Sunday, February 26, 2017

Three Traits of Digital CIOs

Today’s CIOs have multiple roles to play and take broader leadership responsibilities in transforming their organizations.

The digital CIO role is multifaceted. CIOs today need to have both business acumen and technology know-how; They have to understand the business drivers, and speak in business terms; but also they need to know technology, how that technology relates to business drivers and what is and is not possible. In short, CIOs have to have a leg in both worlds, be the business strategist and technological visionary to look further, and be the IT managers to dive into technical know-how, and deliver IT-enabled business solutions. Here are three traits of digital CIOs to improve IT leadership effectiveness and achieve IT management excellence.  


The digital CIO needs to be an insightful communicator: The CIO is the peer to other C-level executives, not subordinate, and are involved in most business decisions, as they all speak the same language. IT strategy is integral to the corporate strategy effort, IT strategy explicitly linked to corporate strategy through defined business initiatives, and is key enablers of corporate strategy. The CIO needs to understand the needs of the different business units, but their needs /vision would be spelled out by their leaders. The CIO needs to take those needs and translate them into an IT investment to support that vision. Ideally, there are no  "us vs. them" - no business-IT alignment issues, as IT is integral to the business. The CIO is one of the most paradoxical and sophisticated leadership roles, as he or she must master all sort of thinking, creativity is one of the most important thinking processes to connect the dots between IT and business, strategy and execution, management and governance, information, insight, and innovation as well. A CIO not only needs to be a multidimensional thinker, but also a business polyglot who can communicate effectively to bridge the IT-business gap and contribute to the strategic conversation without “Lost in Translation.” Digital businesses today need insightful interpreters that have the interdisciplinary knowledge and the comprehension/synthesis level understanding of the business enterprise (not just fact-based information), it is a commanding knowledge of missions, policies, processes and human capital towards a level of technical agility and informational relevance. CIOs should understand the focus/goals of the company to ensure IT is focused on those goals as well.


The digital CIO needs to be a highly capable problem-solver: Capability = Capacity + Ability. High mature CIOs have strong capabilities to solve critical business problems skillfully; high mature IT organizations have a strong capacity to leverage resources, time, and human capital to solve business problems efficiently. It involves breaking down complexity into logical steps to streamline business execution, also contribute to business profitability. Many IT organizations get stuck at the lower level of maturity because they still spend the high proportion of time on keeping the lights on, fixing the symptom floating on the surface, and running IT in a reactive mode with the lagging speed. However, to become the highly capable problem-solver, digital CIOs and high performance talent teams should bring the right digital fit mindset, skillset, and toolset, to diagnose the root causes of problems, frame the right questions for both problem identification and problem-solving, and take the step-wise approach to solve them in the structural and cost-effective way timely, and running IT in a proactive way.


The digital CIO also needs to become the highly innovative digital conductor: The CIO is in a unique position to align process, technology, and people, from generating ideas on applying technology and data assets to drive value, the oversight is needed in managing the full innovation lifecycle. Technology by itself is the means to the end, not the end itself. Applying technical capabilities to business opportunities is where the magic happens. CIOs could be the perfect role to help manage innovation with disciplines and the right tools (such as collaborative platform, analytics tools., etc) at the organizational scope. Hence, the digital CIOs today also need to become the digital conductor who can conduct the digital music sheet which hasn’t been completely written yet. Their key focus area should include (1) Effectively manage existing and new technology. (2) Help innovate business (Process + Scope) (3) Apply technology in new and innovative ways to stay ahead of the competition and industry. Also, share those ideas with business colleagues in a non-threatening manner that will resonate with them to achieve the common business goals. Digital CIOs need to be both the intrapreneur IT leader to break the outdated rules, think out of the box to inspire innovation, present resilience; and the professional IT managers to set the digital principles, keep focusing on winning business results, and manage organizational elasticity. In order to embrace and adapt to today’s digital dynamic, such two set of leadership characteristics can complement with each other more seamlessly, also integrate each other’s viewpoints to move leadership into the next level.


Today’s CIOs have multiple roles to play and take broader leadership responsibilities in transforming their organizations. There’re many key traits in CIO leadership, there is versatility presented by modern CIOs, there’re many professional capability CIOs should cultivate, and the most important thing is: CIOs need to practice the situation leadership and play different role effortlessly for getting their organization digital ready.

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