1. Be perceived as a helpful ally. At Comerica, Beran and his team tried to bring their business partners ideas for improving product and product delivery. "We became as knowledgeable about the business as they were," he says. "Then we brought them technologies that enabled them to be more innovative and grow product and service."
2. Translate tech talk into English. The CIO often needs to explain technology to the other parts of the bank. "When I started at Comerica, some of the business heads couldn't spell the word infrastructure," Beran says. "But by the time I was done, they got it."
Instead of talking about sometimes ill-defined terms like services-oriented architecture or the cloud, the CIO has to talk about what it can do, Beran says. "Why is this important? What will it allow us to do that we can't do today?" For instance, when he was selling the business side on a new telecommunications infrastructure, Beran made it clear that certain things the bank wanted to do could not be supported by the current technology. "It's not about speeds and feeds, it's about value and what it allows the business to provide," he says.
3. Work on communicating with the CEO. "A CIO who is business-led is a critical asset to any large-scale organization," says Jim Bailey, managing director, Accenture payment services. "It's important that the CIO is business led and the CEO is tech informed. There are many new emerging technologies that can be leveraged that from a pure business perspective, the CEO would not be nearly as close to as the CIO."
The CEO relationship is "probably the most important relationship you can have," says Bruce Livesay, CIO at First Horizon. "The fact that I can sit down and talk with [CEO] Bryan Jordan about how we see new technologies enabling us to reach our customers in a differentiated way — you can't estimate the value of that, it's so powerful. We can be more decisive and nimble than other companies because we have that kind of relationship." A project review committee that includes the CEO and all his direct report meets every Monday afternoon, Livesay says. "We have a lot of opportunities to sit down and communicate," he says. "You can't overcommunicate."
All the executives in the group work on the 25th floor of the bank's building in downtown Memphis. "I can literally walk around the corner to talk about things and we make decisions very quickly," Livesay says. "Before Bryan took over, there were only two offices up on that floor. When he took over, he said I want all my team up here with me."
Livesay says he's never gotten a "no" to a project from Jordan. "I probably never will, because if I thought he would say no I probably wouldn't bring it up," he says.
4. Hobnob with the board. In addition to the CEO, the board of directors also has to get technology and be willing to make technology investments, Livesay points out. First Horizon has the CIO of FedEx on its board. At board meetings, "I make my pitch and explain what we're trying to do, then everyone looks at him and says 'What do you think?' I feel like I'm the luckiest CIO in the industry," Livesay says.
5. Guard the R&D budget. Another best practice for CIOs is to preserve a portion of the technology budget for research and development, Bailey says. "If there's always a slice of the technology investment reserved for emerging technologies, it becomes an incubator for innovation," he says. "From those small investments often come strong ideas that can be piloted with small investment."