Top CIOs on CEOs, IT Buying

CIO Insight: How do CIOs build a strong relationship with C-level executives?

Trisha Rozas, CIO, Guy Carpenter

Over the years, what I’ve tended to try to do is come in and spend some time learning about the business, what the business entails, and how they’re there to make money and what are the key drivers to success, and then take time putting together a technology roadmap. Then start selling that a little bit of grassroots, then to members of the executive committee, and the pitch it to the CEO. What I’ve learned is that many CIOs start at the top, asking them what they want rather than spending time listening to those in the trenches working with the technology. Stepping back and learning the business has a lot more credibility when you eventually have to pitch you plan to the CEO.

Ramon Baez, CIO, Kimberly-Clark

When I started here, my frist two weeks on the job I traveled around the globe to meet with the business leaders outside of North America. What I wanted people to understand is that I’m the global IT leader, not the NA IT leader. What ended up happening is the CEO saw the relationships I was building everywhere and build our IT business plan, he saw complete linkage to the business throughout. That’s how you win over the CEO.

Art Langer, Professor, Columbia University

Understanding what brings value. I think I’ve found that this is a big miss in many cases. There’s a lot of validity to the things discussed, but they’re not connecting in the value proposition of the business for the CEO. Understanding what brings value in the organization – it layers on top of everything else.

CIO Insight: Is there a certain degree of reassurance you need from the CEO to get out and do these things? Or does the CIO usually get thrown into it and start from scratch?

Ramon Baez

I personally like to understand what the CEO thinks the problems are and what the issues are with IT. It’s good to get that perspective – I found that to be very helpful when I was at Honeywell and Fisher Scientific and now at K-C.

Trisha Rozas

I find that the CEOs can’t always articulate. It’s more, “I hear IT is broken, so I want you to fix it.” So the onus is more on the CIO to get out there and learn and report back to the CEO. The CEO is just hearing it from everyone–that there’s a poor perception of IT, IT doesn’t deliver, etc. They hear all this noise, but it’s hard for them at the CEO level to know what it really is. So my job is to bring that down to manageable initiatives that can be tackled – that’s where you’ll earn the credibility you need from the CEO.

John Parkinson, CIO, TransUnion

When I was hired, I was interviewed by all the business unit presidents and the CEO. They were consciously involved in selecting all of the senior IT team here. That made a big difference in terms of access and the ability to communicate what their concerns were. The hard part is not going back with technology answers, but going back with business answers.

Ramon Baez

CEO not understanding what was going on.
Some CEOs don’t understand, and frankly, they don’t want to. What you have to do is find a language that he/she can understand. He never met an IT leader that he could understand. When I went through the interview process and spoke with him for 45 minutes or so, he said, ‘I actually understood everything you said.’ He said all his previous IT leaders spoke in technology terms.  I know it sounds pretty rudimentary, but it’s something a lot of IT leaders forget.

Art Langer

A lot of these issues relate to the state of the organization at any given time. If you’re in a growth spurt, your relationship with your users is extremely important. However, there are a lot of CIOs that have to participate in cutting the line units through technology efficiencies.

One of the things we know through research is that line managers are extremely powerful in their organization. However, we also know that when companies cut back, they don’t always trust line managers. A lot of CIOs have had to come to grips with the change in their role where they have to be an executive and go into these units and make cuts through technology operations efficiencies.

CIOI: What are some of the toughest things CIOs have had to do in this tough climate?

Trisha Rozas

It’s always a difficult time when it involves dealing with employees and their futures, but I feel like that’s my job–that’s what I’m here to do. You ride the good waves and you ride the bad waves. We’re put in these positions to make the hard decisions. At the past three companies I’ve worked at, in some cases it’s been every quarter we’ve had to lay people off. Yes, it’s difficult, and yes, you have to do more with less, but to me it’s just part of the job and has been for the last three or four years.

Art Langer

Are you leading a case where you have to go into someone’s business line and say we have to lay off 10 percent of your workforce because I have a technology solution that’s going to make you more efficient.

Trisha Rozas

Absolutely. It’s more of a joint initiative–we together have to find a way to cut costs.

John Parkinson

If you have good collaboration with the line organizations and they know they have to take costs out and understand that you can help reduce the effort in concert with that, that’s a strong operating alliance that makes all of this much easier to get through.

Trisha Rozas


Back to what Art was saying about what brings value… When you’re out there learning the business and talking with the various units, a lot of the time you’ll find areas that could be improved that don’t necessarily have anything to do with IT–it could be a process change or a new way of doing something. I think CEOs are expecting more of a cross in terms of not just having to focus on IT. They’re looking at IT because we have a broad view of organizations to present those thoughts, and that helps build confidence and credibility with the CEO.

CIO Insight: New research from Forrester finds that CIOs are the chief decision makers on IT purchases. But many vendors think they can go through a CIO’s deputies or a line of business head to make the sale. What do you think?

Ramon Baez

The answer really depends on the culture of the company. In some companies, the CIO may not own the budget, or in others, the CIO may own the budget, but there may be someone else making the decision on the business deployment of the technology, and they count on the CIO to implement it. In some cases, it gets delegated down the organization.

There are certain situations where I delegate it down to my best technical experts. They come back and present the pros and cons, and I give them the thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Technologists will come to the leader with a recommendation, but the leader has to say yea or nay, or ask a bunch of important questions. I think it all depends on what it is. For example, am I going to make a decision on whether we should go with one vendor or the other for storage, or am I going to ask my expert to make a recommendation?

Trisha Rozas

I agree with Ramon in that it depends also on the product itself. For middleware, I’ll push that down in my organization. But for something like, they generally do go after the business person first. So the business people then bring me in and we begin working on it, meeting with the vendor and putting up the test environments together.

Ramon Baez

In 2002, Salesforce knew every sales leader at Honeywell–I did not. I built a rapport with the salespeople so that when Salesforce came back, he said he wanted to work with me. He said they’d make more money going directly to the business, but we wouldn’t be satisfied with the solution. So I’d say, thanks, I’ll take it from here.

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