I’ve been sitting here thinking. Gene De Libero say’s I’m always thinking…not sure if that’s good or bad! 🙂

What have I been thinking about?  Lots of things…but as it relates to this post, I’ve been thinking about the one trait that CIO’s can improve upon for 2010. By improving this one simple trait, I believe the ability of the IT group to deliver real value to the organization will increase exponentially.

What’ trait am I talking about?  Listening

In the world of IT, we do a lot of talking.  We talk. And talk. And talk.

We do listen some.  We send business analysts and project managers out to talk to customers.  Did you catch that?  We send people to ‘talk’ to customers.  We don’t send people  to “listen” to customers.

The blame for this lies squarely on the shoulders of the CIO and the IT group as a whole. We’ve built our processes and our procedures to be focused on IT issues, not user issues.  We’ve built our requirements gathering methods around what customer’s want and need and then we mediate those wants/needs to ensure that they don’t break any of our guidelines/processes. We’ve built our IT organizations to tell the rest of the company how things will be done.  While focused on talking, we’ve failed to listen.

In many organizations, users are going around IT to get things done.  In many cases (at least in my experience), this is because IT doesn’t hear the real needs of the business users.

I’ve got an example from a previous consulting gig that I’d like to share…I hope it drives the point home:

The IT group heard that the Marketing team needed a Content Management System so a project was started to buy and implement one.  But did we really listen to the need of the marketing team? Did we hear that they want and need to be able to make content changes on a whim?  Did we hear that they need to be able to do A/B testing (or some other testing/optimization techniques) on a regular basis?

I can tell you that the IT group didn’t those things.  All we heard was Content Management System.  We were the System experts right? So…we bought a CMS, implemented it and allowed the Marketing group to have access to it.  And…doing what IT does best, we put a convoluted change process around the CMS.  Lo and behold, within 6 months the team that asked for the CMS stopped using it because they couldn’t do what they needed to do with it.

And we wondered what was wrong with those ‘marketing people’.

Nothing was wrong with them.  It was us! We didn’t listen.  We heard ‘content management system’ and ran out and implemented one. We “knew” what they needed.

BTW – that marketing team got so fed up with us that they went around the IT team. They found a hosted platform that would allow them to do everything they needed.  Now, that organization’s IT team has been changed for the worse…they went from a team of 20 to a team of 5. They do nothing but keep the lights on now because they weren’t able to provide real value to the organization,  and have become irrelevant to that company. The IT team failed to listen and it cost them dearly.

So…do you see why I think ‘listening’ is the one trait CIO’s should focus on in 2010?    The world of IT is changing dramatically. I don’t believe the IT group has the ability to ‘tell’ the organization how things will be done any longer.  Unless you listen to the real business needs, the IT group and CIO might just become irrelevant in the future.

Here’s my plea to all CIO’s and IT managers:

If you only improve one trait in 2010, let it be this one. Listen well. Fail to listen to your organization’s real needs and you might find you’ve become irrelevant and unnecessary.

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