Advice for CIOs Who Need to Say 'No'

Ann All
Slide Show

Midmarket CIOs Spell out Priorities

Most midmarket CIOs are looking to cut the overall costs of securing their data and networks in the coming year, but a good 40 percent of them are planning to fund security system projects to support that goal.

For me (and I think for other attendees as well) one of the high points of the Midmarket CIO Forum is a panel discussion of CIOs willing to share their experiences.


A couple of panelists from last spring's event spoke about what I thought was an interesting best practice, creating profit-and-loss statements for enterprise applications, information I then shared in a blog post. I've also shared some insights from panelists at this week's event, which wrapped on Tuesday, on communicating with business folks to better manage their perceptions of IT and on looking for opportunities to bring IT closer to the business, in ways as simple (yet meaningful) as calling business folks "coworkers" rather than "users."


I want to share a few more thoughts from the panel here before moving on to recaps of some of the other presentations. (IT Business Edge contributor Rob Enderle, who gave two presentations, has already shared some of his thoughts on changes for which CIOs must be prepared.)


One of my favorite questions posed by panel moderator Bart Perkins, former CIO for Dole Food Company and Yum Brands and now a managing partner at IT consulting company Leverage Partners, involved how CIOs say "no" to business folks. It's an uncomfortable position to be in, and one that can threaten a CIO's job if it happens too often. (In his opening keynote, one of Enderle's four rules for CIOs was "Employees at any level who say 'no' too often are replaced.") Yet saying no is obviously part of the CIO's job when he or she is asked to implement a technology that won't serve a company well or may even put it at risk.


Lyla Perrodin, CIO of nonprofit research organization Midwest Research Institute, said that rather than dismissing an idea out of hand, she asks business folks what they hope to accomplish with an IT project. "Then I try to offer them a better solution. It's about looking for ways to say 'yes,'" she said.


Tina Rourk, CIO of Wyndham Vacation Ownership, said she simply requires business folks to clearly spell out how an IT project will help them achieve a goal or solve a problem. "If the business can't come up with a justification for a deployment, then I don't have to say 'no.'" (Of course, this won't work in certain cases, such as the CEO who wants iPhones for him or herself and a few other managers.)


Similarly, Perkins noted that one of his Leverage Partners clients asks business leaders who would benefit from IT projects to make a case for them with their peers. "If the business leader isn't willing to stand up for it, then the CIO won't do it," he said.


Bob Ashford, vice president of information technology for coffee manufacturer Massimo Zanetti, said he's tried to learn from business peers, who often seem to work behind the scenes to ensure they won't be put into a position where they will have to say "no". CIOs would do well to take the advice offered by several of the panelists to walk the halls and talk to business folks. They may hear about interest in deploying iPads, for example, before anyone actually asks about it. They can begin proactively mentioning security risks and other key considerations among managers, who may then address it with their employees.

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Dec 2, 2010 12:51 PM m ellard m ellard  says:

Thanks for this post - saying no isn't easy, but this post gets to the heart of why it's important. The executive iPhones example is an interesting one though - perhaps saving the "nos" for the things that will potentially cost the most in time/money and/or later complications is important too.


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