What A CIO Wants You to Know About IT Decision Making

by Mike Lewis

As a CIO who worked through the ranks from hands-on engineer to manager, director and all of the levels between interacting with customers every day and meeting with the CEO every day, one theme I consistently hear sounds something like this; “if IT would just let me do that thing, the company would be successful”. Alternately I have heard, “we cannot do that because IT will not let us”, or other similar points of view.

The thinking that IT will not let you do something or that IT is inhibiting organization success signals an alignment gap or other organization disconnect. As leaders responsible for the overall success of the organization, not just IT, CIOs want to help. We want you to be successful and we are on your side as long as your side benefits the entire organization, not just you.

If the statement above is true, then where is the gap between your need and CIO support? Given that every organization is different, the only answer is “it depends.” The gap in your organization might be in the structure, the rules, the processes, or the culture. That said, in every organization there is a path to CIO support that begins with the CIO’s desire for organization success.

CIOs know the organization needs new ideas, new products, new services, etc. as well as changes to current rules, regulations, and business processes to grow markets and stay ahead of competition. CIOs also know that the rules, regulations, and processes are the foundations of trust. Those things that seem to inhibit new ideas are the things that open customer’s minds to the next new thing an organization might offer. Without the trust established by following the rules, adhering to regulations, and at the far extreme, simply obeying the law, customers would not stick around to try the next new thing. For proof, look at the stock price of organizations that publicly announce IT hacks, data loss, or other trust breaking events. Customers leave when trust is broken, and part of the CIO’s role is to maintain that trust.

While CIOs know the standards that must be upheld, they also know how to navigate those standards to support new ideas and change requests. Supporting new ideas and adapting to change requires input from you as the user, the employee or another member of the IT department, beyond just submitting the IT change form or other automated process. Connecting your new idea or change with the CIO’s goals of helping you succeed and maintaining customer trust requires communication.

Here are a few things a CIO needs to learn, hear, and see from you in order to help you succeed:

  • The CIO receives tons of resource requests every day. Why should the CIO invest in this one? What makes this new idea or change worth the time and resources required to transform an idea into a product or a system change? Remember your new idea is always competing with other organization needs and there’s always resource limitations to consider.
  • If your new idea or change is narrowly framed with the word “just” – then it is likely to fail. There is no such thing as “just this” or “just that.” Everything in an organization is interconnected, and IT along with HR touch every part of the organization. For the CIO to support the impacts and effort required across the organization, show that you are aware of and have considered at least some of the impacts beyond your own department, or business unit. As you communicate your new idea or change, ask questions to learn about level of effort and other organization impacts. CIOs what to help, but they are too busy to do all the thinking and groundwork for you.
  • Focus your new idea or change on the outcome and let the CIO’s team figure out the work, do not define the specific tasks for IT/IS to do. Your focus should also include timing to know when the new idea needs to be done or the change made to ensure effectiveness. These two requirements kill more projects or ideas than anything listed above. If you cannot define the outcome of your new idea, how will the CIO or other IT resource do that for you? Moreover, if you do not know when your new idea or change will be most relevant or most beneficial to the organization, why should IT prioritize your work ahead of the wave of other work requests? Time is a resource and if your idea could happen anytime, then it will be moved to the end of the IT backlog. Alternatively, many good or great new ideas need to be implemented by next Tuesday EOB. That statement will prevent CIO participation just as quickly as not knowing the maximum value date for your new idea.

Getting your new idea to the CIO requires you to engage at a different communication level. This means you have to engage your manager, director, etc. to establish support and validate that the new idea will benefit the entire organization. You have to do the work to demonstrate the organizational thinking outlined above. However, as you go about gathering data, understanding impacts, and defining timing, know that the CIO is open to new ideas and wants to help. Your efforts are not for nothing. They are for your future and the future of the organization, and that is where your effort and the CIO’s responsibility perfectly align. Which is why your CIO wants to help.

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