If you want to increase IT's value to the company, try to think like a chief executive

Over the next four months, David Taylor, author of best-selling management book The Naked Leader, explores the challenges and...

Over the next four months, David Taylor, author of best-selling management book The Naked Leader, explores the challenges and opportunities facing IT directors and their operations. The four articles, which are all based on his discussions with more than 300 business and IT leaders, set out his personal manifesto on what it takes for you and your IT department to succeed

The subjects we discuss, the challenges we face and the issues on our agenda are much the same as they have always been.

Projects going over budget, the need for alignment with "the business", user relationships, skills and, of course, the speed of change. The more we talk about how fast change is hitting our organisations, the more things stay the same.

Those are the views of almost every chief executive I have spoken to. Yes, of course some acknowledge that technology has helped their organisations; however, the disturbing conclusion is that more than eight out of 10 did not feel they had value for the money they spent.

I can understand what they mean:

  • Has that knowledge management system really delivered value?
  • What about datawarehousing - all done and dusted?
  • The paperless office
  • How about customer relationship management - do they love you now?

As a self-confessed champion of chief information officers being promoted to the board, I found this very depressing.

However, there was one over-riding feeling of hope. "I want an IT director on my board because I recognise the power of what technology can do for our customers and our organisation. Whether they take that position is up to them," said one chief executive.

The overall question that must be answered by everyone reading this is, do you want to shape a more compelling future or simply repeat the past? Because if we do what we have always done, we will get what we have always got.

With the opinions I gathered, I had a choice - to either translate the chief executive's views or to repeat them directly. Uncomfortable as it may be, I chose the latter in the hope that you will take action.

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Top seven skills

CEOs say what they need from CIOs - in reverse order of importance

Speak in English, and business English at that.

Be a hero
Be a half-full person, not half-empty. Never play the victim. I am on your side and always will be if I have confidence in you.

Control your personal brand
I have no way of proving how good you are on paper, so your success comes down to what I and others think of you. That is your reach (how many people know you) and your reputation (what they think of you). You have a brand, you must decide whether to take control.

Influence and persuasion
See the world from our customers' view. And please, never ever call me a "user". There is only one other industry that uses that term - drugs.

It is not what you do that determines what people think of you, it is what people think you do. Perception is everything, so focus on relationships, rapport and trust.

Your role is to awaken the leaders within your team, and yourself.

Be business first, business always. Understand accounts. Be a business person and your career will flourish. Be a technologist and your career will stop in its tracks.


The case for IT - from the mouths of chief executives       

These are the key skills, actions and focus that will transform your career, the perception of your team and the position and influence of your department. Chief executives are looking for four positive and four negatives from IT leaders - these are repeated here using exact words from CEOs. The action I have added in bold can be taken straight away. 


  • Take your place at the heart of the organisation. Easy to do, because you are already there. Stop using the term "the business" to mean everyone else in your organisation - you are the business. This is not some theory, never again use "the business" in this way. Any separation you feel from the rest of the organisation has been created by you and your team. You must be trusted by your CEO, and ideally be their best business friend. 
  • Stop being a cost, become a profit centre. Every activity you do must be a business project and you must take on the role of ensuring benefits are delivered in conjunction with the relevant functional owner. Prioritise projects yourself, and hold yourself and your peers to account for delivering benefits. 
  • You are now in the shop window and I expect you to be visible to customers (real customers, please do not call internal colleagues customers) and for me to be proud of you and IT. Take ownership of your website and have marketing expertise inside IT. 
  • Focus on what technology does, not what technology is. I do not care what it is. I want you to help our customers, attract new ones and delight existing ones. Keep your technical discussions private. 


  • Projects must deliver faster. Be more flexible - we must have shorter project lifecycles and get away from this ridiculous "tell us what you want and we will be back in a few months". We have the right to change our minds and you must turn on a sixpence. I want projects delivered in days, not weeks. IT is the last great manual industry and that must change now. Invest in automated code generators. 
  • Do not ask for higher and higher budgets every year, unless you can provide real, measurable, third-party verifiable proof that you are worth it; a value-add investment rather than a cost. Provide it, no excuses. 
  • The answer is "no" - what is the question? Whenever I want something, why is the answer "no"? Make it "yes" and we will start from there; everything is possible. Offer alternative ways of achieving what is needed. Take control of discussions. 
  • Never embarrass me or any of my colleagues about my lack of knowledge on technology - please do not ever use words I do not understand. You may find acronyms fascinating, I don't, and people who hide behind them are not being clever - in fact, quite the reverse. Ensure your people use words their parents would understand.   


CV: David Taylor 

David Taylor is a management thinker, speaker and writer whose insights are based on a 25-year track record inside firms including Rolls-Royce, Hoechst and Cornhill. 

His client list spans the Fortune 500 and FTSE 200, he is faculty member of the Young Presidents' Organisation, a visiting MBA lecturer at Imperial College, London and was voted the European Speaker of the Year 2004.  

His book, The Naked Leader, was the best-selling UK business book in 2003. The Naked Leader Experience was published worldwide in April 2004. 

For these articles, Taylor spoke with 300 business leaders between June 2003 and December 2004.


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