Wanted: CIO snake killers

CIOs have no choice but to get on the same page as the rest of their organization’s management team – but understanding and adapting IT strategies to an overall company vision is trickier than it sounds.

That was one of the points discussed at a recent CIO Canada “Frankly Speaking…” breakfast session, hosted by John Pickett, VP & Editor-in-Chief, IT World Canada. The discussion explored some of the key challenges for today’s CIO, and how to address them while satisfying both technology and business needs.

“Killing the snakes,” or getting rid of IT projects that are bound to fail because they only have lukewarm support from upper management, is an often painful yet necessary step for an incoming CIO, according to Don Parker, interim CIO with North York, Ont.-based Shoppers Drug Mart. “You’ve got to stomp out those projects that are technology-driven only…it’ll make your life a lot easier,” he advised.

CIOs’ skill expectations are shifting, said panelist Ron Schwartz, management consulting partner with IBM Business Consulting Services, Markham, Ont. “A CIO needs to be a politician, a financial visionary, a deal-maker…and if they are technology-grounded, that’s good too,” he said, adding that many CIOs wrestle with how to acquire the skills they don’t have.

Not being able to see things through the eyes of the rest of the management team leads to a lack of communication, “something we cope with all the time,” said Parker. Things might be going fine one day, but then the next, “there’s a change in strategy or shareholders, and that disconnect suddenly appears.”

Whereas the rest of the executive team tends to move quickly, and is typically more responsive and flexible with changing demands, CIOs “need more lead time to build infrastructure and teams,” Parker added.