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The ‘C’ is for Cooperation: Building a stronger CIO & COO partnership

Building a stronger CIO & COO partnership(This is the fourth blog in the blog series, “What Keeps C-Level Execs Up at Night,” from Jeanette Prenger, president and CEO of ECCO Select. For an even deeper look at how CIOs can work with other senior leaders, check out “CIO Partnerships: The CEO & COO” from Enterprise Efficiency.)

Let me know if this sounds familiar.

Your CIO is asked to provide some new functionality to your Customer Care department, which is complaining because they have to input the same information multiple times within their software. At the end of the project, your CIO is pleased because the team delivered an improved application on time and within budget. Unfortunately, your end users aren’t satisfied at all because they now have to go to a new screen and wait for the information to populate, which still takes too long.

What happened? Your CIO’s team took the description they were given, but they didn’t follow up with the operations team to get the additional details they needed to be successful.

We see it all the time: There’s no meaningful dialog during development, so what the operations team gets is not really what they need.

If it’s not clear already, your CIO and COO need to become fast friends so the relationship can become a true partnership that builds technological solutions that match your company’s business goals.

Easier said than done?

Break down barriers

The sticking points between the CIO and COO are all the usual suspects. And the truth is that a COO will often be the toughest critic of a CIO. Of course, it often comes down to money. The CIO recognizes the types of tech advancements the company needs to make to stay competitive, but the COO needs to see the advantages of new technology – and see them quickly – or the answer will be “no” from the start.

On the Ops side, COOs often complain that the CIO is more interested in tech for tech’s sake and not focused on the strategic plan. Karnig Momdjian, former COO for Chan and Naylor, had this to say in CIO:

“The CIO may be so focused on the internal priorities, getting the platform and software right then getting the support right, that they need the COO’s help to translate that technology into the operations and business processes, and use those as a guide to set priorities … Sometimes you will find the COO needs to drag some CIOs into thinking about technology for business.”

Of course, as the CEO, this means you have two competing and equally vested perspectives attempting to sway your decision.

Walk a mile in their shoes

The chasm may not be as wide as it often appears, however, and a bridge between the two sides is easy to construct. First, it’s now common to see many COOs with a solid IT background of their own, and many COOs previously served as a CIO—so they understand what keeps them up at night. And many companies are starting to combine the two roles into one to build on the strengths of each position.

But in the meantime, the CIO needs to better understand the main challenges the COO faces and have a solid grasp of the broader business objectives. This means any technological innovations and advancements should ideally be focused on advancing the company instead of just keeping the server’s lights on. Momdjian elaborates:

“Every operational problem will end up on the COO’s desk—they are usually the bottleneck. Go to your COO with technological solutions that solve his big operational problems.”

To achieve that, the CIO needs to truly feel the pulse of the business, and understand what each level of the company wants to improve, and why. By collecting those suggestions, incorporating them into the proposal, then moving it back up the chain, the CIO is much more likely to gain support from Operations because that COO will better understand the ripples the project will make company-wide—and the CIO will earn points for considering the overall business goals.

Here at ECCO Select, we’ve helped many companies face these types of organizational and communication issues, and we’ve seen our share of conflict between these two roles—conflict that can stifle innovation and business growth. But we’ve also seen firsthand the fruits of building the CIO-COO relationship; after all, in today’s world, there aren’t many processes in our work days that aren’t touched by technology.

This is the fourth blog in the series, “What Keeps C-Level Execs Up at Night,” from Jeanette Hernandez Prenger, president and CEO of ECCO Select, a talent acquisition + advisory consulting company, specializing in people, process and technology solutions for our clients. ECCO’s experienced advisory consultants can help your organization with a variety of business challenges, including building a stronger relationship between your CIO and COO. Let us know your thoughts on Facebook or on Twitter @ECCOSelectCORP.