MMC CIO: Shaping the CIO Role

As Marsh & McLennan’s (MMC) first-ever enterprise CIO, I’ve had the unique opportunity to work with our CEO, Brian Duperreault, and his leadership team to define the role. While we’ve had CIOs in each of our five operating companies and built a shared-services organization, we’ve never had anyone to look at IT horizontally across the businesses.

We’ve begun the process of moving the organization’s view of IT from that of a strictly vertical function to one that can also be viewed across the operating companies. To do this, we must be aware of the ingrained processes, cultures and business approaches that are unique to these five businesses. The challenge is in maintaining the responsiveness and effectiveness of IT organizations that are closely aligned with their business units while taking advantage of the incredible leverage we have at the MMC level.

See Also: The CIO Strategy for 2010

I’ve been both a divisional and enterprise-level CIO/CTO at several large financial services firms, and I was able to call on that experience to help shape my role here. But I also spent the first 11 years of my career with Andersen Consulting (now Accenture). So when I came to MMC, I approached my new role as something of a consulting assignment.

So what did I set out to do with my team? First, I put in place the processes, technologies and governance to get a clear horizontal view across MMC’s businesses, thus bringing them together to positively impact the overall business. At the same time, I didn’t want to create too much process, for that would slow down the individual business technology units. So, to shape what I had to do, I put some of my consulting skills to work.

Among the primary skills is listening. Don’t just come in and say you have a lot of experience and you have all the answers. Of course, you do need to establish your credibility by referencing your past successes, but it’s just as important to listen as you work with the businesses and with the existing IT people.

In my first 30 days, I had too many interviews to count: each of MMC’s operating companies’ CEOs and their key staff; the CIOs and their key staff; our CTO, who runs our shared-services organization, and his key staff; as well as those in other functions. You have to understand what your partners and customers are saying about your technology, what the issues are and what the opportunities are. Then you can develop your plan.

As a new CIO, you’re trying to do two things: move the business forward and build up your credibility–and the credibility of your function–with the business. In my mind, it’s pretty simple. Execution is often a lot harder than planning. First, figure out what needs to be done, and then go do the things you can do quickly that will have the greatest impact. In this way we’ve picked up some good traction in getting a horizontal view of IT at MMC.

Every CIO focused on managing costs in 2009–and that won’t change in 2010. When thinking about the CIO role in 2010, it’s more about “back to the future.”

CIOs should focus on the value proposition of their business and, of course, look at ROI before they spend a lot on any IT investment. But just as important, CIOs must make sure they have the processes in place to measure the investment’s success. Did we really get the cost savings we expected? Did we really get the incremental revenue we said we would? Did we really improve the service to our customers as we promised?

There’s an enormous need for a renewed focus on the fundamentals of running an effective IT shop. CIOs need to know technology, but it’s really the processes on top of them that give you the competitive advantage. It’s about running IT like a business.

There’s long been a discourse as to whether the CIO should be a technical expert or a senior manager. I believe it’s a senior manager with a solid technology foundation. When a CEO has a CIO who’s a mile deep in IT expertise but can’t manage well, and the CEO’s three top priorities for the year are to “cut expense, cut expense, and cut expense” there’s a serious mismatch.

Similarly, when a CEO’s three top priorities are to increase revenue, increase market share and release new offerings, it’s not the CIO’s technology skills that will help achieve those goals. It’s the CIO’s management and leadership skills–built on a foundation of strong technology skills–that will help grow the top line.

The view here is that the CIO needs to understand IT–he or she needs to be tech-savvy and know how to leverage IT to meet business needs.

Today’s CIO needs to be a technology manager and leader. For any new CIO, that’s probably the most important thing to be, not only in 2010 but in the future.

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