First Person: A Conversation with Brendan McGowan of the CIO Executive Council

Kirsten Soelling 

Every company is a technology company—you’ve heard that from us before. Tech strategy plays a critical role in business strategy, so why is there such little integration between the two? I’m not making assumptions; I know there’s chronic disconnect that affects even the interpersonal levels of an organization. There’s even data to back me up—and it’s startling.

The data available is also pretty robust. Earlier this year, CIO.com published “IT Communication in Crisis,” the results of the second-annual Power of Effective IT Communication Survey.

The report revealed what author Brendan McGowan, CIO Executive Council (CEC) Global Media Bureau & Client Research Manager, calls a “communication crisis between IT and non-IT employees.” I was fortunate to talk with the man behind the data and explore his research in depth.

McGowan studied history at Trinity College where he developed an interest in analysis that has carried over to his professional work. During his four years with Forrester Research, McGowan helped develop new ways for Forrester to examine foreign markets, cultures, and businesses.

Since 2011, McGowan has worked closely with the CEC’s global CIO clientele on both public relations and research fronts. He identifies their top priorities and finds ways to convey their key accomplishments and focus areas across a variety of editorial and speaking venues.

Brendan McGowan

Brendan McGowan

He has continued work in research and analysis to examine universal topics, such as internal communication, to provide objective landscape data and to share strategic guidance on how CIOs should critically assess the future. McGowan’s efforts are intentional: he seeks to identify factors that impede CIO success. “Enough CIOs were telling me there was a disconnect with non-IT peers that I thought there had to be a pattern, a bigger issue,” he told me.

I appreciate people who ask the hard questions and McGowan certainly has an eye for significant information. He calls out the biggest issue for CIO in no uncertain terms, writing that “communication between IT and non-IT employees is in a state of crisis—across job titles, across verticals, across regions.”

CIO.com’s report includes very specific findings: “Four out of five IT leaders claim that building trust and credibility is highly important. However, only four out of one hundred believe that they are highly effective in communicating with their non-IT colleagues.”

This is where I think McGowan’s work emphasizes a very important point that is too often ignored: the role of IT is changing right now. Instead of considering IT to be just a cog in the business, forward-looking organizations are already giving IT a role at the core of the business. Independently, IT should seize opportunities to identify real business value, e.g. create products, drive revenue, and influence new initiatives. So why isn’t this happening?

Communication. Or more accurately, communication failure. According to the CEC study, 50 percent of IT leaders claim that a lack of communication skills holds them back. CIOs recognize that they’re not particularly good at communicating, but despite effort, they seem unable to make changes. McGowan’s commitment to addressing this issue for his clients and the larger business community is apparent in the way he talks about his work: “I wanted to get people’s attention; this is a wake-up call for the industry.”

The problem is pervasive because, like most human issues, it requires constant attention. This is an area of particular interest to me and I was eager to understand McGowan’s perspective on the obstacles that IT leaders struggle to overcome in an effort to improve their communication. McGowan referenced his survey data, which indicates the top reasons: lack of talent, lack of time, lack of recognition, and lack of effort. No surprises there. CIOs have to take massive action to bridge the communication gap, but it’s essential to business transformation.

I asked McGowan how he would like to see things change and his response was just what I’d expect from the guy who pushes CIOs to look ahead: “IT leaders have to take control of their own destiny, [to say] ‘I am accountable for being forward-thinking. I will start taking action today.'"

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Kirsten Soelling
Contributor

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