Conversations with a CIO – Think Outcomes, not Technology
故明君贤将，能以上智为间者，必成大功。 Now the reason the enlightened prince and the wise general conquer the enemy whenever they move and their achievements surpass those of ordinary men is fore knowledge… Sun Tzu 孫子 – The Art of War
We keep hearing that technology is changing the world. This is true. Everything changes, and to survive continual change is a fundamental requirement of all businesses. Consequently, describing how changes in technology can make the difference to a business is a fundamental requirements for CIOs, but they must explain it in business language. This means that CIOs need to understand their company’s business culture and environment before determining the best approach to solving organisational issues.
Define the problem (or opportunity) in Business Terms. For example, two CIOs in different organisations within the same sector (e.g. Council, Hospital, Banking, etc.) will have similar responsibilities; and from the outside these organisations may look very similar. One might be progressive, with inspirational leadership, embracing of modern business systems and using a well-connected collaboration network. The other might be conservative in their thinking, traditional in the ways of doing things and risk-averse. Both approaches may be correct for their business, but how each CIO enables their business via technology will likely be radically different with different solutions.
CIOs gravitate toward business partners that understand them within the context of their organisation. They have become very adept at distinguishing between the smoke & mirrors of dubious vendors and the reliable products and services of a trusted vendor. When I was a CIO, I distinguished those vendors who understood my business from those who did not by the types of questions I was asked and the number of corporate boiler-plate PowerPoint slides the salesperson brought to a meeting. Those that made a genuine effort to understand me and my business always got a second meeting.
Talking, listening and empathizing with the CIO’s issues is important. But it is equally as important for the vendor to understand the CIO’s organisation and its business objectives. CIOs are looking to vendors and suppliers to provide them with value and business outcomes that enable them to provide effective solutions.
Key Discussion Point – You cannot talk to the CIO without firstly understanding the business they are in.
CIOs are busy people and will probably not have time to investigate the intricate details of every technology offering. As CIO for a Local Government Organisation in the UK, I received countless calls and emails from technology companies. To be efficient with my time, I trained my assistant to screen all my calls and create a weekly summary with details of each vendor’s technology offering and highlight any “key critical” areas which might be of further interest. For example, we were interested in developing a web site due to e-government initiatives (the key technology was .NET development). On reviewing the weekly call summary I passed some vendors onto my technical staff for follow up. I was often surprised at how little vendors seemed to understand my needs – very few of them took the time to figure how to map their solution to them.
It is essential for vendors to do their research prior to speaking with a CIO or any C-level executive. Most organisations have public records of their business objectives, audit reports, annual reports, financial analyses, news articles, web-site, search-engines, FOI requests for public bodies, etc. You would be surprised how much valuable information is freely available. Even if such information is not readily available, just talking with people in the organization, including the CIO, will direct a bright salesperson in the right direction. (As mentioned earlier, I would distinguish vendors by the questions they asked.)
Gathering and using this information creates a better understanding of how a technology offering can add value and help customise the dialogue with a CIO. This will ultimately build trust with the CIO – most will appreciate the effort to understand the company, its business needs and market presence. A prosperous long term relationship begins once mutual trust and respect are established.
The key is to present a business case that speaks in terms of business outcomes relevant to the CIO’s understanding of his or her business needs. The most innovative, creative and technically brilliant technology will fail if it is not delivering a clearly recognizable business value. Remember that if you want to sell technology, don’t talk about technology but rather about what it achieves and delivers. As an analogy, when selling power drills, focus on the outcome – the scenic picture you will be able to hang on your wall that reminds you of your favourite place – not the length of the drill bits, not the hole it makes, not the picture hanger – but the feeling (outcome) you will ultimately enjoy.
To summarize, this blog series discussed three basic areas that anyone talking to a CIO must understand. When talking with a CIO you need empathy, an understanding of the issues and most important, understanding the business the CIO is in. With this in mind, vendors and suppliers can align their products and services to real business outcomes and solutions needed by the business (and the CIO) rather than the technical elements of the solution.
C-Level executives are not normally interested in the technical gadgets. They are interested in solutions that deliver better customer services, more productive manufacturing, easier citizen engagement, productive collaborative working, etc. The solution needs to be positioned within the business need and not an indulgence of the technology behind the solution.