Monday, April 21, 2014

When should the CIO take The Initiative to Promote Strategic Business Transformation?

 CIOs can convey the vision at the front, but lead the change from behind.

Either fast-growing businesses or well-established organizations have to continuously adapt to the numerous changes and well chart the path to significant business transformations such as digitalization or globalization, should CIOs take the initiative to promote such strategic business initiatives, if so, shall they promote at the front or lead from behind? Are they more as idea initiator or governance champion? And what’s the best scenario to take such transformational leadership?

The simple answer is "it depends": It depends on the CIO persona, the proposed transformation, the organization undergoing the transformation, the CIO's C-level colleagues, etc. Certainly, there should be no innate issue with the CIO leading transformation per se, no more so than for any other executive. The CIO should be considered alongside all their C-level colleagues and external resources to find the most appropriate lead.
• Transform = to change shape or change to another form 
• Change = to alter or make the difference

CIOs can convey the vision at the front, but lead the change from behind: CIOs are uniquely placed to influence change through the expansion of domains of automation and the use of new technologies to provide a competitive advantage, open new channels to market, retain and grow the customer base. However, without business involvement, it’s not going to work, and in business, there are egos and empires to consider, so it’s perhaps best if CIOs convey the vision at the big table, but lead the changes from behind. What it means presenting a change in such a way that it is seen as a business initiative for which they need IT support. All executives need to be agile. But if the CIO is agile and promoting the rapid transformation of the organization, while their C-suite colleagues are of a different mindset, the change is likely to suffer, if not fail completely.

Only the paranoid survive: It is healthy to have an organizational fear of change, as long as that does not paralyze the business. Fear of change results in the appropriate management of risk and application of governance. However, what makes agile businesses different is the approach they take to manage risk and govern change. In the current climate of accelerating opportunities and risks, decisions need to be fast and governance light. So a CIO might need to play the paradoxical roles, the strategic initiator, the idea instigator, but also the disciplined engineering manager and governance champion.

Make a comprehensive assessment: Whether a CIO should take the lead in strategic initiatives is predicated on whether they are a trusted source of cross-discipline information. If not, it may be anywhere from difficult to impossible for them to lead any strategic initiative because they are not strategic. If the strategic initiative has a strong technology component to it and the business is driving the initiative, you must get involved to make sure the technology selected will actually work and can be supported.  Given all the factors and others listed below, then you have to decide whether to throw your hat into the ring to lead the strategic initiative:
1     (1) Perception: How do the other executives perceive CIO? As technologist or a strategic partner? Likewise, how much do you trust your fellow executives? 
        (2) Culture: What is the culture of the organization like? Is it very team-oriented and collaborative, or is it hierarchical and siloed, in which case the organization tends to pick whoever is best to lead a new initiative.
(3) Strength: Is the proposed solution in your wheelhouse? Do you have a lot of experience in this particular area, that some of the other executives don't? 
(4) Change Curve: Where is the organization on the technology or process adoption curve? Is the organization a pioneer, mature adapter, or laggard? A strategic change for one type is perhaps old news for another. 
(5) Alliance: Who are your supporters and who will be your detractors? And how do you overcome the objections or roadblocks that will inevitably raise? Who will work with you to overcome the problem, and who will try to kick you when you're down? 
(6) Risks: How much risk are you personally willing to take? Being a change agent is not an easy role, and with any strategic initiative, there can be a high risk of failure. 
(7) Measures: Set the milestones and measure the result accordingly.

More often than not, technology is the driver of business change or digital transformation, therefore, CIOs as IT leader will play a more proactive role in driving changes or leading transformation. In particular, many organizations are at the journey of digital transformation which is catalyzed by digital technology and information explosion, CIOs have to become digital leaders to advocate the digital initiatives, also practice the engineering and management disciplines in making sure it is successful.


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