Keep Your Friends Close and CIOs Closer

When technology is moving in a fast-forward mode, it is extremely difficult for chief information officers (CIOs) to stay in tune with the changing times. So, most CIOs are reduced to performing mere figurehead roles and, gradually, they tend to become what has come to be known as “chief ignorant officers”.

In such cases, the onus obviously falls on CEOs to tame their CIOs and give the right direction to corporate tech initiatives so that costs are optimised and tech-business integration achieved.

By Rakesh Raman

Here are five simple tips that can help CEOs deal with their ignorant CIOs:

1. Tech chase: Do you know that in many cases, the technology buying decisions are influenced by vendors? And vendors, these days, are selling terminology, not technology. The old technologies are repackaged or renamed so that they can be sold to businesses again.

A server, for example, is a server. Giving it a new label like “blade server” does not mean that you need to buy and deploy it. Similarly, a worker who is processing ERP purchase order forms would never need to replace the ordinary PC with a newly introduced multimedia machine.

A simple rule: Your application should demand a new product, not your CIO. Since CIOs are not quite aware of their corporate needs, they just get tempted by the vendors’ sales campaigns and buy new products. The burden comes straight down on a company’s coffers. You can always say “no” to purchases that do not have any relevance to mission-critical applications.

2. Returns on investments: There is hardly any empirical method to calculate returns on your technology investments. While all vendors claim high returns for their wares, the truth is that, even they do not suggest any reliable yardstick to measure such returns.

However, your tech heads easily get fooled and eventually forget to measure returns. They are trying to cheat you if they loosely say that returns are in terms of efficient processes.

These are vague, intangible measures. You should never allow them to buy any product if they are not able to clearly measure its utility for your core business activities. A bank—after adding four servers to its infrastructure—can clearly quantify business growth from the increased number of transactions.

3. Investment protection: If you need to augment your enterprise IT infrastructure, CIOs are not supposed to randomly dump equipment that already exist. They need to ensure that the new equipment should protect the earlier investments. This could be through vendors’ buy-back schemes or redeployment of old equipment.

For example, if you have to replace your photocopier, printer and scanner with a contemporary multi-function device, you can always use the old machines at a distant branch office or with stand-alone computers at the same location.

4. Junkets: Simply say “no” to vendor-sponsored events or junkets when your CIOs show eagerness to attend them. These extravaganzas are generally dance-and-dine shows or at best vendors’ sales presentations under the garb of knowledge-sharing forums.

Most CIOs prefer to waste time at these events. You need to check the relevance of such requests in light of your business requirements. If CIOs are so inclined to attend some vendor events, ask them to prepare white papers on the application of those technologies for your business environment. With such a rider, it is highly likely that CIOs would stop going to these events. Try it without any hesitation.

5. Research figures: Sometimes, just to please vendors for covert reasons—maybe to return favours for a recently hosted junket—CIOs would quote some research figures, saying that the market is bullish on a particular genre of products.

But, this may not be true. These research figures conceal more than what they reveal. For example, if the Asia-Pacific market for notebook computers is growing, you need not buy notebooks for every Tom, Dick and Harry in your company. The existing desktops must be adequate for them.

There can be a question mark on authenticity of research, too. That’s because most such research findings are based on mere arm-chair chats, and not backed by any meaningful surveys. So, just don’t fall prey to research-based tricks.

That’s IT. Dear CEOs, all this is rule of thumb that will help you know your CIOs better and ensure more bang for each investment buck that you pump into the technology gear.

I had written this article sometime back and it was first published in The Financial Express newspaper where my regular technology-business column was published. Since the topic is relevant even today, the article is being republished here.

By Rakesh Raman, the managing editor of Raman Media Network.

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Rakesh Raman