For Kamalesh Dwivedi, being a successful CIO in these days of tightening budgets and recession jitters is part technology and part chemistry. Dwivedi, the CIO of $3.3 billion equipment maker ADC Telecommunications Inc., was able to convince execs at the Minnetonka, Minn.-based company to give him a 40 percent increase in his technology budget this year—even though corporate beancounters practically everywhere else are giving CIOs less for new projects. How did he do it?
Dwivedi knows how to build clout—and wield it—inside the corporation. It's a skill that's more important than ever for CIOs faced with economic uncertainty and increased in-house rivalry for new resources. The funding squeeze is real: Corporations are expected to increase tech spending by just 5 percent to 6 percent this year—nearly half the previously projected 9 percent, according to a recent Merrill Lynch survey of 50 top U.S. and 20 European companies. "We see a growing need to better justify technology investments in pretty much every company we work with," says software consultant Barry Johnson of Plymouth, Minn.-based Dynamic Information Systems.
Trouble is, even when CIOs can make a solid case for the business payoff of their bids, they often fall short in the political skills needed to sell their ideas to those who count most inside the company.
At the same time that resources are becoming scarce, CIOs also have to contend with a Net-wired environment in which their technology initiatives, by their very nature as information networks, are ever-more intertwined with the interests of other managers. The implications are huge: CIOs must simultaneously gain favor with mid-level managers and underlings who matter, and do a better job educating top managers about the business payoff of new technologies. "Geekspeak doesn't cut it anymore," says management guru Gary Hamel, author of Leading the Revolution, in which he promotes the need for people to lead change inside their companies on all levels. "CIOs need to know the technology and possess the vision for how it will impact the company—and then be able to sell it to those holding the pursestrings. It's a tall order, and many CIOs aren't up to it."
For those who are, the payoffs can be sweet. Dwivedi, for his part, has mastered the art of the hard and soft sell: He's won the green light on four successive years of five-star IT projects, including a massive, three-year effort to install a corporatewide intranet that ties together everything from human resources to manufacturing, part of an effort to support ADC's ambitious acquisition strategy. Dwivedi cites a relentless sales campaign to push every new technology initiative under his purview. "We are constantly selling, marketing and lobbying," he says. "It never stops, especially now."
The message: CIOs need to be able to manage up, down and sideways in order to get the money and influence they need and to avoid getting sidelined in the networked corporation. For many CIOs, that means learning whole new relationship skills to become—and remain—effective. Says Andrew Rudin, a partner with Eisner Information Solutions in New York City: "The CIO has moved from a technical to a political position. It's a whole new ball game."
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