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Advice for CIOs Struggling to Survive in Tough Times

Advice for CIOs Struggling to Survive in Tough Times

The former CIO of General Motors Europe offers seven suggestions about how to cut expenses (and when not to) and how to find opportunites in times of adversity.

I always thought that I was lucky to be born in Brazil, but the real value of my ancestry became apparent to me only after I became CIO of General Motors Europe. As you can imagine, a lot of my energy was consumed by the process of managing a large, decentralized team that was both multinational and multicultural.

As a native Brazilian, I was considered a "foreigner" by everyone. That perception offered me a cloak of neutrality that came in handy whenever I had to resolve disputes. It also provided me with a unique perspective on the skills required to manage a busy IT shop in a global economy.

Now seems like a good time to share some of the insights that I acquired at General Motors and other global organizations such as DHL, General Foods and Philip Morris. I hope you will find them useful as you confront the challenges of today.

As the global economy unravels, IT executives face dilemmas of truly mythic proportions. Despite understandable feelings of helplessness, they must still choose their destiny. Whether they emerge as heroes or scapegoats is up to them.

Many CIOs will find themselves trapped in a labyrinth from which there appears no hope of escape. On one hand, they must focus on cost reduction. On the other hand, they must produce tangible results for the business.

Striving for cost reduction, their decisions are driven more by panic than logic. Some of those hasty decisions can make it nearly impossible for IT to deliver the results necessary to sustain the business in times of great stress.

As a survivor of four previous recessions, I can testify that hard times present excruciating business challenges. Hard times also bestow incredible opportunities for building the infrastructures required for future growth.

So you have a choice. Do you hunker down and wait timidly for fate, or do you seize the moment and act like a hero?

To the sacrificial lambs, I offer my condolences. To the would-be heroes, I offer two pieces of advice:

Cut IT expenses deeply, but remember to set aside adequate funds for development and revamping of your systems and infrastructure. Think of those funds as seed money for growing the business.

Whatever you do, make sure that you keep enough money in the budget for retaining your top performers. They will get you through the hard times.

Even if you stop reading now, I hope that you consider those two pearls of advice and take them to heart. If you do, you will increase your chances of surviving through the next couple of rough quarters. You also will be nicely positioned for the recovery-when it arrives.

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Tags IT management

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