I recently had the unusual opportunity to moderate two panels of executives from the mutual fund and brokerage industry—one was made up of CIOs; the other was CXOs, including presidents and chief administrative officers. The panels were segregated and held on two different days of the conference. There were industry heavyweights on both panels, representing companies such as Fidelity, Merrill Lynch, Prudential and Sun Life. I asked both groups similar questions to reveal their respective points of view. I also asked each group in advance of the conference what it needed and expected from the other. This is where things got interesting.
The CIOs told me, among other things, that they’d appreciate more patience and commitment from their CXOs.
The CXO panelists reacted cynically when I told them what the CIOs had said. “When an IT professional asks for patience, that usually means it’s going to cost more money,” quipped one CXO. Perhaps. But it may also mean that you can’t expect a payoff in three to six months from a complex enterprise system that involves new processes. Or perhaps it means that you can’t successfully align IT to a business “strategy” that shifts from quarter to quarter, buffeted by the cold winds that are whistling down Wall Street right now.
For their part, the CXO panelists told me to ask if the CIO panelists could answer these two questions: How do you measure your success, and Do you have enough knowledge of the business to run another part of the company besides IT? The CIOs had plenty to say about the first question. They measure things six ways to Sunday—ROI analyses, post-implementation audits, net present value. They are rife with measures. But you know what? If CXOs have to ask the CIO to measure his own success, what does that say about the CXOs? Could it be that they haven’t got a clue to what’s going on? Maybe they simply haven’t taken the time, as one CIO panelist put it, “to understand their technology costs and how IT fits into the business strategy, rather than relegating that to the technologists.” How would the CXOs answer their own challenge in reverse: Do you have enough understanding of technology to run the IT department?
This all was a bit discouraging. But one CIO panel member partly redeemed the experience. When asked what he needs, wants or expects from C-level execs, this CTO responded: “They should have tremendously high expectations of their CTOs and other IT leaders.” Would that were always the case.