The cloud has fundamentally altered the role of IT in many organizations. Back in the day, tech staff led the decision-making process when it came to selecting software and systems; today, tech pros are more likely to act as consultants to the executives using cloud-based tools.
That’s not only changed how tech pros approach their jobs, it’s put new pressures on CIOs. Many of the latter have begun referring to internal users as “customers.” These days, it’s less about keeping internal systems running and more about training staff on how to coach and educate end users.
That means the typical tech pro’s relationship with upper management is changing, as well. If you work for a small- or medium-sized business, you might have direct access to the CIO or CTO, even if you don’t report to them. If you work for an enterprise, you might never lay eyes on the CIO, but instead have a relationship with a vice president or director.
In either case, it’s worth building a relationship with your boss (or your boss’s boss). Obviously, you don’t want the CIO to regard you as someone who wastes their time—but it’s still a good thing for the CIO to know you personally, and have a sense of your business and tech skills.
We asked MJ Shoer, chief technology officer of Massachusetts-based managed services provider Internet & Telephone LLC, for his thoughts on developing a relationship with a CIO. Since Shoer oversees technology used both internally and externally, his perspective is especially appropriate for today’s cloud-based environment. Here are his tips:
Have Something to Say
Whether you’re approaching the CIO at a smaller business or a vice president at a larger one, much depends on your company’s culture, Shoer noted. Some organizations have more rigid reporting structures and want everything to go through the manager. That aside, he said, “the key to being an effective CIO is being open.”
In particular, tech leaders are constantly on the hunt for feedback. In an ideal world, Shoer gets that feedback directly from end users, but he values the information that his staff shares “from the grapevine.”
To a degree, he added, “the CIO wants their staff to think strategically” and understand how their work impacts the business. That can be challenging for engineers, since they’re trained to think about the most logical and straightforward way to build something “as opposed to how the desired outcome should work.”
Don’t Complain Without a Solution
Any good CIO wants problems brought to their attention, Shoer said, but “don’t bother me with a problem unless you have a solution to propose.” For example, if a customer is complaining about your system’s response time or tendency to crash under certain conditions, sketch out a possible solution or two before you talk.
Shoer does have an exception to that rule: If you’ve been trying to devise a fix but haven’t succeeded, even after working with other team members. Sometimes the CIO is the person who has the experience and technical knowledge to address a particular issue, and contributing to such an effort is a part of their job.
One thing CIOs don’t want to hear is “people poking at a technology after we’ve decided to use another,” Shoer said. Such armchair quarterbacking doesn’t do anyone any good, and blowing off steam over management’s decision to work with Amazon Web Services instead of Microsoft Azure is simply wasting the CIO’s time. You’re better off studying the business reasons behind the decision, so you can understand the logic even if you don’t agree with the conclusion.
Keep the Customers Happy
This is how you set the stage for a good relationship with the CIO. As IT takes on a more consultative and educational role, technology executives are paying increasing attention to how their department is perceived by end users inside and outside the company.
According to Shoer, he and many of his colleagues are constantly wandering their companies’ hallways or making customer visits to get a sense of IT’s performance. While they obviously want to hear good things about their department, they also like to hear about individuals. Even if a customer is unhappy with a project’s progress or a system’s operation, it means a lot when they tell the CIO about a tech pro’s responsiveness. “You want the CIO to know that you’ve got the customer’s back,” he said.
Remember: IT’s About More than Tech
The point’s been made a few million times, so we won’t belabor it: Business knowledge and soft skills, such as being able to write a proper email or clearly present material in a meeting, are important for tech pros to master. That’s why you need to be “a great communicator to both the customer and the CIO,” Shoer said.
Part of that is being concerned with feedback. By asking internal and external customers how technology can improve, you can help the CIO keep their ear to the ground. That’s important, Shoer added, “because CIOs don’t like surprises.”