Five Ways For CIOs To Get Through To CEOs

CIOs need to speak the language of business in order to communicate with their CEOs.


There’s no doubt that for a company to be successful, the CIO needs to speak the same language as the CEO. However, all too often, meaning—and thus money—get lost in translation.

The key to understanding what the CEO is really saying is to apply the language of business to technology, said Gary Marshall, CIO of SunGard Availability Services.

“We in IT have to use the language of business,” said Marshall. “When you look at how you measure business improvement, you have to measure it with the metrics that everyone else in the organization understands and uses to communicate: revenue, cost, P&L, earnings per share and so on. Many in IT still want to talk only about numbers of servers, MIPS, bandwidth. Quite honestly, the CEO doesn’t care.”

CEOs want CIOs not only to speak their language, but also to make the conversations happen early, often and quickly.

According to an article in The Register, CEOs actually see the CIO role as a CIIIO role: chief information and immediate insight officer. “Every CEO in the world wants better quality information faster,” states the article. “The days of waiting for month-end (or even quarter-end) to see what has been going on are over.”

CIOs are well-positioned to provide this kind of insight because of their unique purview–over every part of the organization. CIOs should also act as a conduit between the companies they work for and what Marshall called “this humongous technology industry.”

Marshall noted that people in the business world often ask a question that has already been answered: When are you going to align IT with the business? “Since when has IT not been part of the business?” said Marshall. “Why are you talking about a divide between us? It’s that kind of language that creates the mental impression that somehow IT and the business are separate.”

While the divide that Marshall references may have come down for the most part, there are areas in which the CIO and CEO are not completely connecting, according to a Harvard Business Review blog. According to the blog, to truly speak the CEO’s language, CIOs must talk in terms of the following trends:

1. Goods and services are becoming rapidly commoditized.
Executives are thus seeking new ways to differentiate the company, and the company’s products and services.

2. Traditional products are becoming the conduit for information-based services-delivered value. (Think mobile devices and apps.)
The CIO must therefore pave the way for these systems to be developed and tested.

3. A number of factors have resulted in the accelerated appearance of new, unanticipated competitors.
Business leaders must drive down costs to maintain share, and CIOs must enable that strategy with tools designed to create efficiencies and increase productivity.

4. Value is being individualized.
Transactions are less about money exchange than they are about co-created experience and engagement. CIOs must put into place internally and externally facing collaboration tools that will make this happen effectively.

5. The nature of competition is changing, driven in large part by the cloud.
CIOs should be investigating how cloud-based services can drive the business as well as support customers and employees.

To respond to these changes, states the HBR blog, companies are leveraging outsourcing services and expanded partnerships, and they are focusing more energy on the customer and on structural changes, such as the build-out of socially enabled and digital business ecosystems. The CIO needs to not only enable these initiatives, but also work closely with the CEO to ensure that the projects are aligned from the start with business needs and that they are effectively adjusted as business needs change.

Once the CIO and CEO can come together on these and other topics, they will truly be speaking the same language.

This article was originally published on Forbes.

Download the CIO October 2016 Digital Magazine
View Comments
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies