"There is no respect," he said.
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Is IT Respected? No, Not Really!
Yes, I agree that CIO is quite a position in any organization today. Also, it's true that Business-IT alignment is the buzz in town. Today, you talk of technology and there is a general excitement among all the key stakeholders. But there is a darker side to this story. It gets buried deep below the thick crusts of the sheen.
Without sugar-coating my words, I shall come to the point. Ten days ago, I invited a senior (at least age-wise) member of the fraternity (name withheld), to my office over a cup of tea. I must say that the office of a startup (which is us) has neither got a decent meeting room nor a facility to make tea in-house. The conference room has a few chairs and no table and the tea is ordered from outside. But yes, we can get "tea".
So, this gentleman, who was eager to meet me, came over. I could sense his problem well before he could say anything. He is between jobs - "in transit", to be a little sophisticated. I asked him point-blank: Why was he so eager to leave without an alternative. His reply was disheartening - amounting to a shock. "The management doesn't want a bright executive to head IT. All they want are a few obedient managers who can take command from the top guns and maintain the status quo," he said.
The gentleman looked dejected and agitated. He wanted to share details threadbare. I was all ears for him. He revealed the sorry state of affairs inside the company. Actually, the company (a mid-sized group with diversified business interests) never had the position of an IT Head prior to this gentleman joining the organization. So, the other top officials became quite jittery when he joined the organization. "They could not openly oppose the management's decision to get an IT Head but were certainly not in favor of one. I had some ideas to do away with the legacy and bring about some radical changes in the way business was being done, with the help of technology," he told me.
This could have caused plenty of upheaval and required a great deal of course correction. The oldies were not ready to loosen their grip. "I have been in the company for just over four months and all this while, I have suffered the worst ever humiliation of my life. Everything that goes wrong is blamed on IT. Despite visible and remarkable improvements in processes, IT is singled out as the culprit. More than that, the change was the demon," he said.
Despite the visible changes in business performance, the management was listening only to those opposing the changes and didn't allow this gentleman to do much work. Finally, he told the management that he wasn't able to work in a hostile environment, in which an IT Head is only an "order taker" and had no freedom to implement his universally accepted ideas.
And funny but true, the management didn't try to stop him even once.
The gentleman was so dejected that he made up his mind to quit enterprise IT.
"There is no respect," he said.
This story is real. I haven't tried to inflate or deflate facts.
We can interpret it in two ways.
One, this is quite a lopsided story and therefore needs more details to support. True! The story can't be complete without a 360-degree view and therefore we need the views of other executives too.
Two, this is what happens in a majority of cases and what we see, is just too superficial to believe.
"Why, indeed, CIOs get so little respect?" Pardon me for putting this so bluntly but I am not the only one who feels like this. Bob Evans, Senior VP and Director of InformationWeek's newly launched Global CIO program has also put it in a similar way. In an article written in 2009, he has made these strong statements and has also asked several other questions. (Read more at: http://www.informationweek.com/news/global-cio/careers/214303717)
It doesn't end here. Marc J. Schiller, an IT strategist, author, speaker, and mentor to IT leaders (who has spent more than two decades consulting some of the world's leading companies across continents) has also raised similar questions.
Instead of sounding inquisitive, Schiller is definitive. In his recent blog on a respectable CIO Website in the US, he said, "IT doesn't get enough respect." (Read more at http://www.cioinsight.com/c/a/Expert-Voices/Why-IT-Gets-No-Respect-158281/)
Bob is blunt and so am I. In most cases, the CEO is unwilling to drive (or accept) substantive changes. As in the case described above. As a result, CIOs are forced to perpetuate processes and systems that don't go well with the changing business dynamics. The combination of both results in an overall disliking for the CIO. Here the CIO is victimized for no fault.
But CIOs also commit certain blunders. For decades IT has been a control freak. CIOs tend to lose their cool if they don't get total control over devices, apps or any tech-process. This may lead (or is leading) to frustration among tech-savvy users who can gain the executive support to go their own way. There have been instances wherein the empowered business units have bypassed the IT department and the CIO takes the blame for being insensitive to change. A CIO's job is not to provide a top-down solution. So, instead of gaining control, the CIOs should strive for better means to creating a powerful influence.
It is difficult for CIOs to realize that the days of exercising absolute control are over. They have to co-opt and co-create. It is the only way to regain some control.
Being a control freak is perhaps a CIO's biggest mistake today. And not realizing the adversities of it is an even bigger slip.
The gentleman who visited my office finally took to my suggestions and has decided to hunt for a decent position in enterprise IT and is looking at making some of changes...
What do you say?