Dear Abby: Some Relationship Advice


Dear Abby,

I need some advice. I have been dating my girl friend, let’s call her Betty for over 30 years now. Just when I thought we were progressing in our relationship along came Sam.  Sam is young, hip and fun. He is always available, and Sam never says no when Betty calls. Now she barely even speaks to me. The only time I hear from her is when something is wrong, or I have made some mistake. What can I do to win her back?

Love lorn in the Midwest

This could be written by most CIOs today. For decades, we have been discussing business and IT alignment and trying to get a seat at the table. We’ve established controls and processes. Projects seem to move slower and slower, while the pace of change in business moves faster and faster. Then along comes SaaS and it’s cousins, IaaS, DaaS, RaaS and threatens to destroy what little progress we have made.

In my previous post, Are You Sassy?, we explored some of the impacts on the CIO SaaS brings. One of the most significant impacts SaaS and other “aaS”s have on the CIO and IT is the relationship we have with the other divisions and departments of our business.

Today, just about anyone with a credit card can bring a new app into the enterprise. Talk about shadow IT! What do we do about it? How do we stop it? Can we control it? How do we get in front of the bus load of vendors that want to sell directly to the enterprise and bypass IT? Its enough to make your head spin!

Just yesterday I was stopped in the hall by one of the guys on my team who asked “Hey, do you know what software Brian in HR just bought?” My answer was, “no, but I hope it is SaaS, requires no integration, and requires no data reporting or analysis.” You and I both know, the first answer may be true, the second and third may appear to be true, but at some point either now or in the future someone is going to want to interface with the “application Brian purchased” either to load data or extract data.

I relate that story to show there is no “easy button” when it comes to solving the SaaS dilemma. It is hard work. You may even have to work on Saturday and Sunday (ok, very obscure humor, anyone get the reference?).  However, the solution is the same solution we have been talking about for decades: relationship!

I have written about my views on vendor management (3 Keys to a Long Lasting Relationship, and Take your Vendors for a Ride) so I won’t repeat those points here, suffice it to say, you need a strong relationship with your vendors (current and future) to head off the end-around.

Instead, I would like to focus on the business relationship. The age of the CIO that sits in her office behind multiple layers of security and controls access to all of the company’s computing environment is long gone (actually it NEVER should have existed, but then we wouldn't have had to read all those articles about business and IT alignment). Today’s CIO must be actively involved with running the business. As CIOs we must be engaged from the C-suite to the front lines, getting to know people, their jobs, and their challenges.

A number of years ago, my job took me to Paris, France quite frequently. Before my travels, I had heard all those stories about the “rude French”, from the waiters and waitresses, to co-workers, to the average person on the street. What I learned couldn’t be further from the truth.  I discovered cultural differences that lead to miscommunication were the main culprits (and honestly I saw more “rude Americans” on my travels than “rude French”).

I did two things during my travels to help bridge the cultural divide. The first, I hired a tutor and learned French. I never was very eloquent in my French, but I learned very quickly, that if I approached someone in a restaurant or on the street, or even in the office and initiated the conversation in French they would immediately smile (maybe even laugh at my butchering of their language), switch to English, and continue the conversation with a whole new respect….just for trying.

The other thing I did was to bring my French staff together with my American staff to understand our differences. I started by reading statements and having them guess who said them. “We work harder than they do”, “They don’t know what I do”, “They are always on break”, “They don’t respect me” and more. By the time I was done, they were all laughing because they realized those comments were from BOTH sides of the ocean.

I Miss You.jpg

What does this have to do with your relationship with others in your business? First, language is important. Quit using “no” and replace it with “what, why, and how”. Remove acronyms from your vocabulary and quit trying to teach everyone about technology and how it works. They don’t care...nor should they. When I have discussions with our CEO, if we are talking about technology (it usually means his cell phone or iPad aren't working) we are talking about the wrong things. If one of our teachers is “bending the rules” it doesn't mean they are evil and trying to circumvent policy, it probably means the “rule” is in the way of their students. Use the language of the business.

The other lesson? Put yourself in their shoes. Understand what the challenges and issues are and don’t talk about technology. Maybe even volunteer to do their job. I learned more in four hours working at one of our donation centers than I learned in a year sitting in meetings.

Will this stop all the shadow IT? Will it prevent Brian from buying another application. No, but what it will do is bring it to your attention sooner so you can ask the appropriate questions with an understanding of the challenges and the issues. And maybe next time, Brian will talk with you about his challenge before he swipes in his credit card.

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are looking at the confluence of changes impacting the CIO and IT leadership. Next up “It’s about the data stupid”.

Jeffrey Ton is the SVP of Corporate Connectivity and Chief Information Officer for Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, providing vision and leadership in the continued development and implementation of the enterprise-wide information technology and marketing portfolios, including applications, information & data management, infrastructure, security and telecommunications.

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Jeff Ton

About Jeff Ton

Throughout his career in business, Jeffrey Ton has developed and fine tuned his leadership skills to become a business focused leader who drives results. Extending the role of the CIO to encompass a strategic view of the business, he identifies innovative approaches to achieve the business objectives by leveraging technology where and when appropriate. Adept at building and leading teams, both in-line and cross-organizational, he has been a catalyst for change across the businesses he has served. Ton has industry expertise in information technology, non-profits, commercial real estate development, manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, supply chain, green/clean technologies, finance, insurance and consulting. Expertise: • Strategic Planning – Business & Technology • Organization & Management Reengineering • Merger & Acquisition Integration • Divestiture Decoupling • Business & IT Alignment • Enterprise Architecture Strategy • C-level Relationships • International Staff Management & Acquisition • Global Enterprise Implementations • Fiscal Management • Governance & Risk Management • Business Process Optimization • Vendor Relationship Management • Outsourcing(Offshore/Near-shore) & In-sourcing • Technology Portfolio Management • Regulatory and Compliance Management • P&L Management Specialties: Architecture, infrastructure, applications, application development, telecom, e-Business strategy, web development, knowledge management, integration, EDI, SAP, business intelligence, outsourcing, insourcing, contract negotiation, commercial real estate development, manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, supply chain, green/clean technologies, finance, insurance and consulting, keynote speaker on leadership, green and other topics, LEED AP BD+C. Read his blog on, Intel's IT Peer Network and LinkedIn.