CIOs are change agents, for IT to enable and catalyze business transformation, for IT to oversight key business process and influence organizational culture.
Change is the second most popular word in the 21st century. Why is change so tough and what really keeps (C-suite) executives from embracing organizational transformation is FEAR: fear of letting go of heroic leadership, fear of losing control, fear of navigating through uncharted territory, fear of chaos. But change is inevitable, due to the CHANGE nature of technology, CIOs shouldn’t get pushed for the change, they are actually in a better position to play such a role as change agent in leading organizations’ transformation.
1. CIO as Change Agent in Leading the Digital Journey
IT is like the business engine, CIOs are accountable for critical part of the business that is constantly changing and evolving. thus, contemporary CIOs should be capable of evolving leadership skills to not only match pace with the changes in technology and the pace at which organization can effectively manage these changes, but also proactively drive changes in business transformation.
- Shape the Vision: CIO and his/her team can play a large role in shaping a vision of the firm as a place where passionate individuals want to connect with and learn from one another. CIO offices also have a significant responsibility to choose and deploy the IT that will help their firms realize the vision. Simply put, IT can no longer just be about numbers and algorithms; it has an opportunity to be a significant catalyst for passion and a tool for encouraging questing and connecting the innovation dots.
- Ignite Passion: The range of technologies have emerged that can help foster a deeper sense of connection and purpose in employees, ignite latent worker passion and bring together disparate parts of the organization. But these new tools also necessitate a new way of thinking, a creative way to do things and a flexible way to work smartly.
- Set Evolution: The emergence of the CIO coincided with the birth of the PC and end-user computing. That role certainly matured as the Internet age unfolded. Now, it’s social, mobile, consumerization of IT, Big Data and a major shift in how IT services are delivered (cloud). These changes are inspiring spiritual conversations around the role of the CIO, these are all evolutionary and in some ways even predictable.
2. CIO as Change Agent in Transforming Culture
Many IT departments are still reeling from the "slam it in and fix it on the fly" approach that was required by the rush to automate all core business processes (the late 1990s & early 2000s). A reactive, crisis-driven and internally focused 'systems management' culture evolved, as a result, such culture becomes a barrier for IT to reach higher level maturity.
- From “Heroic effort” to “Collaboration Effect”: IT department-wide culture is maintained by a 'Heroic effort' reward system, a value system that is proving to be nearly intractable. Along with the Hero mentality, expertise silo evolved a non-collaborative, finger-pointing culture that renders truly effective SLAs impossible to measure & enforce. A fundamental change in the heroic effort rewards culture is required to put an end to the reactive, crisis-driven and technology systems focused role for the IT department, and shift to business-driven, collaborative IT mentality because the business requirements for technology management have changed. The rapid push for offering ‘cloud-based’ services and the need to retool IT to centrally manage these, is certainly a perfect opportunity to rethink the role of IT and make a cogent case for a service-level driven rewards and recognition culture.
- The transformation journey must start with the CIO: Very few CIOs are willing to step away from the existing IT management paradigm and hero-based rewards culture to adopt a new role as a culture change transformation sponsor. This has not been a required leadership skill-set for the CIO role to date. It is a dramatic change in skills, priorities and rewards tactics. Can veteran CIOs who came up the ranks accept this need for a dramatic change in IT culture? Will they have the required skill set to sponsor such a change? Do they have the charisma to achieve buy-in from the current IT staff? Or will it take a crisis? CIOs must drive the elimination of the heroic effort-reward culture. This is the principal challenge for current “up through the ranks CIOs. Recognizing the need for this fundamental change has not been easy for most veteran CIOs.
- Be a Change Agent to retool the organizational culture: Culture is perhaps the most invisible, but powerful fabric surrounding organization, the toxic culture like water, which can sink the enterprise ship, IT is also at unique position to well align people, process and the latest technology to empower talent, enforce communication, enhance governance, and enable cross-functional collaboration, to retool organizational culture for achieving high business performance potential.
3. CIOs as Change Agents in Orchestrating Digital Ecosystem
The need for change is obvious. The CIO as a change agent not only touches his/her own function but also needs to make an influence on the entire organization and the business ecosystem as well, it takes strategic planning, methodology and practice in orchestrating such a transformation.
- Define the IT change roadmap: In fact, the required changes, at the most fundamental level, need be well documented. A clearly defined roadmap is available, and industry best practices are in place to serve as a framework upon which the solution can be implemented over time. The transformation to a more proactive service/solution delivery organization with repeatable management processes in place of the 'crisis of the day' leadership model, can be a reality, but only if the CIO is the proactive, visible and charismatic sponsor.
- Optimize process: To compete in a global marketplace, business unit leaders need IT to ensure the availability and reliability of their business process automation tools/technology, so their staff can function as efficiently as promised, back when they justified the tool purchase. In fact, many organizations have little insight into their cost structures and who is consuming the assets. They have no idea where they are spending their money on and often assume it is mainly being spent on items which are actually much lower on the list. Every IT finance group can capture costs, but the challenge is to have visibility and traceability between costs and the assets consuming those costs. The leadership team needs IT to be the business process optimization expert for the company, to find creative sources of competitive advantages, to better compete in a global marketplace.
- Ask help: One of the first things a CIO must do in a transformation initiative of this magnitude is to ask the business for help. The effort will fail if the business units are unwilling to invest resources and accept a "period of pain" where service levels may be adversely impacted. CIOs can envision themselves talking with business unit leaders, selling them on the challenges and the vision for the future. Will CIOs be open to a new perspective, willing to adapt the new skill set to the demands of evolving technology or adapt their role to the evolving business requirements for technology? Will CIOs be learning agile to understand the business ecosystem and connect innovation dot cross-functional, cross-industrial and cross-cultural border? It takes both attitude and aptitude.
CIOs are change agents, for IT to enable and catalyze business transformation, for IT to oversight key business process and influence organizational culture. Hopefully, CIOs are not the only change agents, the spirit comes from the top, and the holistic leadership team needs work collaboratively to lead digital transformation via reimagining with a customer at the center.