IT: Don't let the CEO wonder what you do all day

If there's no crisis or big project to work on, CEOs may wonder what IT does all day. Here's how to make sure your contributions aren't undervalued.

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Let them know what you're doing

"There is this conception that if I'm concentrating on BYOD, all the old stuff like server patching and firewall configuration can take a back seat. But those things need to be taken care of as much as the new shiny projects do," says Joel Dolisy, CTO (and top IT executive) at SolarWinds, an Austin-based network management company with annual revenue of $269 million. The solution, he says, is to provide regular updates on what IT has accomplished. For example, he says, "I have a meeting with my CEO today to talk about the latest things we've achieved in Web development, and that people are not twiddling their thumbs all week waiting for problems to happen."

"Executives are sensitive to money and to the total head count devoted to the IT department. Providing that information on a regular basis is primordial, because otherwise people think the money is going into a black hole," Dolisy says.

That's not a good situation. "There's a clear danger that if IT is not communicating well with the rest of the executive team and providing transparency into day-to-day operations, a lot of mundane tasks will be trivialized," Dolisy says. "At that point, it's difficult to deal with. The only thing that comes from the rest of the executive team is pressure to downsize the budget and downsize the number of heads, and only work on the new shiny projects. That's a recipe for disaster."

And Vitale wonders, "How many jobs have been outsourced just because the IT team did a poor job of explaining what they do on a daily basis?"

Keep it short and sweet

While many CIOs agree that it's essential to let upper management know about IT's activities and accomplishments, they warn that the task must be handled carefully because of the many competing demands on top executives' attention, and the danger that they won't fully listen to a presentation about technology operations, much less read a report about it.

For McLaughlin, the solution is to give the CEO a written report -- but a brief one. "It's very simple and executive-level, and it's one page," he says. "Basically, the question is: Are we winning or losing? If we're winning, maybe the executive can move on to something else. System availability was 99.89%. Do we care about the 0.11%? Maybe not."

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