Recently, I met a CIO who was berating the fact that whenever (which is infrequent in any case) a meeting was scheduled to discuss the strategic IT agenda, the gathering ended up discussing operational issues in almost every case. This was leading to a buildup of frustration, and the CIO was wondering if the business had no interest in pursuing the strategic alignment of IT for their enterprise. As I listened to these woes, I realized that the CIO had a remote possibility of getting there. This was not because the company did not understand or appreciate the value of IT’s contribution, but since the malaise had its roots in the way IT was engaging with the rest of the company.
Every CIO aspires (and rightly so) to create a significant impact to the company with the help of tools and IT enabled processes that give them tactical advantage many a times. IT organizations which are able to create several such initiatives sustain the benefits that IT provides, and creates IT advocates from within the business. However, this is possible only if everything else is working hunky dory, or at least has a jointly agreed review process that allows the organization to conduct a dialogue that focuses on the issues and challenges they face.
Periodic review meetings with different functions (like finance, marketing, sales and production)—singularly or jointly—provides a framework to list, review, mediate as well as track issues that are irritants to daily chores and operations within the enterprise. Over a period of time, as the IT organization resolves issues and engages in an open dialogue, these meetings become a regular way of exploring new opportunities that allow for mutual win-win situations. The assumption is that these issues are resolved to the satisfaction of “users” within the agreed to timelines. Where the formal review meetings are not the norm, any meeting that discusses IT in any shape or form becomes the ground to rage war with the CIO.
My CIO friend suffered from this lapse. He considered it inappropriate to engage the business in operational meetings, as he wanted to discuss only the strategic agenda. His team worked diligently to address operational issues when they were brought to their notice (normally when it was a crisis). As a result, the IT team was always fighting fires, without opportunities for an across the table discussion. This lack of a structured review mechanism ensured that the CIO rarely had an opportunity to table the strategic agenda which he was passionate about.
CIOs should balance the need for operational reviews, along with discussions that look at the long term impact created by innovation and new technology. Failure to engage the business across both planes will result in the strategic agenda being hijacked and loss of credibility to deliver business as usual. Such situations just end up further distancing the Business IT Alignment (See BITA).