CIOs 'old school' with communication

CIOs may be in the business of high tech, but when it comes to communicating among themselves, just hand them the phone. And that's the way it should be, according to one CIO watcher.

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CIOs may be in the business of high tech, but when it comes to communicating among themselves, just hand them the phone.

Despite the availability of virtual networking and collaboration tools from vendors such as WebEx Communications Inc., WiredRed Software Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Microsoft, many IT executives seem to be sticking with decidedly old-fashioned ways of staying in touch and talking shop with their peers, although the relatively newfangled medium of e-mail is also popular.

Suzanne Gordon, CIO of SAS Institute Inc., has developed friendships with other CIOs because SAS has partnered with their companies.

"We correspond via e-mail with questions like, 'What are you doing about security?' or ask about answers for spam that work," she said.

Gordon has joined some CIO groups to talk about problems and solutions. But joining those groups can get expensive, she said, and in many cases the people who assemble the groups are more interested in selling something than genuinely opening up lines of communication.

"These aren't as productive as I had hoped," she added.

Other CIOs agree that old school communication works best for them.

David Guzman, CIO of Owens & Minor Inc., said he prefers to network face to face or in one on one e-mails. "I'm pretty old fashioned in this regard," he said.

"[I] go to conferences, network with friends, talk to vendors, especially my strategic partners," said Scott McIntyre, CIO of Quantum Corp. "Between e-mail, Blackberry and my mouth I get in enough trouble as it is," he joked.

Chances are, few CIOs will bite when it comes to fancy virtual networking tools.

"I can confirm for you, with complete certainty, that IT executives do NOT use collaborative tools to communicate with each other," said Stuart Robbins, founder of The CIO Collective and former CIO at Jamcracker Inc. Robbins thinks that's the case even with members of the CIO group he established.

He found this out the hard way.

Robbins said that when he was CIO, he founded a knowledge management company that designed and built a hosted repository with a couple of prominent beta cutomers. Robbins gauged fellow CIOs about the best ways they could use his company's product to connect, exchange ideas and manage information.

The best way ended up being another way.

Most all the CIOs Robbins queried were not interested in applications -- no matter how useful or user-friendly -- because they didn't want those apps to clutter their daily routines.

"They spend many hours in e-mail, and [it's] the only tool that is efficient for them," Robbins said. "Unless there existed a utility that connected their current e-mail system with a back-end repository -- with no additional user interface and no additional passwords -- they were simply not interested.

"The ROI for them -- time -- was simply not there. When they want to speak to each other, they pick up the phone."

Thornton May, an IT futurist and speaker at last summer's CIO Conference, doesn't think CIOs would outsource their personal network -- their most strategic competence -- any more than they would their core competencies.

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Besides, they can't afford to shortchange their people skills.

"Most CIOs have let their human-to-human skills atrophy," May said. "I think we may be a little early in the cycle to layer in technology to the still developing networking skills of many in IT.

"[Certain collaborative tools are] for people too lazy and inconsiderate to spend time developing their own networks."

For Gordon, people skills are everything. "You have to develop relationships," she said.

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