Scrolling down the last few lines of the latest internet blog pontificating on why CIOs have an average tenure of under 5 years, I was struck that I might have a unique perspective. Honestly, I have had my perspective for years but kept it to myself out of fear that my observations would be viewed and brushed off as nothing more than a self-serving promotion of my company. Oh well, for the sake of enlightenment and hopefully a crisp whack to all CIO and IT executive consciousness I am now willing to take that risk.
My observation contradicts all the articles I have read pertaining to CIO longevity. I believe this is because my perception has been shaped by the experience of being witness, from the outside in, to CIO success and failure. I am the President & CEO of Promethean Software Services, a twenty-plus year provider of Managed EDI Solutions, Secure Connectivity and Custom B2B Applications, and I have worked with many CIOs over the years as part of our sales and implementation process. Our sales and implementation teams put us in direct contact with the CIO and some traits and trends have emerged. More importantly, and this is not a shameless plug, Promethean is fortunate in that we service a very loyal customer base, the majority (nearly 80%), have been with Promethean for well over 10 years. Many go back a full twenty years to our inception as a company. With me being at my job almost all of the past 20 years, I can see that virtually every CIO we formed a relationship with during the initial term of their contract are still on the job holding the reigns of CIO or have even advanced. Wow! This completely contradicts the national statistics and everything we read. Why? Now, please, before I stop typing due to the nearly audible collective groan emanating from the digital dimension from the other side of my keyboard, I am NOT simply suggesting Promethean equals CIO job security and to look no further. However, I am asking the question, with such a well-documented and proven statistic of CIO turnover, why have the customers and CIOs doing business with Promethean been able to avoid those statistics? I believe I have one answer and no it is NOT simply to do business with Promethean. There, do I have my credibility back?
CIOs lose their jobs on average within 5 years because they either quickly lose sight of their primary responsibility or they never understood it from the start. We all know, and every good blog, magazine article or “White Paper” geared toward the CIO knows, that the primary responsibility of the CIO is to harvest, interpret and communicate emerging technologies with cost benefit recommendations to the CEO and possibly to the Board of Directors. Wrong! Yes, this is important. However, in my opinion and based on my experience with our customer base and the one common trait they share, CIO longevity, this responsibility is far down the list. Therefore, please, stop wasting every waking minute keeping up to date and walking the halls in fear of not being able to answer the CEO’s question on the latest and greatest new technology available. This does not make you indispensable. Worse, your boss knows this too. What makes the CIO indispensable is an ability to research, design and deliver technical business solutions that benefit the organization, complex or not, bleeding edge or tried and true, they need to be done on time, within budget and fully functional. That is something everyone in the organization, especially the other executives and shareholders, can understand. They may never understand you, the intricacies and difficulty of the technology deployed or the obstacles you faced to get the job done. They will, however, understand on time, within budget and functional. Which is why the universal complaint, from all perspectives, with the IT Department is, “IT projects are always over budget, delivered late, short on promise and usually more complicated than advertised”. It really does not matter that the CIO, ultimately in charge of the project, can regurgitate the pros and cons of the newest technical trends. The CIO must put pride aside and focus on their core issue which I will get to in a moment. Those CIOs that do then truly understand what other companies like Promethean offer. The fact is, because of the nature of Promethean’s service solutions, a versatile, flexible and confident CIO will look at not only our solutions from this vantage point but all applications and technical installations they consider. They will understand that the main reason projects are not delivered on time, within budget and fully functional is because of limited or fractured staff along with budget constraints. This is where thinking outside the paradigm sets CIOs apart. In our case, Promethean’s managed service solutions provide immediate and proven infrastructure and technical services which free needed budgets and skilled internal resources. Like many service providers our solutions, though new and state of the art, are not written about in the latest and greatest technical magazines. Remember, these magazines are focused on the new and also succumb to hype and marketing as well. As a result many CIOs have no idea that opportunity to implement new and emerging technology successfully resides in their understanding of the existing technology and processes their department supports and manages. Quite honestly, we have had several of our customers implement our services as part of a defined pre-requisite to designing, developing and deploying a much more complex and needed core technical solution. This focus on existing and often embedded legacy technologies and processes have enabled them to actually increase the manpower available for their project without increasing their budget. Using the savings in both time and manpower we offer they were able to hire additional resources as well as activate liberate internal resources and dedicate them to the new project as well. Instead of looking at EDI and Connectivity as an embedded necessary process and expense they were able to use Promethean to their advantage by removing these processes, expenses and resources from their day-to-day equation. In addition, they also improved upon the functionality with minimal effort. Quite honestly, a CIO focused only on the new never sees the multitude of opportunities that sit right before them. Wouldn’t you like to be able to add resources without approaching the CEO or Board asking for more money and then “magically” deliver on time, on budget and fully functional with the resources you already have. Now that is being indispensable.
My experience of working with the CIOs from our customer base has revealed to me that they are interested in ANY solution that can be delivered on time, within budget, that is fully functional, is easy for either their staff or end-users to interact with and that benefit their organization either financially or strategically or both. Their vanity and pride do not have them always pursuing the most complex and trendy technical possibilities while they pile up and never address the skeletons, inconvenient and dated technologies of the past robbing them incrementally each day and putting each new projects at greater and greater risk of getting done. The fact is EDI and Connectivity are important. They are not sexy and as a result completely forgotten by those CIOs when in fact it is potentially the answer to their need for more resources. It truly is adding by subtraction.
It is this experience that tells me that the CIOs of the companies we serve are not viable because of Promethean but that we are viable because of them and their understanding of their primary responsibility to the organization. They are pragmatic, confident and able to see opportunity where others do not. This is across the board and did not start or stop with understanding what Promethean could provide to them. This is an overall approach we see them take throughout their IT department. Unfortunately, there is still a tremendous misguided and self-imposed pressure on CIOs to always be swayed by the shiny new solution thinking that will make them indispensable. It only makes them replaceable. Which is why, in my opinion, CIOs are replaced every few years.
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