Earlier in the year I was interviewed for IMIS magazine by Shirley Redpath on the topic of CIO’s on the Board – a question, as she so eloquently put it that “has has been doing the rounds in the industry Press and IT talking shops for well over a decade.”.
Once again, in my normal understated fashion, I postulated that there were more important things to worry about and that ultimately it was really all down to you and your view of yourself. A great mantra from my old fiend David Taylor – the Naked Leader – is that if the things you are doing arent taking you closer to where you want to be then do something else – and if that doesn’t work then do something else etc etc. The only true insanity is to do the same things and hope for a different outcome. So if you believe the only way to achieve your goals and be effective is to be on the main board and for whatever reason, you’re not there or likely to get there- then go somewhere else.
Here are a few of the more pithy extracts :-
- “I’m pretty sure a lot of CIOs who aspire to be on the main Board don’t know what happens in those meetings,” says Ian Cohen, currently Group CIO of international insurance giant, Jardine Lloyd Thompson. “It can often be quite mundane and procedural, particularly around the sort of governance and compliance activities that the main Boards of regulated businesses have to deal with. A lot of it is actually far less “exciting” than you might expect”.
Cohen’s view is backed up by a 2011 Gartner survey involving CIOs in both the US and the UK. It showed that although many respondents had regular engagement with their main Boards, only 21% actually aspired to a place at that august table.
- Still, according to Cohen, having a seat on the main Board should make little difference to the CIO’s ability to make a value contribution to the organisation. “For me,” he says, “there is no difference between how effective I was in an organisation where I was on the main Board and the effectiveness that I can have in an organisation where I’m not. I have the same conversations, I speak to the same people and we run the same programmes. The point is not whether you sit there or not, the point is how you as a leader focus and enable your function so that the technology capability you build drives your business forward.”
- “The most important question for me going into a role is am I going to be able to build a great relationship with the CEO; am I going to help the CEO deliver his or her vision for the organisation? Will technology be able to evolve, mature or develop to enable, support and underpin the business in its drive to achieve that vision? If I can do that, we will be aligned. You need a good, strong, robust, open, bilateral and challenging relationship with your CEO and executive colleagues so that if they do come up with some hare-brained scheme you can tell them it is hare-brained and they will listen because they respect and trust you,” Cohen says.
- Ronald Blahnik, VP/IT Engineering for Lowe’s Co. in the US is quoted as saying the “I” in CIO now stands for innovation, not information.” That view has Cohen up in arms. “No CIO owns the right to innovation,” he retorts. “At our very best, we are the “enablers of things”. We tell stories and paint pictures about the art of the possible and if they get traction, we create new environments and capabilities that allow great things to happen.
I am disappointed in the concerns voiced by Mr. Cohen. I did not suggest Innovation is the exclusive domain of the CIO. However, more is required today of IT and building the business is part of that additional charge. It sounds like Cohen is waiting and not creating. Innovation is free thought and often comes following a conversation with our business partners. Innovation is a collaborative process and is iterative in nature. Enabling is also important and is certainly part of the job, but IT must bring new thoughts to the table or become irrelevant.
Thanks for your contribution Ron.
Interesting that you interpret the comments here as “Mr Cohen waiting and not creating” – clearly you know little about me.
That in itself is a shame as we are actually in full agreement that “innovation is a collaborative process and is iterative in nature”and that “IT must bring new thoughts to the table” however its not just IT’s job.
It’s our collective responsibility to bring innovation to the table however what the the CIO can do, in a way that other LoB functions cannot – is see the opportunities in their widest context rather than in organisational silos. Hence, my view that the CIO has a key role in creating a climate where innovation, form all areas – colleagues, customers, partners, clients, consumers, wherever – can flourish.