Interview: Advice for CIOs

Boston's Children's Hospital's Former CIO George Adler on Getting AdviceCIO: Why do CIOs need to use advisers?

Adler: CIOs are responsible for a complex technical area and are expected to be very knowledgeable in it. They also have a VP-level position and have to assume some sense of responsibility for the direction of the entire organization. Any technology decision they make has operational consequences, and it's not always easy to weigh the pros and cons. Advisers can give a confidential assessment of their perspective.

CIO: What should you look for in an adviser?

Adler: An adviser is a good reflective listener, someone who understands the confluence of political, operational and technical issues. He or she should help you look at the issue in business terms. If you're strong technically but weaker on the user or political sides, an adviser can help you with those specific areas. Think of an adviser as an assistant-not as someone who reports to you, but as someone who has the independence to tell you what he really thinks.

CIO: Should advisers come from your company?

Adler: An adviser is usually someone from outside your organization who has a basic understanding of your industry and function. The person doesn't have to be someone who is strong technically; sometimes he or she is as far from IS as you can get. But, bottom line, it should be someone with your interests at heart.

CIO: How long have you been using advisers?

Adler: For as long as I've been a CIO-17 years. I've always felt it's important to get opinions from a lot of different people before reaching a conclusion. At one point in my career, I was contemplating a reorganization that would have given a significant leadership position to one specific individual. I was able to use an adviser who interviewed some key staff and, fortunately, told me that my plan would not be well received.

CIO: Couldn't you just ask a colleague?

Adler: In my field, I would frequently call colleagues at other institutions for advice. But there are some issues that you can't share with them because they're your competitors. Also, your colleagues have their jobs to do.

CIO: What about IT analysts?

Adler: They give you the positives or negatives on a technology, but they don't give you advice on how it is implemented in your organization.

CIO: Do veteran CIOs need advisers too?

Adler: Some CEOs expect the CIO to know everything. An adviser can help when you are afraid that sharing your uncertainty may reflect negatively upon you.

CIO: Do CIOs need more help than other execs?

Adler: IS is more of a stove-pipe organization than any other organization in companies. As a result, CIOs don't always get the same breadth of institution exposure as other executives and managers. I once had a colleague who became a CIO but had no VP experience. He really needed someone to help him mold the job.

CIO: What's your most important advice on getting advice?

Adler: The worst thing you can do is not seek advice. But when you do, you need to be careful to find someone who doesn't have an agenda of trying to put resources in your organization or have a strong financial dependence on you. Most of all, you have to trust and be open with an adviser.

SIDEBAR: Spotlight On:

George Adler, independent IS consultant, Foxborough, Massachusetts-- Line of Business Consulting and advisory services-- Bio Consultant. Formerly CIO at Children's Hospital in Boston from 1991 to 1998-- Day to Day Provides contract negotiation, operational effectiveness and CIO advisory services to the health-care and higher education industries-- Challenges Balancing the job of marketing services to CIOs while recognizing the pressures of the CIO job

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