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A Present from the CIO

A Present from the CIO

Some say the best gifts are those that give of yourself.

With the holiday season fast approaching, the spirit of giving begins to fill our hearts and minds more than at any other time of year. But the chill in the air also causes other thoughts to creep into the minds of senior executives, leaving some of them feeling like Scrooge: closing quarterly books, meeting Wall Street projections, completing next year's budget and outlining and committing next year's goals to the board of directors.

As professionals, we often bemoan our need to really drive our careers and ensure that our senior leaders understand our commitment and the value we bring to our organizations. However, it is seldom that we actually do something so extraordinary that we are catapulted to the top of Santa's Christmas list of deserving girls and boys. Perhaps we should apply the holiday spirit to our careers and leverage a constant, fail-safe premise: Everyone likes to get presents!

The role of the CIO is undergoing a transformation by moving away from the image of the guy with black horn-rimmed glasses, wearing a white short-sleeve shirt and clip-on tie. You know the guy: He has an odd - if not slightly creepy - sense of humour that no one really gets. Indeed, merely understanding computer networks and data entry methods is no longer good enough. Today, senior executives expect 100 percent system uptime as a given. In addition, they want to team with their CIO as a strategic partner to implement technology that will reduce administrative costs, streamline business processes and provide business lifecycle transparency via converting data into usable information. To be successful in this newly elevated role, a CIO is expected to have an MBA, be fluent in the language of finance and always maintain an entrepreneurial mindset. The message of today's senior executives is quite clear: How are you, as the CIO, going to make the business more automated, run smoother and - most importantly - offset IT overhead?

With the preceding statement in mind, I suggest you ask your CEO this question: "Do you think I bring value to the organization?" Assuming the reply is a positive one (if not, begin looking for a new job immediately), follow up by asking how much more valuable you would be considered if you were free to the organization. I guarantee that, if your position cost the company nothing while it still provided immense value, you would always be at the top of your CEO's holiday shopping list.

We CIOs know the value proposition we bring to our organizations. For CEOs to understand - and embrace - it, our value may require more than the spirit of giving; it may also require the act of giving back. This is where the naughty are separated from the nice, figuratively speaking.

During the last quarter of the year, commit to taking proactive measures with quantifiable results that will offset your annual salary. That's right: Save the company so much money that the expense of having had you on staff during the year is zero, zip, nil, nada, goose-egg. Doing so will undoubtedly play a huge role in determining whether you receive the equivalent of a lump of coal or a Red Rider BB Gun from your organization.

Here are a few examples of initiatives you may want to consider:

  • Vendor Management: Simply call your top 10 vendors and explain that this is a tight quarter, and you would like them to provide a reduction in cost of services for the remaining three months of the calendar year. I think you will be shocked at how willing your vendors are to help out. Remember, your vendors are more interested in moving off the vendor's list and on to the short list of partners of your organization.

  • Leveraging Obsolescent Hardware and Software: Have you ever actually taken the time to review the old equipment and software licences your organization no longer utilizes? Due to system upgrades, acquisitions, change of vendors, product retirement, and so on, several tools are shelved while still carrying value. Remember, just because hardware is fully depreciated on the books and now just sitting around collecting dust doesn't mean it's no longer sought after. You may want to contact a sourcing broker to assist you in placing some of your obsolescent goodies. There are always less fortunate companies that would be happy to receive your gently-used equipment. This is another area where I think you will be quite surprised by how quickly you can rack up some holiday cash.

  • Telephony Review: Have you ever requested that your telecommunications service provider explain the logical architecture your organization is using and asked for a review of your throughput demand? Are you paying for expensive circuits, routers and switches that aren't being utilized? When organizations relocate corporate functions, consolidate departments, and the like, all too often the former contract that governs the telecommunication is never revisited. In general, the rates for the new service may be reviewed, but the sunk cost of the hardware and associated services are often overlooked. Cutting unnecessary monthly charges in this area will make your CEO so happy that he or she may join in with the 10 lords a-leaping.

  • Services Received: During any contract negotiation, we exercise an acute attention to detail; however, once the contract and service levels are integrated into daily operations, ensuring that the services rendered are actually received is often ignored. I'm sure you have heard about consultancies that will come into your organization to review your phone records, reconciling services with payment compliance. What you may not know is that they only get paid a percentage of what they recover. With one phone call, you can have a group of free consultants in your shop, going after lost dollars as frantically as Santa's elves making toys on December 24. Again, this is another area where the amount saved can be stunning.

These are but a few examples that might get you thinking about areas to address. However, the most important point to remember is that it is imperative that your CEO understand that this effort is a tangible representation of your commitment to the organization. Then, every year during fourth quarter, make a resolution to cover your annual salary through the corporate savings you've been able to realize, and ask other senior staff members: "Who else is willing to make this commitment?" If other executives also take the step to aggressively seek cost reductions, the organization will not only save thousands - perhaps even millions - of dollars, but you will begin to change its entire culture. Once you get the snowball rolling, who knows where it might end up? Hmm, associating cost reductions with executive bonuses, that's where! Imagine telling the CEO that you no longer want a salary; instead, you want 25 percent of what you save the organization? What a way to kick off the New Year!

So, as the holiday season draws near and you begin to reflect upon the year that is about to close, ask yourself if you've done all you can. Chances are you haven't. There are likely some hidden presents that are just waiting to be unwrapped. Seek them out as a gesture of your dedication and a reassurance of your value. This can only work in your favour because - remember - everyone likes to get presents.

Rick Click is vice president and CIO of California-based Molina Healthcare

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