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  • Tony Pagliarulo

CIOs Under Fire – 3 Common Mistakes CIOs (“ex”) make


By all accounts the role of the CIO is more strategic than ever with increased expectations to deliver business value and drive bottom line results – while at the same time managing complex legacy landscapes (and organizations) and addressing an increasing number of cyber risks. How do CIOs increase their effectiveness and impact, and more importantly avoid making career ending mistakes?


Over the past several years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with dozens of current and former CIOs and IT executives – all in the midst of, or contemplating some form of IT Transformation, or in the case of ex-CIOs, asking themselves how they went wrong….

Drawing upon these conversations, I’ve identified several themes and common mistakes that continue to “derail” CIOs and limit their effectiveness. Many successful CIOs also shared advice and tips to address these challenging issues.


1. Missed Expectations: whether it’s providing core IT services or leading a large IT initiative, CIOs often loses touch with their key stakeholders and “consumers” failing to meet expectations. CIO’s frequently take direction and cater to the whims of senior management, without taking into account the needs of their broader end-user communities. The ubiquity of technology, ease of access and desire for instant gratification has dramatically increased the expectations of business users of IT. Workers want a contemporary, “Amazon like” IT experience with instant access to the information and capabilities they need to perform their jobs. Instead employees are still getting a company provisioned PC, e-mail account and password and being told everything they can’t do.


While it might difficult for budget constrained and risk-minded IT departments to deliver all the services and access that their users want, successful CIOs provide a forum to capture the feedback and measure the sentiment of their end-users. Simple “pulse” surveys and on-line IT forums are examples of tools used by two successful CIOs to measure end-user satisfaction and capture the “voice of the customer”. Responding to this feedback is key to building credibility and establishing loyalty with your end-users.


2. Ineffective Communication: Failure to effectively communicate and market ITs’ value and brand is a common mistake of most IT departments. CIO’s and their team are often too busy completing the next project or maintaining legacy systems to proactively communicate to their key stakeholders and end-users.


Let’s face it, CIOs are never going to make everybody happy, however, if there is an effort to communicate ITs’ strategy, share priorities and show some wins, and just as important, be transparent when things go wrong, you’ll find that your users are more understanding and supportive.


Communication can be formal, such as periodic newsletter or report or it can be in the form of a CIO blog. Successful IT leaders share their strategy and vision in a consumable format to all levels of the broad organization and provide regular status updates. If there are major issues impacting IT service delivery or applications, proactive, transparent communication is key to mitigating users concerns – even if you don’t have all the answers.


CIOs should also make an effort to market and recognize the accomplishments of their team to ensure that everyone in the IT organization knows how their contribution impacts the broader strategy. Finally, in addition to internal communication and marketing, communicating and building an external brand is another focus area of successful CIOs.


3. Technological “lock-in”: CIOs stay wedded to technology for too long, get “locked-in” on specific platforms and often miss the change curve. Once an organization has made a large investment in infrastructure, or a complex application implementation, they often stay committed to that technology decision for far too long. These implementations become legacy systems which often have major capability gaps resulting in vendor dependence, customizations, and “bolt-on” solutions or worse shadow IT systems, all of which can introduce increased complexity, costs and risks.


Modernizing a complex legacy landscape can take years and costs millions of dollars and many of these systems still may meet a critical business requirement. CIOs can mitigate the risk of lock-in and start introducing new capabilities without a wholesale “rip and replace” strategy by defining a “to be” business reference architecture based on key end-to-end business capabilities. Focusing on an improved user experience, data sharing and deploying a robust integration framework along with a migration to “best in class” SaaS and cloud platforms are several techniques which have proven effective in mitigating the impact of complex legacy landscapes.


Proactively identifying and avoiding these common mistakes will help ensure CIOs increase their impact and raise the profile of the IT organization.

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