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When is it good to talk about technology with the CEO?

InformationWeek editor Chris Murphy recently wrote an article titled 4 Elite CIOs Share Lessons about a panel discussion with CIOs from Fortune 200 companies.


There was lots of fascinating content, but one topic that caught my eye was how CIOs can now talk about technology. The point he was making is that only a few years ago the CIO had to avoid mentioning the technology while talking about how they could help meet the business goals. The world has moved on and business users are now interested in talking about technology.


When I looked at the specific examples quoted, it was very clear that these were CIOs who talked about technology AND business outcomes. There is no point in going to the business to talk about technology simply because the technology is interesting; it has to be able to solve real business problems. One example quoted in the InformationWeek article was:


 “Johnson Controls CIO Colin Boyd described his teams' work on digital screens to put in the automotive aisle of retail stores, so people can easily look up which car battery they need. The business need? About half of returns are due to buying the wrong battery.


I think that this fits very neatly with the research I discussed in my last blog 6 steps to plan and prioritize IT investments. This showed that investment in IT can result in significant revenue growth, but there is no evidence that IT can improve profitability through operating cost reduction.


The challenge for most organizations is to identify what technology investments can lead to business growth, and the way to do that is to really understand the business. You need to ask questions like:

  • What are the vision, mission, goals and aspirations of the business?
  • Where are there significant growth opportunities for the business?
  • What are the key business issues and drivers?
  • What keeps senior management awake at night?
  • What business processes are causing problems?
  • Where does the business have significant risk?

When the CIO really understands these issues, they can use their knowledge of technology and the IT industry to come up with ideas that might help to create business growth. Only when the CIO has identified how technology can solve real business problems is it cool for them to talk technology to the business.


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| ‎06-26-2012 08:35 PM

It seems like one of the criteria that the CIO needs to have met is that they can talk about their proven track record of business value generation. Although that may not be what the CIO and the CEO should talk about, without that history there is no foundation to build upon - right?

Stuart_Rance | ‎06-26-2012 11:51 PM



Thank you for your comment.


I certainly do agree that a CIO needs to have a track record of business value generation. They need to be trusted to know what investments are going to create business value, and that trust can only come from a good track record.

Joe Albano | ‎06-29-2012 11:47 AM

Stuart –


There does seem to be a trend towards making technology more accessible to consumers (e.g., the iPad). This makes the technology easier to talk about – but still not the center point of the business conversation. There was a point in history when the phrase “I’ll get the car” became easy for everyone to understand, this did not mean that the dialogue shifted from transportation to automotive technology.  


It seems to me that the example of the car batteries is more about a business needs (lowering battery return rates) rather than about the digital screen technology. The tools are simply more familiar today than they have been in the past.


The challenge for many organizations is creating an IT capability (starting with the CIO – but perhaps more importantly by reinforcing or creating a business relationship management function within IT) that is able to focus on what is relevant and most important to the business. It is the age-old challenge of shifting the role of IT from purveyors and maintainers of the technology to partners in the business. Success at this transformation requires new thinking from the top down coordinated with new skills and methods from the bottom up.


My suspicion is that most organizations that are successful at transforming their IT give as much (if not more) attention to their sociology as they do to their technology.  

Stuart_Rance | ‎06-29-2012 01:56 PM



Thank you for your comment. I do agree that paying attention to the sociology, and the organizational dynamics, is probably more important than discussing the technology.


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I help clients use service management to create business value for themselves and their customers. I am a senior ITIL examiner and I have wr...

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