CIOs, Politics, Elephants, Rooms

New Update

GOA, INDIA: She is a woman. She is an analyst. She is an author. If you smell any concatenation in these introductions, yes the pun is entirely intended. Don't female brains and radars have that extra sixth sense to catch what evades a usual eye and ear?


Tina Nunno is a research vice president in Gartner's CIO Research group and specializes in CIO-related management issues including working with the board of directors, executive communication strategies, change leadership and governance strategies.

Her recent research deals with navigating complex CIO decisions and sensitive organizational politics issues. She focuses on specific strategies and tactics for managing IT political land mines, and CIO power politics.She has explored the use of more extreme political tactics in her research titled, "Machiavelli's Guide to IT." And is now the author of "The wolf in CIO's Clothing: A Machiavellian Strategy for Successful IT Leadership"

That explains why she is always full of observations beyond the mundane layers when it comes to CIOs, leadership or management jigsaw and how it plays out in corner rooms. But this time she has a pretty bold hypothesis to sound off - that of a dinosaur in these rooms which people shrug off as both archaic and anarchistic. But does eschewing politics skew the tables back where CIOs wish they were? Let's find out why Tina Nunno distills her years of experience working with CIOs into an iconoclastic contention: that IT is constantly under fire - and the CIO is usually the center of the target. Let's see why politics can be bitter pill to be swallowed the right way? And why/where she recommends CIOs to ‘let go'!


Tell us something about your recent book 'The Wolf in CIO's Clothing'. What can be possibly wolverine about CIOs?

The primary theme of the book is that CIOs are in a different situation whether we accept it or not. I have been building on the implied Machiavellian principle that leaders (like animals) are either predator or prey, and have examined the leadership characteristics of seven animal types. My idea is that the wolf - a social animal with strong predatory instincts - is the ideal example of a successful leader worth following. And as Machiavelli put forth rightly a leader is often in a spot of conflict when it is about creating something of value and that's where tactical techniques and special policies need to be deployed. Through stories gleaned from my work with hundreds of CIOs, I have tried to illustrate how any CIO can adapt and thrive under pressure by mastering the Machiavellian principles of power, manipulation and warfare.

Pardon my perceived stereotypes and Horns effect here, but don't Machiavelli or politics in general lend themselves easily to negative connotations? People may want to ignore the elephant even if it's staring them in the face.


Yes, people usually have a different impression of him but he was the first and foremost human psychology and behavioural expert in his own way and what he stressed on was to have ways and predictability to deal with such behavior patterns. Accept it or avoid it but every CIO has to deal with some tough situations from firing someone, transferring someone to dealing with difficult people or office politics. He has to be ready for that. I have been talking to many CIOs here and it has been interesting to experiment what I assumed and some of them are keen to take the CIO quiz on Gartner's site and find out which category they fall in.

Have CIOs been finally spared of contradictions? Like on one hand the pressure to innovate but at the same time having the cost-control sword hanging on their head; or for that matter, managing costs with formats like outsourcing or cloud but then also expected to have control at an optimum level.

CIOs still fee business to be schizophrenic in some ways. Keeping the lights on while trying to innovate is not an easy balancing act. Organisations need to take a sophisticated mindset and a portfolio approach in today's times. That will ensure that IT investments take adequate risks and are strategic. If non-IT executives keep thinking of IT as a cost centre or as an investment baggage, it will be tough. There has to be a portfolio approach to various degrees and types of IT investments.



Will that make it possible for IT to be a competitive advantage at all? Is that happening anywhere?

Yes, a lot of companies are doing exactly that. Not just technology companies I mean but other industries or entities that are trying to solve their business problems. Customer engagement or involvement of sales staff can do a lot as I observed with an event/sports management firm. But the clincher would be the fact that IT needs to be in partnership with other functions.


How easy is that given the number of silos we live with?

The silo enterprise is slowly fading away but not as quickly as we would wish it to. Part of this delay is corporate culture where IT or finance etc is still looked upon as service providers. How can you partner with external customers if you cannot co-exist with internal customers in a new era? The model is too outdated as customers are increasing their expectations from businesses and want more personalized approaches.

Does IT not fall into the relevancy relapse time and again, whether it's outsourcing or cloud or self-service IT? After all CIOs have often been imagined content as gatekeepers or plumbers or ration-shops for IT infrastructures?


I would say that commoditization or new formats of application development or changes in infrastructure models is actually a wonderful opportunity for CIOs. They can grow business on areas of its actual needs now. They can go past the execution trap of yesteryears and dive into the ‘why' of business goals and capabilities. We do not have the luxury today for making a lot of errors and that's good in a way.

Right time to talk about Shadow IT or Rogue IT here. Should CIOs be too worried?

It is certainly a topic that I spot in many conversations. In India too CIOs are thinking about this trend. Should they be comfortable as their colleagues outsource IT projects and have new ways of requisitioning or consuming IT? It used to reflect badly on IT if CIOs did not fill the set of expectations in the past, but now that need is gone. The key to solving this dilemma is asking whether what you let go is strategic or not substantial enough. If a bit of shadow IT is making inroads in commoditisation of IT, it's not a big deal to let go. But if what's going away is strategic then one should be concerned and strike the right conversations.


How do these dilemmas spell out skills and talent areas for CIOs?

The demand for IT as I see it will only go up. From government organizations to new, old, small, big companies; the spends will be only going upwards. That means a lot of opportunity for IT skilled people. At the same time, these skills will find themselves residing outside an enterprise more often. That means that inside the enterprise there will be room and need for business analysts, architects, process specialists, innovators etc.


So what's the ‘one word' summary of an Indian CIO that you would be travelling back with?

Open - is the right word. The CIOs here are wonderfully open and anxious to know what's new, what's going on etc. They are also echoing and debating about my book and its ideas. Indian companies are no stranger to politics and the related challenge-sets. I would say they face more pressure to face it and come up with extreme ideas