CIOs need to make information technology so essential to the company that it can't do business without it, said John Thompson, former CIO and current acting president of retail sales at Crossmark, the Plano, Texas-based provider of merchandising services to the packaged goods industry. This is a state he described as the "point of no return."
When the CIO makes it clear to his company's leadership that information technology is powering the company's competitive advantage, then he gets a seat at the executive table, Thompson said. By then executives realize how important information technology is.
But to truly reach that point, he said, the CIO must also have a deep understanding of his business.
One of the best ways to gain insight into the business and its needs is to talk to the company's salesforce, Thompson said. Customers tell salespeople every day what the company is doing right and what it's doing wrong.
Michael L. Jones, corporate vice president and CIO of Children's Hospital and Health System in Milwaukee, said there are other important ways for the CIO and his organization to gain an understanding of the business.
Jones has individuals in his information technology organization who have the skills and knowledge of the business users within his company.
"I have doctors and nurses who work for me because it helps me understand the business," Jones said. "One of our managers in the applications area is a nurse. She is a project manager for our critical systems."
Randall Mills, CIO of RN Centers International Inc., a Plano, Texas-based company that provides registered nurse call centers and other custom services for employers looking to control health care costs, said a CIO who doesn't understand his own business will stand out as a non-team player.
Mills also said CIOs who don't get a seat at the executive table will find that "business decisions will be made that IT cannot support."
Jones said before he accepted an offer to join the hospital, he insisted he report directly to the organization's CEO rather than a COO or CFO.
"Especially when someone is between you and the CEO, someone is interpreting the things you are doing or saying [to him]," Jones said.
An intermediary sitting between the CIO and the executive table can prevent the CIO from getting direct support from the CEO on new initiatives, which can compromise his authority. Also, Jones said, the CIO loses the opportunity to have a dialogue with the CEO.
"It makes things a lot easier if you have that interaction and relationship with the CEO where you will be able to bounce ideas of each other, instead of having your ideas interpreted to him by someone else," Jones said.
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer