CEOs and CIOs: Partnering for Success

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Rahul Neel Mani

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A new generation of CEOs — not necessarily young but innovative —have embraced CIOs as strategic business peers. Charles Cadell, CEO, Lowe Lintas India is certainly one of them. In an interview with Ashwani Mishra, Cadell shares his thoughts on the role and expectations from his CIO.

Q:What are your views when it comes to use of IT within enterprises and more specifically for your business?

A: Any company which is in the service field will agree that the pace and the nature of change in business today are enormous. I have witnessed companies being ripped apart because they have failed to take IT into the heart of the organisation.

Take the example of a manufacturing company producing goods without having a consumer or marketing function in place.

What does it mean? It suggests that such a company is producing goods without understanding the consumer needs. The same is the case with IT; it has to have a place at the core of the business.

For me, IT is a fundamental requisite in media or any other industry. Unless I use the technology that my competitors are using, there is no hope for survival.

In the last couple of years, we have made significant investments in IT both in the hardware (laptops, servers) and software (collaboration software) areas and these investments have yielded good results over time.

Q:What kind of relation should a CEO and a CIO share? Also, when it comes to IT investments, do you see it as a cost centre or an enabler to business?

A: There should be a collaborative relationship between a CEO and CIO. Before I hired Pravin (Pravin Savant is the CTO of Lowe Lintas India), we had a good discussion in which both of us raised some key points to ponder.

He told me categorically that he wanted to be involved in strategic decision making within the company management group. This was something that I believed in and always wanted.

IT is critical within each company and especially the business that we are in. We are an extremely well diversified group and we have strong business units in place to deal with new marketing realities.

When I have to make an investment in IT, I do not look at it as a capex cost. This is because I am sure these investments will pay back in terms of productivity gains or in terms of offering products and services to our clients.

So we (CEO and CIO) are happy working together. When my CTO recommends IT solutions that are strategic to our business, he perfectly understands my expectations from such solutions. From there on, it is completely his show.

Q:Could you share a real life scenario where you have taken keen interest in the progress and deployment of an IT solution?

A: Recently we wanted to develop an efficient portal environment that would enable us to share information and collaborate easily within and across business units.

We wanted an intranet that all employees could handle easily and one they could use to update themselves and that would accommodate live news feeds and other dynamic content. This required some creative work as well.

We chose to go with Office SharePoint Server 2007 and I did take a lot of interest in the project during the deployment phase. Post the deployment we were able to put effective, usable technology into the hands of our business users.

We also have the CEO’s section on the portal and I make it a point to write and reach out to users on important developments within the company.

Q:What expectations should a CEO have from a CIO given the market conditions?

A: Well I can’t speak in general, but I will tell you mine. I expect my account operations to be thorough and there should be prioritisation of strategic business initiatives. There should be a quick return on investment on IT.

The CIO should provide a strategic plan using the existing workforce and enunciate the different options available to the company and only then get the management buy-in. As a CEO, I am always available to knock out any barriers or obstacles that come in the way.

Cross-posted from CTO Forum

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