BMC Software's Mark Settle: the listening CIO

Many CIOs talk about the import­ance of aligning with business strategy, getting buy-in from executives, showing leadership, communicating and mentoring. But it’s relatively rare to hear them talk about listening to customers, the audience which is in many ways the bare metal indicator of execution. Mark Settle, CIO at tech industry heavyweight BMC Software, says you can’t rate it highly enough, however.

That intimacy, he believes, is best ach­ieved by accompanying executives on sales calls, in meetings and, most importantly of all, in talking to customers to understand their real needs.

“It can be a very humbling experience,” he admits. “A lot of time there’s a big gap between what the company is offering and what’s wanted.”

Taking as an example his current industry of enterprise software, he bemoans suppliers who bring out version after version of moderately improved HR, financial or procurement programs.

“That’s just polishing the apple,” he says. “You’re already 80 or 90 per cent there in a financial system.”

Relationship builder

Settle spends time mentoring the next generation of CIOs and he notes one area of paramount importance: spending time building relationships with executives.

As a complement to this, Settle also points to the importance of building thinking time so that the CIO is a true strategist rather than a back-office functionary.

“I spent time trying to be smartest guy in the room,” he recalls, before he realised that shutting up, listening and learning was a more productive modus operandi.

Settle is also a big advocate of getting out of the workplace in order to see the bigger picture.

“Don’t become a captive of your own organisation,” he advises.

“I can read countless emails, see PowerPoints, get mentoring and coaching internally but that makes me increasingly introverted. IT and finance are the only places you get to see across the organisation. That creates a lot of opportunities from a career development point of view.”

He calls this freedom “the precious gift of discretionary bandwidth” and contrasts it with the plight of those condemned to come up with quarterly P&L calculations and therefore don’t have that bandwidth to think long-term and strategically. The CIO, he says, can’t be “a narrow technology specialist who doesn’t have any business savvy”. In this way, the CIO can win empathy from C-suite executives, he contends.

“It sounds trite but there are certain functions only the CIO can perform. Goodwill and good relationships are essential. Building that relationship should be your number-one priority. Your effectiveness will depend on how the other executives think of you. You never want to ask for money or be apologising the first time you meet a member of the executive committee.”

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