Kroll’s CIO on Effective Alignment

The relationships between IT shops and the businesses they support can be a bit turbulent. Getting both sides to understand each other’s wants and needs–and speak the same language–has burdened countless executives since IT first became an integral function inside the enterprise.

That’s all old hat to Jeff Kubacki. In almost 30 years at work, he has served in practically every IT leadership role imaginable. He’s also learned finance in the classroom and on the job, giving him that essential mix of skill sets that CEOs look for today.

As CIO of risk-management consulting firm Kroll, Kubacki has to balance the interests of four business units with those of his own IT operation. By building relationships with his C-suite peers and a specialized IT team, Kubacki has used tried-and-true tactics–and found a few new ones–to help IT boost business.

Kubacki spoke recently with CIO Insight Editor in Chief Brian P. Watson. What follows is an edited, condensed version of their conversation.

CIO Insight: You report to Ben Allen, Kroll’s CEO. Do you think that makes your job different from a CIO who reports to finance or operations?

Jeff Kubacki: There is the stereotype about how reporting relationships impact what the CIO does, but it really depends on the company and the overall culture of the organization.

I once worked at a company where I reported to the CFO [chief financial officer]. That was the best structure for that company, and he was an awesome executive. Sure, he worried about finance, but he also worried about business strategy and alignment and all the things you would expect a CEO or COO [chief operating officer] to worry about. So, at that company, it was a perfect relationship.

It all depends on the culture and personality. How many direct reports does the CEO have, and is he or she going to be able to give you the time you need?

Our CEO is very technical. He came up through Kroll and managed a very technical business, Kroll Ontrack, which is driven by technology. So he can talk about disks and cache and stuff that IT leaders talk about.

But how much do you think the reporting relationship matters to CIOs?

Kubacki: I’ve never gotten hung up on whom I report to. I’ve reported to a CEO and a CFO. As long as you have the right governance and steering committees, and as long as you’re a member of the executive committee–have that “seat at the table”–it’s not that important.

I’m going to work on building all the right relationships with executives and learning the business. Business acumen and business relationship management are the top priorities of the job. I can be effective by focusing on those skills, regardless of whom I report to.

At the end of the day, it’s about delivering value to the business–not so much who your boss is. Maybe I’m just older and wiser: Earlier in my career, it might have mattered more, but not today.

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