The CIO as Chief Communicator

The CIO as Chief Communicator

Everybody's Talking At Me

CIOs also know that when it comes to communication it's both the who and the frequency that count.

The CIOs in The State of the CIO survey report spending more than 25 percent of their time interfacing with department heads and CXOs and communicating with business executives; 29 percent of their time managing IT staff, including hiring; 11 percent interacting with outside business partners/suppliers (other than IT vendors) and customers; and 10 percent talking to IT vendors.

"I was with an organization quite a few years ago where the executive group felt the need to develop a financial plan to support a strategic model that they wished to progress with," Holmes says. "Basically we started every morning for a couple of months with a half-hour discussion on how you might do this particular thing, or that particular thing in Excel, hinting at development of a strategic view of what that particular organization should do. We were trying to build a business model that would represent the market we found ourselves in [a way] that was very different from our parent organization."

As a result, he says, he effectively became an honorary member of the executive group, largely thanks to his ability as a translator and to put the technology into the strategic context. "Without having had those sessions where I was essentially acting as a teacher, but continually relating it to the strategic exercise at hand, it would have been very difficult to assume that role," he says.

CIOs know that regular communication pays off. When asked in the survey which IT practices they rated as highly effective in adding value to the business, some 71 percent ticked: The IT organization communicates with its user population at large on a regular basis, giving it a ranking of number three; 78 percent ticked: The CIO is part of the executive management team/committee, putting it at number one; and 73 percent ticked: User representatives from the affected departments or functions are involved at all stages of an IT initiative, ranking it number two.

Yet knowing something is important and being able to do something to advance that something are not always synonymous. As Hannah points out, IT people - so frequently highly introverted by nature - find communication hard enough at the best of times. Being trained to recognize when EGO has raised its ugly head is one way she believes she can encourage her managers to help others by helping themselves.

Feedback suggests the initiative has been noted and appreciated. Hannah's board of management has made clear it is very alert to the fact that her team is trying to communicate with them in ways that mean something to them, rather than persisting in providing vast volumes of "dense" information without any heed to how it is presented or the language that it is being presented in. Direct feedback from DIMIA's CEO, the Portfolio Secretary, makes clear he likes the way Hannah's team presents its reports to the board of management, because it is clear her team is making that effort to communicate in common terms.

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