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The CIO's first order of business

Owen McCall | Aug. 23, 2013
Before you can be influential you need to be seen as fundamentally competent.

After months of preparation and work across the organisation, today was the day that I would discuss the proposed IT strategy with the chief executive. It wasn't the first time we had talked about what our IT strategic direction should be or how IT would support and enable the business but this was the first time that all this thinking was in one document for a full discussion. The team had done a great job pulling all this work together and I was both excited and a little nervous about the conversation to come.

The time came and I walked into his office. His first words to me were not "Hello, Owen, how's things?" No, his first words were "Why are there no sales reports today?" My heart sunk. This represented two problems. Firstly, retailers live by the daily sales and margin reports in much the same way that people say an army marches on its stomach and secondly, I was not aware that there had been a problem with the sales reports. If I was I would have gotten in first with an update on why and what we were doing about it.

Over the next hour or so (it seemed much longer) our discussion was focused on why there were no sales reports and how I and my team were so incompetent that we couldn't produce something as critical and simple as sales reports. We barely mentioned the IT strategy, which was probably just as well as he wasn't in a listening mood.

As I left the meeting I was gutted. I went back to my desk and contemplated the injustice of it all, or perhaps more accurately I felt sorry for myself. It wasn't too long though before I began to move to action.

Firstly, let's deal with the urgent. What had happened to the sales reports, when could we expect them to be distributed and how come I didn't know as I was meant to be alerted of all P1s (high priority system faults/incidents)? As it happens I had decided reports were not critical as they don't stop trading or our global supply chain. I changed that decision!

The sales reports were delivered just after lunch along with an explanation of why it happened and what we were changing so it wouldn't happen again. Now I began to reflect on the implications of the morning. As time went by I realised that this meeting was symbolic of one of the most important lessons I ever learnt as a CIO.

Before you can be influential you need to be seen as fundamentally competent.

Professionally, my goal has always been to use technology to add value to the organisations I have worked for or consulted to. Over the years I had learnt that to add real and significant value requires two things.


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