Top 5 CIO tips for working with the C-Suite

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CIO Hands Technology

CIOs across all industries must have a deep understanding of the technology deployed in their business. They need to understand the limitations of the current network and applications, the multiple contractual relationships with technology vendors, and the best way to manage both the good and bad in any enterprise IT environment. But as a digital revolution rapidly sweeps across all industries, now is the time for CIOs to be making the case for how IT can be of strategic importance to the business, and to start being heard in the C-suite.

Here are five ways in which CIOs can make that happen:

1. Focus on IT’s value – Peppering your presentation with talk of DevOps, JSON, log streams and sandboxes will quickly have the CEO and other execs reaching for their iPhones. To put it bluntly: most CEOs, CFOs and CMOs – and anyone else in the C-Suite - don’t really care about IT. What they do care about is how their IT department can enable new, better, and faster services for customers, or how IT can help the company cut costs, increase efficiencies and grow the business. To be heard in the boardroom, talk about how your team can create value for the business, not how you’re spending the IT budget, and you’ll have the board listening intently.

2. Target risks and security – All the headlines about major data breaches at high-profile companies over the past few years have put IT security on more business leaders’ agendas. And rightfully so. Every executive in every business needs to be aware of the damage that can be caused to a company’s reputation and bottom line if data is exposed and customers are put at risk. However, it is vital that these discussions are focused on the risks to the business or a security or data breach, as opposed to the technology required to minimize the risk. How likely is a breach that would require notifying investors? What are the potential reputational costs of such an attack? What protections can the IT department provide to prevent such risks and how much will they cost? Discussions around these areas are much more likely to engage the rest of the business, and add real strategic value to the organization.

3. Counter hype with reality and education – Executives not steeped daily in the realities of enterprise IT can develop unrealistic expectations about what tech can do for the business. To help the CEO and other C-suite members clearly understand the business benefits of IT investments, the CIO needs to demystify these views. Make as clear as you can, for example, what are the real capabilities – and limitations – of "hot" trends such as the cloud or big data that your C-Suite colleagues might have heard about from airplane magazines or teenagers for example. Your goal as the CIO should be helping the executive team separate reality from marketing hype, and then choosing the right solutions for your particular business.

4. Promote IT as a business enabler – The work undertaken by your team needs to be seen as a means to an end, not the end in itself. CEOs and CFOs don’t really want to spend money on servers and software, but they probably understand that they have to in order to keep the business operating and the cash registers ringing. The job of the CIO is to explain that IT isn’t just about keeping the lights on for a business, it’s about driving efficiencies, adding customer value, streamlining processes and managing the data that makes an organization work. While the CEO might not care about how a company’s website is developed, they certainly care if IT can help the website to drive more revenue. Your job as CIO is to make clear that relationship between tech on the one side and business objectives accomplished on the other.

5. Team up with other CxOs – Before you can successfully convey IT’s strengths as a business enabler, it helps to understand the business itself as well as you can. For example, you can gain valuable insights by talking regularly with the CFO, who’s focused on the lifeblood of the business: money. Learn better what your company’s balance sheet looks like and which considerations count the most in justifying new spending so you’ll put your own department on a much firmer footing when the time comes to ask for a budget increase.

Discussions in the C-suite can all too easily devolve into turf battles. It’s your job as CIO to keep discussions about IT on what matters most: ensuring that technology can deliver what the business and its customers need.

David Jamieson joined OpenText as the Chief Information Officer in November 2014. He brings over 25 years of experience in leading Information Technology organizations through the ever-changing technology landscape.