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Issue of April 2006 
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The Relationship Intergration Officer

The rise of the RIO

Contemporary CIOs have to do more than just ensure that IT is aligned with business. They have to build working relationships and gain intimate knowledge of other business aspects too. Kumar Dawada reports on the emergence of the Relationship Integration Officer

Gone are the days when a CIO was a full-time technologist. Today he has to do more than just don his CIO robe and ensure the smooth functioning of the IT department. He has also to develop the requisite soft skills and business finesse, and make sure that IT is actually making difference at all levels. For this he has to walk among the management, CXOs, internal customers, vendors, analysts and external customers, and find out more about their needs, aspirations, motivations and business drivers.

For this, a CIO needs a new identity—that of an RIO, or Relationship Integration Officer. As an RIO he can interact with them better to gain insight. This will help him overcome issues faced by the organisation when he is again in the techno-powered CIO mode.

Towards better understanding

According to Khursheed Muzaffar, IT In-charge, J&K Bank, it is usually assumed that a CIO already has strong technology evaluation skills. “However, he has to have a deep understanding of IT technology and business to ensure that IT can add value to the various business processes and lead to customer satisfaction.”



Rahul Mehta

Rahul Mehta, Senior General Manager, IT, Blue Star, is of the belief that today’s CIO is the bridge between IT and the senior general, marketing and finance management. “He has to listen to the technical language of the IT department and talk business with the management, and vice-versa. The CIO is the interpreter for both sides. He adds value by overseeing how IT initiatives are well-aligned to suit the organisation’s needs.” The investment in IT is high, hence he not only has to justify expenses but also ensure that the IT initiative is a sound business decision.



Arun Phadke

Arun Phadke, Vice-President, IT, Nicholas Piramal, feels that a CIO has to understand the various business aspects related to internal and external customers. “This is because he comes in contact with them directly or indirectly, thanks to the IT initiatives used by his company.”

Both RIO and CIO

To be a good RIO, the CIO must first understand the business requirements in terms of both technology and services. He needs to know business goals and the way to customise IT services to match that.

“The CIO needs to sell the technology solution to the company. He can do this only if he understands the business requirements,” says Mehta. Many organisations have stopped performing all activities by themselves. “They involve partners, vendors, and service providers in their game plan to handle the organisation’s non-core activities. Hence, a significant amount of the CIO’s time goes towards managing external relationships.”

According to Phadke, “Organisational IT is used for interacting with many external people who have their own domain— stockists, distributors and regulators. What the organisation does also affects them, hence the CIO must be fully aware of all the possible implications and what the impact will be on the end-customer.” To know all this, he has to build relationships with associations and people inside and outside the organisation. Building good relations with these people will benefit both him and the organisation.

Essence of RIO

If the CIO believes that building relationships is necessary for himself, his department, his function and his organisation, he has to demonstrate it. This culture will then percolate down the line

When a leader builds relationships, others follow. “If the CIO believes that building relationships is necessary for himself, his department, his function and his organisation, he has to demonstrate it. This culture will then percolate down the line. IT as an organisation must build relationships across departmental as well as industry lines. As a result, relationships will be built across departments and other peer levels which will help them solve issues at their levels too,” says Phadke.

Opines Mehta, “As an RIO, the CIO has to be fair to all and be visible. If he has these two things, he can do wonders.” Yet this does not mean tolerating defective service from service providers. He must be aware of the service provider’s processes.

A CIO’s first loyalty is to his organisation. If he has to take a tough decision, he has to think how the organisation will react. “Does the decision fit the organisation’s goals, objectives and culture? If it does not, then he has to get up and say that. This is tough because it may ruin his relationship with the outside party or vendor, but in the final analysis the organisation must get first priority,” insists Phadke.

CIO and Internal Relationships

The CIO uses IT to solve practical business problems. However, this level of technological understanding cannot be expected from other CXOs.

“The CIO has to tactfully make CXOs aware of the benefits of IT to their departments as well as to the organisation. He can get a deep understanding of the existing systems and processes only when he is in constant touch with the various CXOs and operational staff,” says Muzaffar.

Within an organisation, IT services internal customers and internal functions. The internal goals for each function are different. “The CIO must know their internal functional requirement, growth and drivers. Each department has different drivers. He must also understand the diverse functions. The more knowledgeable and diverse he is, the more it will reflect in the quality of the solutions that he comes up with,” adds Phadke.

In real life, a CIO is also a change management officer. His biggest challenge is to manage change that will involve non-tangible aspects such as the staff mindset. “The resistance to change is a basic human attribute. The only way to manage change brought about by new processes and technology is to effectively manage relationships with various stake-holders,” believes Muzaffar.

Peer-to-Peer Learning

CIOs must be a part of industry forums so that they can interact with peer CIOs from the same or different industries and exchange the latest technology- or industry-related information. “It is common knowledge when it comes to which company is implementing what IT initiative, but peer interaction gives insights about a CIO’s experience with a vendor’s performance. Even a competitor will share this information because competition is only on the sales front and not in IT,” observes Phadke. By sharing information and knowledge, both the CIOs benefit as it does not affect their organisations in any way.

Outside Relationships

The CIO has to listen to the technical language of the IT department and talk business with the management, and vice-versa. He is the interpreter for both sides

Due to advances in IT, organisations are expanding their sphere of influence and business expertise. As they expand, they face different views, situations and challenges. The more knowledgeable a CIO, the better he is in addressing new challenges.

Commerce happens through the customer. If a CIO has direct customer interaction, then he starts thinking about IT initiatives in terms of adding value to customer satisfaction. For example, the CIO of a retail chain sees a lot of value when walking around the mall to figure out what is happening and feel a customer’s shopping experience. “If a CIO is not in a business where end-user interaction is necessary, then he must interact regularly with dealers and distributors who are one level above the end-customer. However, his focus should be on resolving the business processes where he can add value,” opines Mehta.

Cordiality with the Auditor

Auditors and regulatory authorities believe in proper documentation. Knowledge of industry-related rules and regulations puts a CIO in a better position to handle them because he knows what is expected from his organisation. If he is comfortable dealing with auditors and regulatory authorities, then other people in the organisation who deal with them will also be at ease.

“Sometimes, there are surprises when an auditor or regulatory authority asks different questions and demands fulfilment of a requirement. However, having proper knowledge ensures that even in abnormal situations a CIO maintain a level of understanding as to why a specific demand is being made. He can put the right question to the auditor or regulatory authority to check whether a demand or expectation is right or wrong,” says Phadke.

Outsourcing Right

Just because you outsource something does not mean that your worries are over. You are merely extending the partnership from your own people to those in a different organisation

“Just because you outsource something does not mean that your worries are over. You are merely extending the partnership from your own people to those in a different organisation,” says Phadke. Mehta echoes these sentiments, “If a CIO outsources with just the intent of achieving a desired target, then the outsourcing will fail. But if he thinks that the outsourcing team is actually a part of his own team, and that he has to work with them to ensure success, then outsourcing will succeed.”

If a CIO keeps changing service providers mid-stream, outsourcing fails. He has to give some time to build relations and for them to stabilise. When a CIO is outsourcing for the first time, he is new to the game and does not understand many aspects. He may even feel threatened by outsourcing. “In some cases a CEO may have thrust outsourcing on a resentful CIO. If a CIO is not in favour of outsourcing, then vendors will not succeed. CIOs have to think of outsourcing as an opportunity and not as a threat,” says Mehta, who is of the opinion that it is also possible to outsource a CIO’s functions. (See Box: Outsourcing CIO Functions)

Outsourcing CIO functions
According to Rahul Mehta of Blue Star, it is also possible to outsource the CIO function. A CIO may be able to manage multiple companies of the same vertical thanks to his expertise. Each company may pay a percentage of the salary. From the CIO’s perspective he is able to see beyond a particular organisation. He learns a lot if he has to handle companies belonging to diverse industries or verticals. “The CIO can pinpoint each industry’s best practices and apply the solutions to the pain points of other industries. This benefits all the concerned organisations from the purchase perspective. The CIO can procure servers, laptops, ERP solutions, printers or other hardware and software solutions for multiple organisations at a time and get a much better deal,” explains Mehta.

Feedback is Fundamental

CIOs must get regular feedback from internal and external customers. There can be regular meetings on whether their expectations are met. These will be a great help until the organisation and the customers are comfortable with each other and understand each other’s problems.

Customers expect immediate resolution of their wants. However, business priorities are usually such that not all customer requirements can be fulfilled at the same time. “The CIO’s duty is to explain business priorities and why certain projects are not getting a higher priority. This way the customer’s whole perspective changes. He knows whether his demands are wrong or his expectation is higher than that prevalent in the industry,” says Phadke.

The CIO has to provide a robust platform for feedback whether it is e-mail or anything else. “The help desk is invaluable in such situations because IT keeps track of a customer’s record, what and when he bought, the warranty period, and if the customer has paid up. The service desk or help desk keeps itself updated on their customers’ problems post-sale,” says Mehta.

No matter how efficient a CIO is in his domain or how efficiently he manages it, he has to adopt the RIO identity. He has to regularly undergo learning to ensure that he serves his domain and the business more efficiently.

kumard@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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