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Brief: What can CIOs do to improve communications with senior management?

"...failure to communicate with senior management is the number-one reason a CIO might get fired." CIO Magazine April 1997

Senior Management Knows IT Can Deliver

Most senior decision-makers know that IT can provide competitive advantage and the flexibility to operate in a rapidly changing environment. They are aware that IT’s benefits are not limited to making operations more cost effective or automating manual processes.

But, There Is a Definite Communication Problem

So, why do so many CEOs and CFOs seem to dismiss IT management?

Too often, CIOs seem unable or unwilling to communicate in the language of business. And it is precisely that language senior managers rely upon to help them make strategic and business decisions - including IT funding decisions.

Good IT Decisions Require Good Information

Senior management needs to make good business decisions. Their reliance upon IT means that they also must make good IT decisions. Good IT decisions require good information.

For senior management, good information is knowing how IT supports strategic goals and business objectives, what the real costs and risks are -- in clear and certain business terms. In other words, in a language that they can understand.

To get the information, naturally, senior managers turn to the top IT manager -- the CIO.

Senior Management Isn’t Getting Good IT Information

Instead of talking to top management in business terms, too many CIOs talk about "MIPS", "throughput", or "processing speed", all technically significant, but irrelevant to those who want to know exactly how the business will be affected.

How Can CIOs Do Better?

The "real" issue is: What should the CIOs be talking about with top management?

Here are three areas that CIOs can work on to improve "communication" with senior management, to essentially tell them what they need to hear:

  1. IT supports the organization’s strategy - Demonstrate that current and proposed projects are aligned with long-range business strategic goals.
  2. IT enables the organization to accomplish its business plans - Show support and early buy-in from business units, how IT will provide more efficient, effective, and revenue-generating activities, as well as how IT impacts new business areas for the organization.
  3. IT projects can deliver promised results, on time and within budget - Prove that proposed IT projects are well planned and risks are minimized. Demonstrate that there is an effective performance evaluation and management system in place.

These are the general "what to do's". In future Briefs (and in our Tutorials) we’ll tell you "How to do it".

This is the first installment of a multi-part series on CIO/senior management relations. For more information, see our next installment, "How can CIOs improve their presentations to senior management?"

If you are a CIO/CFO/CEO, we want to hear from you. Send us your comments and questions. Tell us what you’ve done about this issue or ask us about it.



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