Leadership & Transformation

Equipping IT to lead in the digitally focussed new normal

Robert Hollier

February 24, 2021

CIOs are now being seen as more influential than ever before with 66 percent reporting that the CIO-CEO relationship had increased in strength and that 70 percent of CIOs were now assuming leadership of high-impact initiatives...

Equipping IT to lead in the digitally focussed new normal

Research published last week by Gartner has revealed some interesting developments in the shift of the balance of power in the boardroom – with CIOs now seen as more influential than ever before.

The research, published in the 2021 CIO Agenda, revealed that 66 per cent of CIOs reported that the CIO-CEO relationship had increased in strength and that 70 percent of CIOs were now assuming leadership of high-impact initiatives.

It’s not hard to see why. The Covid-19 pandemic and resultant disruption to work patterns and supply chains has accelerated the need for digital transformation and placed those digital projects that can help organizations adapt, react, stabilize and grow at the top of the boardroom agenda.

As the report says: “CIOs have been trying for years to convince senior business leaders to modernize and take full advantage of technology. Now, many roadblocks have been removed and the majority of boards are prioritizing these initiatives.”

But the key thing to note from that quote – and where I believe the real opportunity for tech vendors lies – is the very beginning, where it says CIOs have been “trying for years” to convince senior business leaders.

70% of CIOs are now assuming leadership of high-impact initiatives

2021 CIO Agenda

CIOs finally have the ear of the CEO, but are they equipped to reimagine what their organization could look like post-pandemic and to effectively communicate how to use technology to navigate towards this desired future end state to other leaders within their business?

Given they have been “trying for years” to convey this message with only limited success, the answer would appear to be no. And that presents an opportunity for tech vendors.

If you can equip the CIO in your target account with the tools to lead their organization then you can not only establish yourself as a trusted partner, but you can also build your solutions into the organization’s Covid-19 recovery plan and lay the foundation for a future where you can co-create and co-innovate solutions together.

But how to do that? There are three main things to consider.

1) It’s what you say and how you say it

Communicating with IT is usually something tech vendors are good at. It is an audience that is knowledgeable about tech, understands the difference between vendors and their products, and fully grasps the potential tech solutions can bring.

However, there is no guarantee the CEO will have the same level of IT knowledge.

If you wish the CIO to communicate with the CEO on your behalf, then you will need to provide them with messaging that moves out of the tech-solution or product-focussed sweet spot and instead focuses on business benefit.

The need for each account will obviously differ, but the areas of focus should be on four main areas: cost, security, sustainability and creating long-term value.

Articulating some combination of these four will allow the CIO to build a narrative for the CEO that levels up out of detail-orientated, transactional IT conversations and instead creates a bigger-picture view that is all the more compelling.

Similarly, the language that you use must steer clear of product names, be jargon-free and not overly technical. There is no need to dumb down, but clarity of message is key.

Discover more about CxO messaging tactics here.

2) Facts glorious facts

If the CIO is going to make the most of their moment then they are going to need to be able to back up what they’re saying to the CEO with evidence.

Tech vendors can start by providing the data that backs up your claims. If you’re saying your cloud solution is ranked best for data security, for example, then prove it. Furnish the CIO with the data points to back up that narrative to the CEO and they will be better prepared to handle potential objections, navigate counter arguments and illustrate their point about their future direction of the organization.

The second element to this is to provide the CIO with enough relevant case studies to make their argument.

Case studies demonstrate that you as a tech vendor have expertise in that industry, have tackled the problem your account is facing before, and that you have a track record of success when partnering with organizations in such a way.

However, that doesn’t mean just bombarding the CIO with case studies before their meeting with the CEO and wishing them all the best. Instead, it means doing the work for them – finding the most relevant case study to the situation the account is facing, presenting them to the CIO and talking them through the detail so they are as prepared as possible.

Discover more about building customer success stories here.

3) Tool up

The third way tech vendors can help CIOs become boardroom leaders is by providing them with the tools they need to win the arguments.

This might be as easy as creating a slide presentation for them or putting together a talk track ahead of a board meeting. Or it may involve creating a larger piece of content, such as a custom video to be played at a meeting or a virtual digital experience for the CIO to share and lead other board members through.

But whether it’s a small and simple or complex and glossy, the end result will be beneficial to you in two ways.

First, by providing the assets that will support the CIO’s case, you will be able to frame the narrative and ensure the business-benefit and solution-focussed conversation mentioned above unfolds as intended.

Second, working closely with the CIO to provide them with tangible assets to be used in leadership conversations cements your relationship with them and demonstrates that you’re in it for the long haul.

And, since they’re going to be the CEO’s main confidant as the organization moves into a more digitally focussed new normal, that’s not a bad place to be.

For more insight on how to communicate with a CxO audience, click here.