately and say things they would never say in public about products, certain vendors, about mistakes made and learned from and wouldn't do again.

You need an environment where they can do that kind of sharing, at least on the end users' side.

The IT leaders in any area need to take ownership of their contribution to the business and their personal career. If they do, they can develop in the right ways, develop their teams strongly and make this contribution to the business which it needs.

How visible should CIOs be within their own departments?

Very accessible. If they've got a large staff, there has to be an organisational structure. It may be old hat, but managing by walking about is still one of the best ways.

Many CIOs started out as programmers 30 years ago, may have moved around a bit but have been in IT their entire career. They have a fantastic, intuitive nose for projects that are going wrong, conversations that do not sound right and so on. They can really tease things out when they are a bit suspicious.

They need to have access several layers down to be able to do that. They absolutely need to be getting information from different areas and levels. They need to have people very close to them that they can trust - but they must not rely upon them.

One of the big problems with leadership is when you get a pudgy middle. They would say that their door is always open - but the problem is that nobody seems to be coming through. That's because you've got several layers of middle management preventing anyone from getting there. You have to actively fight against that kind of culture.

I remember one big bank which has been in the headlines a lot recently - they were my biggest customer five or six years ago. Every month they would run a meeting in a big hall of their top 200 IT managers. We were told that they were not getting enough questions - they're not really engaged. We observed one of these meetings where there was a whole bunch of "telling" people and then towards the end, the CIO asked if there were any questions from the managers.

When one person asked a question that the CIO didn't like because it was a bit slanted, he just lambasted him in front of 199 people - and then asked if there were any more questions. He was totally oblivious to the effect he was having. When we took him aside and gave him a good talking to so that he understood it - reluctantly - he decided not to do anything about it. He preferred it that way.

What's the alternative? He would have to engage with people, make an effort to understand them, become more approachable, perhaps change out some of the people in his top team who protect him - why would he do all that? He's going to retire in three or four years.

How can CIOs sell IT projects at the boardroom level and better align business and IT?

I may be wrong, but I don't think they necessarily sell these projects. Vendors sell the opportunity to business leaders who then want it. Too often, especially if it's built and developed by a third-party, it's thrown over the wall to the IT function to manage this.

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