CIO Vincent Cirel: Partnering for Success

There’s been a kind of sudden dawn in the boardroom over the last year or two: CEOs and CIO peers on executive committees everywhere seem to be waking to the fact that now every single aspect of the modern enterprise is touched and enabled by IT.

This seemingly overdue–if not now ubiquitous–realization that a company can’t function as a growing and competitive organization without technology sets the stage for CIOs to take a more proactive role in helping their companies move forward.

Compound this with the worst economic environment in a generation and, surprisingly, it’s easier than it’s ever been for the right CIO to gain access to the executive inner circle and have a visible and positive impact on the business.

To be successful, your business needs a well-rounded and well-founded CIO. This has been a reality for a while now, but the current environment magnifies the importance of IT leadership that is laser-focused on business fundamentals. Concurrently, the IT service industry is maturing rapidly, so activities that were only recently considered core competencies can now be targeted for outsourcing–with, of course, the right partner and governance mechanisms.

What does this mean for CIOs? The most successful ones will be not only students and stewards of every aspect of their own business and industry, but those who understand existing and emerging technology and service models. CIOs have to become the internal, go-to expert consultant for every functional head in the business to help them execute, innovate and enable strategy more efficiently with the right technology.

See main story: CIOs in the Era of Doing More With Less

For me, the last several engagements success has manifested as a deep collaboration between myself and my fellow business leaders–a sort of “sink or swim together” mentality. Personally, I have seen very little resistance to the partnership, and most businesspeople welcome a trusted and true partner exemplified by a say/do ratio that is as close to unity as one can possibly manage. In other words, keep your promises.

To a certain degree, the overall executive attitude is driven by the personality of the CEO; that is one area of diligence on my part whenever considering a next chapter for my career. I know what kind of person I am, and I know what kinds of situations I won’t do well in. You have to walk in and assess the makeup of the executive committee, but, in the end, if you’re a CIO who believes solely in order-taking, then your role in the enterprise becomes a self-fulfilling ideal.

Externally, finding vendors that are willing to think outside the traditional revenue boxes is easier in a down economy. Over the past year I’ve noticed that vendors are more willing to work with you in every creative way they can, whether it’s low-cost or no-cost proofs of concept, creative financing, or any number of ways to help you improve and retool your business. Everybody is in business to make money. If you can sit down with a C-level vendor executive and gain his or her confidence that you’re a businessperson first and have the ability to see through their eyes, they become that much more certain that you’re working to find the win-win, even in a bad economy.

Going hand in glove with external partnerships is the maturity of the IT service industry. If you look at what’s going on in infrastructure support, business continuity/disaster recovery, application development, software as a service (SaaS)–there are various areas of the IT industry that are now very mature. What should be your core competencies in IT and what are commodity services that a more mature technology industry can provide? What innovative win-win service-level agreements (SLAs) will best ensure the quality of those services? Successful CIOs will keep up with ever more quickly evolving IT trends and lay out a strategic road map that answers these questions and supports the business now and in the future–in any economy.

Look, every sage company wants to retool during the recession, pull out some key ROI-focused innovations and get some traction on broader competitive ideas for its particular business. The general desire is to make sure you come out the other side better, faster and stronger to take full advantage of the upswing.

The competing pressure, of course, is to cut costs, and the new buzz phrase–“Do more with less”–has never echoed louder through the marble halls of the executive suites. Partnerships, both internal and external with the CIO at the nexus, turn out to be the best way to serve the two competing masters of innovation and cost reduction in a bad economy.

Vincent Cirel is CIO of Norwegian Cruise Line.

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