Rocket at 25: Making the CEO to CIO connection

Last week Andy Youniss and I sat on a panel at the SIM Boston Technology Leadership Summit. The discussion covered a number of topics, but one of the most interesting was about the CEO / CIO relationship. We answered a number of questions on the subject, which got me thinking about how important this connection is for any company that wants to grow and succeed.

As CIO, I’m responsible for every aspect of the information technology we use to run our business. The role of the CIO – any CIO, at any company – has fundamentally changed in the 25 years since Rocket was founded. Back then, IT was part of the back office, a separate domain for running key applications and functions. Today, with cloud, data analytics, and mobile applications, IT is a front-office function, embedded in the fabric of everything we do.

The bottom line is that a strong alignment between the CEO and CIO is essential to the business. It’s important for all of us to understand this relationship not only for running Rocket successfully, but also from the perspective of our customers and their businesses. More and more, the products, offerings and solutions we provide must pass muster not only with the CIO but also the CEO as IT makes the leap from the back office to the front lines. Here are the three things that I feel matter most in making this relationship work:

Shared Values

Whether a CEO’s values are “We make the safest, most reliable cars on the planet” or “We serve hot, delicious food to our customers quickly,” everything the CIO says and does must consistent with that. For Andy, one of the core Rocket values is a commitment to innovation, and it’s my responsibility to not only to understand and share that value but support it wholeheartedly with how I run IT.

Trust

Trust has to be at the core of any relationship, personal or professional. Without that, nothing else matters. I trust that as Andy sets the direction for the company he will live up to his commitments to me – particularly for investments in the talent, tools and technology I need to run our IT infrastructure. In turn, he trusts me to set the right requirements for IT and use those investments wisely to support our business. This is true of any company of any size in any industry.

Shared Vision

If our values are the destination, and trust is the vehicle for getting there, then vision is the roadmap – the tactical plan for how we get where we want to go. As I said earlier, with IT moving to the front office and becoming central to every aspect of today’s businesses, it’s essential for the CIO and CEO to have a common plan of action for the business and how IT supports it, and that the IT vision interlocks with every aspect of the company vision – HR, Finance, Development, Marketing, and so forth.

Values. Trust. Vision. As we celebrate Rocket’s first 25 years and chart a course for the next 25, those three things will remain the foundation for my relationship with Andy, and for our business. And it’s also how every CIO needs to think about his or her relationship with the CEO.