Can CIOs be more successful if
they market themselves well?
I ask this straightforward question without any intention of being provocative. The comment doesn't have any scope for reading between the lines (and suggest you to not do so) but surely challenges the current disposition. It also challenges the tall claim made by most CIOs that 'IT is core' to an organization.
You may compel yourself to disagree with me but truth is that unlike other 'strategic (critical) functions' like marketing, sales and finance, IT is still known as a 'back office function' that creates an infrastructure to enable working. Unlike the functions mentioned above, technology lacks the 'deserving respect' (which, to me, should be more than others) and therefore lacks attention in any organization. In a nutshell, IT is a 'for granted' function servicing the organization with a lot of strategic edge but without much credit.
A closer/deeper look compels me to be hypothetical that 'CIOs can steal the limelight (and deservingly so) if they market themselves well' to both internal and external environments?
Before you read further, remember 'marketing' doesn't always mean selling a product (superior or inferior) but is also about creating awareness and recall.
Here's a five-point recipe to be under the spotlight:
1. Push IT Up in the Hierarchy: Technology, to most organizations, is just about tech support. Work towards breaking this myth and bring people out of this false perception. Tell them that today even basic IT is the life-blood of the business. It is your job to profess that an organization consists of many critical functions and IT is the most strategic one. Any arm e.g. marketing, sales, manufacturing, supply chain, finance, HR etc. can only function if they have support of information assets and data. They come from IT.
2. CIO should be Part of Corporate Communications: As a media professional for well over 15 years, I seldom came across a request from the corporate communications or public relations pros to have a meeting/interaction with a CIO or equivalent. Even in cases of tech-focused discussions, it is mostly a CEO or marketing or sales functionary who is proposed as a company spokesperson. Why is it not a CIO? Simply because CIO is never part of the communications strategy of an organization. Ideally, you must be. This will bring you in the media glare and will give you an opportunity to market IT well by speaking about the accomplishments. Of course, well beyond a few awards which get little or no notice of your work.
3. Position Innovative IT as Premium: As a CIO you need to constantly market the fact that generic stuff may be a given but premium stuff comes only when IT innovates and therefore it should get its due.
Business Dashboards are a classic case. Today a CIO and his team make all out efforts to create a single dashboard, which gives a comprehensive snapshot of business to key executives. It requires brains to create one. They portray the real value of IT in an organization. Your CEO or COO may demand business dashboards as their prerogative but you must market it like a premium product.
4. Stop Being Reactive: When was the last time that you, as a CIO or as an IT organization, reached out to your peers proactively? When? There could be exceptions but mostly IT reacts to the demands. A CIO must bring marketing discipline to the IT organization. It is not about selling. It is about understanding what the consumers of the IT want and need. How can you optimize scarce resources towards meeting those needs in the best possible time? How can you provide the 'winning-edge' to the other arms of your organization by innovation in technology? That's what will make you an asset - a function in demand.
5. Be Seen in the Right Company at the Right Place: One message for all the 'aloof' CIOs - get out more, and get at the right places! Successful CIOs or those who have hunger for success need to spend majority of their time with key executive colleagues, leaders of service partners, customers and industry competitors and collaborators. This will not only help you market and position IT in the right place but also help you do advocacy with right stakeholders. For this, you may require to be a strong leader and effective communicator in all situations (formal and informal). You should be seen as an engaging personality - a real 'people's person. Staying aloof, understated and unconnected is not a formula for success!