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Part 4: The CIO’s Complex Relationship with Stakeholders

Updated: Nov 8, 2023


In this 4th instalment in the series of the first 100 days of a new CIO, we will explore the intricate relationship with the stakeholders. A CIO’s responsibility is not only in technology, but also his or her ability to navigate the organisation’s dynamics and politics to translate the business needs into overall strategy and execution. A part of this is a broad spectrum of stakeholders that the CIO will engage with, each with distinct roles, desires, and influences over the organisation's journey.


Navigating the stakeholders is about identifying the key players across the organisational landscape. It's a process that needs to also evaluate who holds the reins of influence, who champions innovation, and who protects the resources. The silos of old, where IT operated within its own domain are long gone. The new world requires an influential relationship between IT and the various departments that form the organisation.


This alignment with business stakeholders is an ongoing dialogue that is about forging and fostering camaraderie and trust that delve into the realms of shared visions and collaborative targets. The endeavour is to ensure that the tech narrative is in alignment with the business objectives.


With each stakeholder, the CIO needs to meticulously assess their sphere of influence, their desired involvement, the extent to which they will be impacted, and clarifying between the supporters and resistors. Each stakeholder will not have a binary position, but various levels of support, resistance, influence, and impact. Each stakeholder is also going to have relationships with other stakeholders that the CIO will need to understand. Knowing this helps in orchestrating a harmonious relationship in IT with all relevant parties.


This dynamic of contrast and conflict is often intentionally fabricated by leadership at higher levels such as the Chief Executive Office or the Board. The intention is often to create a culture where leaders challenge each other for success. But if a CIO doesn’t realise this, it can often lead to frustration or confusion on what is actually required.


A common example is when commercial stakeholders have pressure to grow revenue on new product streams which require lots of change in an environment, but the CIO has pressure on stability of systems which comes with reducing the volume of change in an environment.


In one of my CIO engagements a number of years back, I was given the mandate by the CEO to retire a legacy system which was a core billing system and replace it with a strategic system. My colleague had a conflicting commercial mandate to launch a new product by a specific date that required some features being delivered on the legacy platform, or the date could not be met. This intricate relationship meant that satisfying either goal would not meet both of the CEO’s goals. Here lies the complexity of stakeholder relationships and where a CIO has to come into his or her own.


In this example, I had to recognise 2 critical points; 1) the primary reason the CEO wanted the legacy system retired was the exponential costs it was bringing to the business (not the architectural risk, which was more my concern), and 2) the CEO was more interested in growing revenue than reducing costs as that was what was forecast to the Board and the market. Therefore I had to find a solution that satisfied launching the product on the specific date, and reducing the cost of the legacy platform at the same time with a broader plan to retire it altogether in the future. And of course, this needed to be supported by narrative which was built into the overall strategy.


In conclusion, the CIO’s relationship with his or her stakeholders is often a complex one and has to be taken that way. There are shared visions and collaborative goals as well as a maze of strategic opportunities. As the custodian of the organisation’s technology, the CIO’s role is to ensure to align the organisational goals with the technology goals. Most importantly is to accept that the priority should always be for the greater good of the overall organisation, and not to deliver technology outcomes for technology’s sake.Through engagements with stakeholders, nurturing open channels of collaboration, and aligning the IT Strategy with the business narrative, the CIO lays down the cornerstone for their success in their role and the organisation.


In case you have missed the previous instalments, the original article was a full summary of the approach, whilst the first follow up focussed on the business strategy and the last post on the importance of first impressions.


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