Business issues are complex. IT issues are technical. The combination raises the communications bar for the CIO and IT even higher. Good CIOs can explain the technical and operational implications of a business issue. They can go into detail about how things work, why they are the way they are and the business issues they create. A great CIO can sum all of that detail up into a simple and clear concept that rallies the organization to understand the issue intuitively and rally to action.
Here is an example from a case study we did a few years back. In 2003, British Airways faced high operating costs created in part by operating five customer channels for ticketing. Customers would look up the price across three or more of these channels before making a purchase. Paul Coby, the CIO explained the situation this way:
“Three units of cost for one unit of revenue”
That phase encapsulated the essence of the challenge and led to an initiative known as Customer Enabled BA which saved the company significant money and increased the use of Internet based ticketing from around 30% to more than 70% back in 2004. A good CIO would explain the channel complexity, the multiple airfare combinations and the fact that different channels provided different prices for the same trip. All of that is true and BA could explain all of that as well, but the clear communication was the relationship between units of cost and revenue.
Clear communications builds on other aspects of being a great CIO, particularly the understanding of how IT connects with the business model. Great CIOs can sum up a complex situation in terms of its business impact and implications. These clear communications have several characteristics including:
- Making a connection between the business issue and its business impact
- Expressed in terms or analogies that are readily understandable across the company
- Fit as the title in a powerpoint slide
- Provide a story that others can tell accurately to each other, without the CIO being in the room.
- Create a mindset for making decisions and establish a basis/rational for action.
Clear communications build common context and communicate the need for action. This is more than an ‘elevator speech’ one that condenses a long presentation into a short talk, or a change management/marketing slogan. Such clear and compelling communications can be rare. But clear communications is always a sign of a great CIO.
This is one area where everyone can benefit from more examples. What is the clearest communication you have made as a CIO, or heard working in your enterprise?
What do you think creates a clear communication?