The CIO may historically have had no stronger ally in the C-suite than the COO.  The focus of both roles has typically been on improving operational efficiency and reducing costs.  A large percentage of IT projects supported these twin objectives and may have ultimately been under the oversight of the COO.  It is interesting that many COOs express that they face an issue of visibility.  When everything is running smoothly, they rarely receive the credit they truly deserve.  Yet when things go wrong, they can appear to be in the crosshairs.  That is very much akin to an issue the CIO faces in keeping the lights on.high-five_business_partners

Today’s COO faces increasing demand and complexity.   Perhaps more than ever before, companies are realizing that although cost minimization and efficiency are very important, they must be careful not to adversely impact functions that customers value or that are needed to achieve strategic goals.  As such, the COO is being called upon to strike the balance between efficiency and flexibility.  Change has become more of a constant, and the COO is assuming a major role in the business transformation necessary to achieve the strategic agenda.  Again, isn’t it easy to see the commonality with what the CIO is being asked to do?

CIOs have seen so much synergy in the roles that they envision the COO position as their next step up the corporate ladder (Forbes’ Beyond CIO series).  But even with all this in common, COOs view their relationship with the CIO as one of their least successful among other executives.  In fact, just 32% of COOs consider their relationship with the CIO to be very strong (The DNA of the COO by Ernst & Young).  

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From a distance, one might expect the relationship between CFO and CIO to always be strong.  After all, aren’t there a number of similarities?  Numbers are at the core of both career fields, and both are driven by logic, rules, and standards.  Analysis and problem-solving skills are highly valued, and the quality of results is important.  Coming up through the ranks of Finance and IT typically required significant time spent alone at one’s desk, which may contribute to the attraction of these professions to many tending toward introversion. 

There is no doubt of the importance of the CFO-CIO relationship.  A Deloitte CFO Signals survey states that “45 percent of CFOs surveyed had IT as a direct report, and about 25 percent more as a dotted line report.”  A Gartner study conducted for the Financial Executives Research Foundation found that CFOs have increased their role in technology decision making and that the CIO most often reports to the CFO.

Yet despite the similarities and the importance, there are major issues in the CFO-CIO relationship.  CFOs have long been frustrated by an inability to get a “single version of the truth” from the data in many companies (The Customer-Activated Enterprise).  This frustration is exacerbated with the mandate to accelerate the company’s performance while increasing transparency.  In fact, Deloitte reports that only a little over half the CFOs in one survey felt that they have the information they need to effectively manage the business. Another study by Gartner and Financial Executives International cites that only 25% of CFOs surveyed were confident that their CIO and IT department had “the organizational and technical flexibility to respond to changing business priorities” or are “able to deliver against the enterprise/business unit strategy.”  The study also noted that only 18 % of the CFOs surveyed believe that their “IT service levels meet or exceed business expectations.” In addition, only 1 out of 4 CFOs saw their CIO as a key player in developing and implementing business strategy.

So what actions can the CIO take to improve his relationship with the CFO?  Here are some practical suggestions:

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Perhaps no C-suite relationship today is more broken than the relationship between the CMO and CIO.  In the past, there has been little need to collaborate.  Far too often the CIO functioned as a technologist who was not recognized for having a complete view of the overall business.  He concentrated more on cost cutting and efficiency.  On the other hand, the CMO was about direct mail, magazine advertisements, and television spots.  He was aimed primarily toward branding, lead generation, and communication.cmo-cio-best-friends1  They were almost like two ships passing in the night.  Neither had a tremendous need to interact with the other.  Each was relegated to (or chose to remain in) his own realm.  In some ways, there have been a number of similarities between the two positions.  It was quite normal for neither of them to actually sit on the executive team.  Corporate strategies were often determined without their input.  Just as the CIO struggled to explain the return on infrastructure investments, the CMO had difficulty proving the value of investment in various marketing programs.  It should not be surprising to learn that both the CIO and CMO have struggled in developing relationships with the rest of the C-suite (Outside Looking In:  The CMO Struggles to get in sync with the C-suite and The DNA of the CIO).

But as a result of societal, business, and competitive changes driven primarily by big data, analytics, cloud, social, and mobile technologies, the pressure is on both the CMO and CIO to transform themselves, their departments, and their relationships with other executives in order to ensure the success of their companies.  They need to markedly increase the collaboration between them.  Both need to move from their functional silos into becoming recognized leaders within the broader business context.  This will take a concerted effort – and for the benefit of the company, it needs to be done quickly.

Here are some suggestions for the CIO to improve his relationship with the CMO:

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Isn’t it ironic?

Companies look to IT to develop systems to improve the relationships with their customers.  Yet when it comes to building relationships with the rest of the business, IT often seems to be out in the cold.Buidling relationships 2

Developers build and enhance CRM systems so that companies can track every customer interaction.  The CRM system can know what products a customer has purchased and what offers he has been given.  It can be aware of how the customer prefers to interact and a bit about his decision-making process.  The system may know the customer’s marital status, number of children, and the college he attended.  It can detail every interaction the customer has had with the company.  And by coupling corporate information with external data, systems can be more predictive of customer behavior and buying patterns.

With all this, IT should be extremely knowledgeable about building relationships…right?  And of course, the CIO should be a master at it.

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IT professionals love to change things.  The opportunity to make a difference has attracted many to the profession.  They enjoy the challenge of coming up with a new idea. time for change They enjoy brainstorming and analyzing with an eye toward improvement…incrementally as well as revolutionary.  You can see the twinkle in their eyes and hear the excitement in their voices as their thoughts start to jell into a plausible solution.  They are willing to put in many long, hard hours to help these ideas become a reality.

But while IT professionals are very good at identifying, constructing, and implementing automated solutions to improve processes and procedures, the people side of change seems to often be lacking in many projects and in many organizations.  The people side is hard.  Automating a process, for example, can change a person’s daily routine, his job, his career.  At times it also causes job elimination.  Helping people prepare for, accept, and embrace such changes is not necessarily as much a matter of logic as of listening and caring.

Yes, helping others to change is hard.  But it is even harder when we have to change ourselves.

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