Aspiring CIOs: Don't be afraid to have hard conversations

If your career goals involve securing the CIO seat, start working on this skill now
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[Editor's note: The Enterprisers Project asked IT leaders to reflect on their first CIO job and offer career advice to aspiring CIOs. We will share their stories in this ongoing series. First up: Matt Minetola, EVP and CIO of Travelport, explains why the difficult conversations are the most important ones to have for newly appointed CIOs.]

My first CIO job:

It was as CIO of Compaq Financial Services, which at the time was an independently-run finance organization supporting Compaq in its quest to fill the market with products from laptops for consumers to large-end data center servers for the largest corporations in the world.

Prior experience:

My background was really varied in that I had held numerous functional roles across the entire breadth of technology. I had grown up in deep systems support and understood how various operating systems and databases performed, and then I moved into developing applications.

The common threads in all of my roles as I progressed were twofold. First, the organizations I worked in were either very large-scale transactional businesses or global, and second, I had heavy indirect and direct customer engagement. This balance of technology and customer really enabled me to understand the entire value chain of technology in a large-scale corporation and made me much more valuable to an executive leadership team that needed to leverage technology to win in their market.

What my first CIO job taught me:

The easiest part of the role is the technology. The hardest part is at the leadership table influencing decisions that had no right or wrong answers.

My advice for aspiring CIOs:

First, there isn’t enough time or money in business to do all the things needed to deliver 100 percent accuracy and quality across the entire breadth of what “technology” is in today's world. Figure out what's in the grey areas that can best optimize and move the needle forward as quickly and accurately as possible, to help your CEO make the right tradeoffs and choices for the business. Second, start each conversation with the view of the customer and what making a decision means to them and the market. Third, act for today but think and plan for tomorrow.

Bonus tip: Have the uncomfortable conversations – early and often 

Don’t be afraid to have the hard conversations. My guess is if you are a new CIO, that means there were issues with the technology that existed before you arrived. More times than not, the problems aren't issues with the technology itself but more so how the engagement with technology has evolved, unmet expectations, and/or because of a lack of confidence in the technology's ability to deliver.

This means relationships need to be fixed and expectations need to be changed. Don’t shy away from ensuring that you get those on the right track. Having the hard conversations early, although uncomfortable, is better than enabling the same behaviors and expectations that the business had up until the situation that required you to be hired. If you don’t have these conversations, things will be much harder.

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As Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Travelport, Matt Minetola holds global responsibility for leading Travelport’s Technology organization and the technical delivery of its Travel Commerce Platform.