Alex Alexander leads a double life.
As the recently named CIO and VP of CTG, an international IT solutions firm, he devotes much of his time to overseeing the $350 million companys aggressive internal IS program—one thats designed to promote growth while bringing about cost savings.
Frequently, however, Alexander slips into an entirely differently role—that of super salesman and consultant. Wearing his sales hat, Alexander, accompanied by a CTG account representative, flies all over the world to meet with clients and prospective clients. "Being a CIO in a company that sells technology services can be a help on the sales side," says Alexander. "CIOs shouldnt just be internally focused. Talking to clients and prospective clients is exactly one of the roles they should take on."
Alexander has a solid track record as a CIO, having held top technology jobs at a major retailing and automotive company before joining CTG. Yet the sales role is still new to him. Even so, hes proven a quick study. Only last month, as an example, he and three other CIOs—one from another IT services firm, the others IS chiefs at an IT security outfit and a telecom vendor—got together to bid on an RFP for an eight-figure project.
"We put together a first-draft business plan and a Power Point presentation for the potential client," says Alexander. "As a consortium, were in a much stronger position than if we went in individually. Wed provide the client with one-stop shopping. The synergies are going to be exponential."
At the time of this writing, CTG hadnt closed on the deal yet, but as a salesman and consultant, Alexander has already proven a major asset to his employer, giving CTG access to CIOs and other C-level executives in prospective Fortune 1000 clients. Similarly, a small but growing number of other IT solutions providers, consultancies and integrators have recognized that bringing a CIO aboard to interact with clients can make the difference between securing and keeping new business, and drawing a big goose egg.
"Having an ex-CIO deal with clients plays into the trend of identifying with the clients needs rather than simply saying, This is what we offer," says Alden Cushman, VP of research at Kennedy Information. "Telling the client youre bringing in the former CIO of Revlon or Merck to help deal with his internal difficulties can give you a real leg up."
Share Your Experience
For solutions providers and consulting firms that are trying to reach out to C-level prospects, having a CIO assist the sales side yields one immediate advantage: Often they already know many of the CIOs theyre asked to call on. "I have an informal network of CIOs I know through activities such as IS conferences," says Alexander. "Consequently, if one of our account reps is having trouble getting past the gatekeepers, I can usually get him in."
Once hes gained access to client CIOs or other C-level executives, Alexander is careful to avoid the hard sell. "Im not there to push CTG," he notes. "Im very straight with the CIOs I call on. I simply talk about issues of concern. Clients are typically struggling with the same issues I am, and they have to come clean in dealing with a fellow CIO."
Andersen (formerly Arthur Andersen) takes a similar low-key approach with its CIO Advisory Group, which is made up entirely of former CIOs. "CIOs feel comfortable talking to other CIOs whove been there— seasoned executives who can help them work through issues," says Tom Mangan, global managing partner with Andersens Business Consulting Group and a member of the CIO Advisory Group.
CIO-consultants like Mangan, a former executive VP and CIO at several Fortune 200 companies in various industries, not only bring their own experience to a client situation, but theyre also familiar with how other clients addressed similar problems in other industries. "In many cases youve seen it multiple times in different industries, and so you come at it from experience in a lot of different ways," Mangan says. "Thats definitely an advantage."
IS executives who have gone to work for a solutions provider usually know how to effectively pitch a project, as well. "I bring the customer perspective," says Paul Brubaker, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Command and Intelligence, and DOD Deputy CIO. Brubaker was recently hired by Commerce One to serve as president of its E-Government Solutions group.
"Having sat on the other side of the desk, I can translate some things that my competitors might not pick up on," says Brubaker. "That insight also makes it a lot easier for me to understand who has money to spend."
Brubaker doesnt sell Commerce One directly. Instead, he tries to show potential clients—in this case federal, state and local government officials—how they can take advantage of the Internet.
"My job is to e-enable governments," he explains. "We deal with government CIOs, program managers, chief procurement officers and CFOs. We go in and look at a particular application and say, Hey, this would be something where you can derive a significant cost saving and improvements. This is what it will cost you. What do you think?"
Typically, if the client likes the idea, he will tap into e-government initiative or discretionary funds to have Commerce One implement the program. "And if we can show savings, he may even set aside operational funds," Brubaker says.
Whats more, with his Washington contacts and insiders knowledge, Brubaker can sometimes obtain backing for an e-government project that Commerce One is pursuing. "Given my Hill background, I can engage Congressional support. In the agencies where I based most of my earlier relationships, I also know who is strong, who isnt and where there are prejudices against certain IT vendors and systems integrators."
That knowledge is invaluable in choosing an integrator-partner thats going to get a green light from the client. "Our competitors dont necessarily understand which integrators are in favor and which arent, because they may not be privy to this kind of information," Brubaker says.
Be a Mentor
Helping to secure new business is only one of the ways in which solutions providers deploy former IT executives. For instance, Andersen uses its CIO Advisory Group to provide CIO coaching, interim CIO services and ongoing counsel. Cap Gemini Ernst & Young (CGE&Y), one of our Smart 100 Companies, offers similar services and also provides SWAT team leadership on high-priority, quick-turnaround projects.
Cognizant Technology, also one of our Smart 100 Companies, retains former Elf Atochen North America senior VP and CIO Bob Rubin to provide thought leadership by speaking at its conferences and writing white papers. Rubin also helps boost Cognizants presence among his former peers and provides the technology company with readings on the marketplace. "Cognizant is interested in trying to figure out whats important to CIOs and is looking at what it can bring to industry," Rubin explains.
In their consulting role, CIOs may simply work through a problem with a client on a one-time basis. "Recently, I flew in on short notice to meet with one of our CIO clients," CTGs Alexander explains. "We had dinner and went over a lot of things he was struggling with. Id already gone through [the same problems] at CTG. I gave him a 30-page strategic IS plan under NDA that showed how wed dealt with those issues."
CIO-consultants also work with corporate IS executives in evaluating technologies, presenting to the client executive committee and communicating with the business units.
"In engagements that Ive performed for CIOs, a lot of the work product is creating something that the CIO can communicate to the rest of the business, whether its his peers or bosses," says Dean Wolf, a onetime IS executive who is a partner with CGE&Y. "Being able to communicate is really essential to getting buy-in from the business or the board."
Much of the work, however, involves counseling or coaching the client on a strategic basis. "In working at the CIO, CFO and CEO level, we help them more on what we call the high ground," says Andersens Mangan, who typically meets with the CIOs he coaches once a month. "We help them think through IT investments, align their IT organization with business objectives and position their operations to create a competitive advantage."
"The corporate CIO is in a terrible position today," adds another CIO-turned-consultant, Bruce Tranen, who is responsible for CGE&Ys development and integration work. "Theyre being pressured to reduce cost and at the same time derive high value. I work directly with CIOs to help them understand how to get the best spend for their application dollars and distribute that between supporting legacy apps and doing new work that adds value."
When the number of pending IS projects exceeds the clients ability to fund them—and some projects have to be deferred as a result—Tranen and his CGE&Y colleague Dean Wolf will work with the client-CIO to broker the decision making around which initiatives return the greatest value and get funded. "The CIO is still going to have to take the heat from those business units that feel their IS needs arent being met, but we give him a platform to stand on," Wolf explains.
Send In the Sharpshooters
Given the state of the economy and the continuing evolution of business models, clients increasingly are relying on so-called SWAT teams—IT project specialists who can implement new IS initiatives quickly without creating a lot of overhead. "Frankly, thats where our experience comes in handy," Tranen explains. "A CIO comes to us and says, I need to get a private exchange up in a ridiculously short time. Can you be my SWAT team?"
Wolf and Tranen show the client how to integrate its team with theirs. The joint team then utilizes one of CGE&Ys dozen or so Advanced Development Centers in the United States or Europe to build and test the application before moving back into the clients IS operations, as do the clients people who were part of the SWAT team. "They now have the knowledge to be able to sustain the application," says Wolf.
The client gets a quick turnaround and doesnt have to provide ongoing funding for either the technical capabilities or the quick response teams needed to develop these projects. "Firemen are fairly expensive," Wolf adds. "Youre glad theyre there when a fire comes, but the time theyre in the firehouse eating chili doesnt do anything for you. This approach allows the client to rent IT firemen on demand."
A number of onetime CIOs whove joined consultancies also serve as the clients interim IS chief. For instance, Dean Wolf of CGE&Y has filled in as a de facto CIO for numerous clients, including the National Basketball Association, Sprint PCS, an online retailer and a CLEC.
These interim assignments last anywhere from three months to a year and in some instances come at the request of the corporate CIO. "As an example, a worldwide client had an international CIO who left," Tom Mangan explains. "The global CIO at headquarters asked me to come in to take that position on an interim basis and put together a plan for a new IS structure."
More often, though, its the board or the CEO who requests an interim replacement. "In some cases when senior management is about to make a radical change in the organization, rather than hire a new CIO, we can be brought in to position IS the way they want it," Mangan says. "The new CIO can take it over from that point ... When he comes in, he doesnt have all that history of having to make the unpopular decisions that often are part of change."
In such instances, Mangan says, the client is happy and the consultancy has established the framework for a long-term relationship. You wont find it in Websters Dictionary, but thats the definition of a win-win situation. Credit the save to the CIO.