How the CIO Should Speak Digital to Executives

CIOs of the erstwhile started with talking the IT or technology language, and things were fine. Things would have continued to remain fine had the CIO not become overly ambitious and not aspired to conquer the higher echelons. Suddenly he/she wanted to have a role to play in business and establish firm presence in the board. Thus, finding themselves at an inflection point of growth that required grooming to learn and speak the business language to the executives.

Today, once again, the CIO is at an inflection point of growth that requires adapting to a different linguistic prolificacy when talking to the executives, and that is digital. With digital transformation becoming one of the top priorities for enterprises, it is no wonder. The good part though is that talking digital is not a complete detour from talking the business language, but rather an extension of it and a natural progression.

So, how do CIOs talk digital to the executives more effectively. Steve Andriole, Professor of Business Technology at the Villanova School of Business, Villanova University, in an article in Forbes recommends CIOs to understand the depth and width of the digital knowledge of the executives they are talking to as the first step.

This is critical as most of the executives today are using a lot of the digital technologies in their personal and work life, like cloud, social media, mobility, etc. As a result, they are fairly well versed with digital tools and are capable of holding conversations around digital concepts. In fact, a growing number of executives that CIOs are dealing with are digital natives, who grew up using technology.

As such, Andriole advises CIOs on a key lesson - to never lecture, a style that he feels is more akin to communication between 20th century technologists and the technologically ignorant managers and executives.

Here is an excerpt from Andriole’s article that explains very succinctly the art of speaking the digital language.

“Speaking digital is about communication with partners, never students, and since all communication is relationship-based, digital technologists should develop as many relationships across the organization as possible, especially with colleagues throughout the business. This requires technologists to become highly credible subject matter experts (SMEs). It also requires them to demonstrate real empathy for the competitive and profitability pressures business professionals experience every single day. Conversations about digital technology should never be framed around “listen to me,” “let me tell you how all this works,” or “leave it to me.” Instead, the conversation should be framed around “let’s solve this” and “let’s see if this technology helps you increase market share.” Because “technology” has ascended to the cloud anyway, it’s now time to speak a language that assumes purpose and outcomes.”

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