Local IT executives would do well to heed the words of this wise Malaysian CEO
Over the years I have met and interviewed quite a few CEOs. However, this was to be my first appointment with one in Malaysia. In truth, I was a little apprehensive about the meeting. The person I was meeting carried the title "Datuk" in his name. Datuk is an honour bestowed on very few Malaysians. It is something akin to a being made an MBE in Britain or an OAM in Australia. As such, it reflects that a person has made a significant contribution to society in general. Clearly, the CEO I was about to meet was going to be someone impressive.
I need not have worried. This CEO proved to be a courteous and charming man. Furthermore, he was also bright and perceptive. Our meeting lasted for nearly two hours and largely centred on the role of IT in his organization, and his views on IT in general. It was a thought-provoking discussion.
The CEO had spent the major part of his career in the retail industry and he had risen to the ranks of senior management through the sales and marketing divisions. He was clearly someone who recognized both the importance and potential of ICT. Yet he was also someone who was exasperated by the industry. What was illuminating for me was the time he took to articulate, in a measured and dispassionate way, just why he was fed up with ICT. Unfortunately, he reserved the majority of his criticisms for ICT executives.
His first point was that they tend to "jump around" between jobs and showed little loyalty to their employer. This was despite the fact that, outside of sales and marketing, they are usually on some of the highest salaries in the business. Moreover, unlike sales and marketing people, ICT executives do not have to meet quotas and sales targets to justify these moneys. The result was that the CEO frequently felt "held to ransom" in his negotiations with ICT. If he didn't agree to their demands they would have no compunction jumping ship and leaving him in the lurch.
The CEO's next complaint was about the inability of ICT executives to communicate in the language of the business. His experience was that they are so focused on technology that for them all the problems of the business have a technological solution. To the CEO, this reflects an inability to fully appreciate the challenges of the various members of the executive team. He didn't deny that technology can play a significant part in addressing the problems of these executives; however, in his mind, ICT needs to show their peers in the business that they are making attempts to understand the full picture and articulating their responses in the language these executives use.
The CEO also accused ICT employees of being too conciliatory. He found many business executives often don't know what they want. Frequently, they ask for everything and do not recognize what can - or can't - be done, and the trade-offs that involved in these requests. Unfortunately, the CEO also has found that ICT people tend to go along with these requests in the misguided belief that they are providing customer service. But in his experience, this reluctance to debate these requests results in ICT projects failing to meet their promised objectives - and to the business's growing disillusionment with ICT.
I would be surprised if many CEOs in Australia didn't concur with most of these concerns. While the CEO also had criticisms for vendors for over-promising - and for the technological naivety of business executives - the lesson I took away from our discussion was that IT executives need to understand the part their actions play in fostering disillusionment with ICT.
Peter Hind is a freelance consultant and commentator with nearly 25 years experience in the IT industry. He is co-author of The IT Manager's Survival Guide and ran the InTEP IS executive gatherings in Australia for over 10 years