For CEOs, It’s Time to Study Up on Technology

CEOs don't need to be tech experts, AIIM CEO John Mancini says. But they do need more expertise in how technology can simplify (or complicate) the member experience.

If you’re the head of an organization, how much do you need to know about technology trends? Detailed specs on the leading hardware and software tools? Just enough to understand what your members do every day? Enough to bluff through the procurement process?

John Mancini, CEO of the Association for Information and Image Management, detects some serious dysfunction among association executives when it comes to technology, and he says he believes their behavior is putting their organizations at risk.

Find CIOs whose mindset is driven by the ‘I’ part of their title, Mancini says.

“CEOs personally need to be more invested in the technology decisions that their organizations are making,” he says. “The reasons that you make these decisions are no longer cost reductions or greater efficiencies. Now they’re squarely on the value creation side of the equation. And that’s especially the case for associations, because we’re in the business of making connections with people, delivering information, and sponsoring activities—all of that stuff is ultimately a technology play.”

There’s certainly evidence of a disconnect between technology and the top of the org chart. Earlier this month Associations Now reported on one poll that found that only 13 percent of IT directors report directly to the CEO. (According to ASAE research, 41 percent of such staffers report to the CEO.)

Mancini, who will be speaking on this topic on December 4 at the ASAE Technology Conference and Expo, published a book, The OccupyIT Manifesto, last year that laid out some of the main challenges for leaders when it comes to technology. His emphasis there is on cloud computing, mobile, and social media, but his larger strategic point is that the person at the top needs to corral the chaotic technology structure that their neglect has helped foster.

“If we rely solely on technical people to make those decisions, we will be led down a path of overcomplexity in our systems,” Mancini says. You can see evidence of that overcomplexity when different departments use different systems. Not all systems integrate well, and that frustration inevitably trickles down to members.

So what can a CEO do to get a better grip on technology, especially since she has multiple challenges to manage? Getting that chief IT staffer in the room will help, Mancini says. But the mindset of that staffer matters too.

“Find CIOs whose mindset is driven by the ‘I’ part of their title,” he says. “Whether you’re in the association or the private sector, too often the CIO is more of a CTO, which is  different than focusing on information. It’s the difference between a preoccupation between the pipes and what flows through the pipes.”

But Mancini adds that there’s no substitute for a CEO who’s eager to use the tools that their members and staffers experience daily. “The CEO has to have some understanding of least of what’s possible in order to try to structure the conversation,” he says. One thing today’s CEO needs to understand is that the best solution often isn’t the top-down one, but the one that gets the user to what he or she needs faster. Fail to provide that, and “you’ll wind up being disintermediated by people who can make an end run around the things we previously put nice, pretty, beautiful walls around.”

Mancini calls managing information “the business challenge of this decade.” How urgently are you addressing it? Share your IT-leadership challenges and solutions in the comments.


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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