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Leadership Conversations Mon 05 Mar 07

LeadershipI recently had a unique opportunity to briefly talk with two business leaders about CIO leadership and making IT strategic.  Although I won't try to relate the entire conversations I thought I'd share a portion of their comments as they touch on some of the topics that we've discussed.  As you can see below they both lead large organizations that obviously have a high dependence on IT and therefore and a strong interest in having an IT department that supports both the day-to-day business operations along with the company's strategic initiatives.

Kim_denney The first leader I talked with was Kim Denney, President of Air Liquide America LP.  She leads an organization that serves more than 2,600 customers, with 500 employees, and 30 plants.  Air Liquide America is part of an international group specialized in industrial and medical gases and related services. They supply oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and many other gases and services to most industries (steel and oil refining, chemistry and glass, electronics and paper, metallurgy and food-processing, healthcare and aerospace).

Kim indicated that IT leaders have to be proactive to overcome the inertia of a company's culture that may perceive IT as not being strategic.  This involves actively looking for ways to learn the business and find opportunities where they can contribute.  We have to switch from being reactive to being proactive.  We can't wait for the business units to come to us we have to go out and demonstrate how we can contribute.  This also involves how we communicate with our customers.  As Kim described it, the business folks are looking for IT people "that talk like the rest of us."  We need to learn the language of our customers and drop the use of all the acronyms and technical jargon.  I previously suggested Schaffner's Rule of Communications to Someone in a Different Profession:

When speaking with someone in a different profession, do not use the jargon and acronyms of your profession.  Only use the jargon and acronyms of their profession.

However, I must say that I think Kim's phrase is a better way of describing what we need to do.

T_jay_collinsThe second leader I talked with was T. Jay Collins, President & CEO of Oceaneering International, Inc., an advanced applied technology company providing engineered services and hardware to customers operating in offshore, space, and other harsh environments.  The Company’s services and products are marketed worldwide to oil and gas companies, government agencies, and firms in the aerospace and marine engineering and construction industries.

Jay indicated that he looks to his IT leaders to adopt an attitude of using all their resources to focus on helping the business units.  He suggested that the IT leaders need to take the initiative and form cross-functional teams to help identify and solve problems.  This requires that they be collaborative, innovative and be able to come up with solutions that are simple and straight forward.

Looking back at both sets of comments I see some common threads:

  • It isn't that the business doesn't want IT to be thought of as strategic, IT must show they can be strategic
  • IT shouldn't wait for an invitation.  We have to take the initiative and be proactive in demonstrating how we can add value to the business.
  • Although running IT efficiently may be important, the real value in IT is in how it can help the business and that is where our focus should be.

These are some powerful comments coming from company leaders that should help identify what we need to be doing.

What are your thoughts on this?

p.s. Kim and Jay - thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

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