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Team Work

Smart CIOs know that defining, designing and delivering value starts with having the right relationships with the right people.

A CIO launched a comprehensive critical technology replacement program in the middle of a major push to bring a new product to market. While the technology initiative was essential to the future growth of the company, the CIO soon found himself facing the wrath of his fellow executives in manufacturing and marketing as they hit technology glitches at a critical juncture.

The CIO, says Pamela Harper, founder and president of US consultancy Business Advancement, was guilty of an "act now, think later" pattern of behaviour that was all but guaranteed to become a hidden roadblock to strategic success.

CIOs run into problems with the executive team when they launch ambitious initiatives (such as outsourcing functions, forming alliances or introducing new technology) while making common but mistaken assumptions about their organisation's unique reality (circumstances, capabilities, culture and relationships), Harper says. Such assumptions become "hidden roadblocks" capable of creating persistent organisational problems that pile up and grind their company's progress to a halt during a plan's execution - a condition she calls "strategic gridlock".

This is a particularly challenging time to be a CIO. The hangover from the dotcom environment and the extremely tough business environment for most corporations means fellow executives are likely to be more sceptical about IT initiatives than usual right now. Effective CIOs know those are not sentiments they can afford to let fester, says Accenture global managing partner technology and research Jamie Hall. The good news is that the level of CEO awareness and understanding of technology and its strategic importance to the business is greater than it has ever been before.

"I think for CIOs today there is actually a tremendous opportunity for them to get much closer to the CEOs of their companies and to really be an agent of strategic change in the organisation," Hall says.

Doing so involves finding ways to work much more effectively with the executive team than many CIOs have done in the past. Paul Glen, certified management consultant with US firm C2 Consulting and the author of Leading Geeks: How to Manage and Lead People Who Deliver Technology, notes that whether CIOs directly report to the executive leadership team or not, the CIO is responsible for maintaining support for the technical group within the upper reaches of the organisation. Without such support, the technology group is likely to become an organisational backwater, a permanent cost centre viewed as a burden rather than a strategic asset.

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