That was my reaction recently when I read an article by Martha Heller on CIO UK’s sister site in the US. The article was based on an interview with Michael White, CEO of DirecTV, a satellite TV company with 32 million customers in the US and Latin America.
So what prompted this reaction? When asked what a CEO should do to support their CIO White said “First, CIOs need a full seat at the decision table; my CIO reports to me. Second, CEOs must invest time with their CIOs, understand their challenges and be their adviser. Finally, CEOs should provide air cover for their CIOs, from resource allocation to moral support.” I consider that a near-perfect answer! And it gets better, in terms of the skills the CIO should have White identified partnering and leadership in addition to the technical knowledge. So he also views the CIO as someone who is more than just the senior techie.
On innovation White explains that, whilst the IT department have to deliver projects on time and within budget you also need to give them the budget and space to experiment otherwise “your company will suffer. If you don’t make a few mistakes along the way, you’re probably not taking enough risks.”
DirecTV are clearly reaping the rewards of this approach; instead of questioning why its IT budget is constantly increasing and what return it is getting from this expenditure, White says “Based on our successful IT initiatives, I know IT will increase our effectiveness with our customers in ways we can’t even imagine today.”
This is a CEO that clearly understands the value and importance of technology, and hence the CIO role, to his business. I suspect that the majority of CIOs could only wish to have that type of backing and perspective from their CEO. Although one could argue that, given DirecTV provides its customers with “digital television entertainment services”, the level of support that White provides to his CIO is perhaps not surprising; without technology the business would not exist.
But then again every business is, or at least needs to be, a digital business these days so perhaps it is not unrealistic to expect all CEOs to take the same approach as White. Technology is being used to disrupt industries, create new business models, products and services. It has never been so important, so strategic and so fundamental to businesses as it is in the digital age. DirecTV’s White provides an example that other CEOs would do well to follow to ensure they provide their CIO with the profile and support they need to help shape their organisation’s digital future.
These are challenging times to be a CIO; technology is now more accessible to non-IT staff, awareness and knowledge of its application within the enterprise has never been higher and, as a result, neither have expectations about what can be achieved in terms of functionality and speed of delivery. Vendors are targeting non-IT executives and shadow IT is on the rise. CIOs are at risk of being bypassed as a result.
These challenges are one of the key themes of my new book, Disrupt IT, in which I define a new model for IT in the digital age. This model calls for a radical transformation of the IT function and a repositioning of the CIO role to ensure both are equipped to meet the needs of the digital business. I also provide advice for CIOs and boards on how to design and manage this transformation through a framework of seven principles.
To be successful in challenging times, any executive needs the support of the CEO and their colleagues in the C-suite. This is particularly true when that executive is leading a transformation of their function whilst also trying to reposition their own role. But they also need that support, understanding and, in Michael White’s words, “air cover” on an ongoing basis to ensure that they can continue to do their job effectively.
And this is why the seventh principle in Disrupt IT is aimed specifically at the Board and the wider organisation to ensure they maximise the benefits from the new model for IT. A strong CIO and IT function that are focused on creating value is essential to succeeding in the digital age. And whilst there is much for the CIO to do to achieve this, having a CEO that is engaged with technology is also a key step. The CEO needs to be clear about what they need and expect from the CIO role, and to communicate this to both the CIO and the rest of the organisation. They also need to give the CIO the platform, profile and opportunity they need to shape and lead the digital transformation of their organisation.
White’s positioning of the CIO role as a key part of the senior team, his desire to understand the CIO’s challenges so that he can provide help and advice, his ongoing support together with allowing the CIO budget and time to try things, and viewing IT as more than just a cost centre fits very well with the seventh principle of Disrupt IT. If more CEOs followed the example set by White then CIOs would find their lives just that little bit easier and organisations would get a lot more out of their IT functions.
Disrupt IT is available from Amazon in print and Kindle formats. Country links are listed below: