On NPR I listened to an interview of the man whose job is to ensure the reliability of the electrical grid for the northeastern US. As you might suspect, the country’s power plants are all interconnected. That way, if there’s a problem with one, power can be rerouted and we can still make our cappuccinos. There are built-in backups and redundancies. Most times it works—most times. A few years ago a technician did something to the grid in Ohio, and managed to take out the electricity to several states in the northeast for many hours.
The interviewer asked the individual to describe his job. His answer, “Most people have no idea what I do. Typically it is weeks and months of simply going about my business, interrupted by occasional sheer panic. Usually, I’m either ignored or criticized.”
Sound familiar? It should. That describes how many CIOs view their situation. Your C-suite peers often have little or no understanding of what you do. There are weeks and months of going about your business, interrupted by occasional chaos. The end result, you are either ignored or criticized.
It can be a circular pattern. Oftentimes, those doing the criticizing are the same ones who if push came to shove could not write two paragraphs to explain the mission or responsibility of the CIO and the IT department. I have worked with CIOs for about thirty years. Some are great technologists, others are great managers—some are both.
A large number of CIOs, regardless of industry, are thought of by their C-suite peers as people who have a much better understanding of technology than they do of the industry they serve. I think this is part of the reason there are so many Chief Medical Information Officers popping up. This type of position—a second set of eyes—sort of a functional CIO to compliment the technical CIO—is unique to healthcare. There are no Chief Retail Information Officers, no Chief Manufacturing Information Officers.
IT is all too often viewed as an order taking repository, people who do the bidding of those who see themselves as having a better understanding of the business.
There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. CIOs are often measured by their “peers” on three highly visible metrics—deadlines, value, and cost control. Did the CIO deliver what was expected, when it was expected, and for the agreed upon cost? That same peer group, those who could not write the two paragraphs, are quick to take credit for IT’s successes, and quicker to absolve themselves for their contribution to perceived failures.
The peer group—the one who credits themselves with having the best grasp of the business—is the same group who too often withholds their business expertise when it is most needed. When is that? When it is time to contribute their resources’ knowledge to define requirements and business processes, to plan change management, to be trained, and to participate in user acceptance—a sure recipe for failure. Whose failure? IT’s, naturally.
The CIO hears phrases like:
- Who will pay for my people to work on your project
- My people have their real jobs to do—as if your job is some obscure hobby
- I can probably free up someone to attend a one hour meeting every now and then
There are very few CIOs who actually need an EHR, yet EHR is often viewed as their project.
Since nobody is going to change the perspective others have of the CIO and IT, the CIO and IT must facilitate change for themselves. Instead of always being on the receiving end of project orders, one way to change perspective is to sponsor efforts to the C-suite that solve business problems defined by IT.
For example, instead of coming to the table with an idea for implementing social media or patient relationship management (PRM)—solutions looking for a business problem to solve—come to the table with a business problem or better yet a business opportunity whose solution lies in social media or PRM. IT can take the initiative to:
- Inventory and document the business processes and business rules.
- Determine which processes create waste, which ones are redundant, and which ones add nothing to the bottom line.
To be thought of as someone at the table who understands the business at the same level as the others at the table, come with initiatives that pay for themselves; those that make the business more effective, more efficient, reduce costs, and increase revenues.