Friday, April 17, 2015

From a “Surviving CIO” to a Thriving CIO

Compared to traditional CIOs, digital CIOs have “multi-faceted personas.”

Compare to other CXO titles, CIO is considerably a newer role with only around three decades of history. Due to the changing nature of technology, CIOs and IT seem to be always in the hot seat to adapt to the change. What are the biggest mistakes that a CIO can make? How much technical knowledge does an effective CIO require? What’s the significant difference between a traditional CIO and a digital CIO? Or to put simply, how can CIOs shift mentality from a “surviving” mode to a “thriving” mode?

The main issue is the dynamic between running the IT utility and being a strategic business partner. In most organizations, no matter how good a CIO is focusing on and influencing business innovation if the IT operations do not run flawlessly, their reputation, influence, and longevity within the organization will be impacted. Until organizations mentally and culturally separate the CIO role from IT operations, CIOs will be always undone by operational failures, either in their control or not, and CIOs are most of the time in the “surviving” mentality. So, in a world where practically every aspect of nearly every business, as mundane and detached from IT either sales or accounting, is wholly dependent on IT to a high degree, the information trains have to run on time. For the CIO, that simply means being a proper "C-level" leader and a tactical manager to keep IT running flawlessly at the prevailing level of sophistication. Then you can get strategic. Be integral to business strategy on top of the effective and efficient delivery of services. IT needs to be viewed as leading and integral to growth and transformation as well as digitization.

Learn the business; be the business and become the business: It starts with building strong and value-creating relationships with C-suites, between IT and vendors or suppliers; and build a strong team with a strong bench. Make IT more shared, integrated, flexible, reliable, and fast. Get engaged in the investment process prior to the decision already being made. Setup idea forums to engage the business and build business liaisons proactively to help shape the problem or opportunity before it becomes a project. This starts to build credibility outside of just managing the "run" side of things. Conduct presentations with management on new technology areas that have a short-term business impact on broadening their view of the team. The next step is to determine where best to create Centers of Excellence, either physical or virtual. that are aligned with business objectives. These become the planks where the CIO is the strategic leader and has longer-term sustainability.

The word "information" is central to the digital IT: "Technology" is the operative part of "information technology." That leads to a CIO focusing on the technology part, rather than the information part of the definition. Now information is the lifeblood of the organization, and all forward-thinking organizations declare they are in the information business. The information side of the IT description is a bit nebulous by the other favorite buzzword of the day: "big data." That gets closer to the role of the CIO though. Because if the CIO role is to survive and thrive for more than an on-demand term, the focus has to be on acquiring, managing, manipulating, teasing intelligence out of, and providing insight to the organization based on information that the organization creates or acquires. Or simply, the CIO role needs to be elevated to the "information" part of the definition, or back to the basic as the title implies: "Chief Information Officer."

Measurement: Always attempt to identify areas in which measurable improvements can be realized, providing demonstrable value is essential, in some instances, these areas have been low-hanging fruit. What is often required, however, is participation from management across organizational or geographical boundaries, thinking outside of the box, the abandonment of territorial issues. If it is not in the purview of the CIO/IT, it should be the non-IT executive; sponsor or champion because the value comes from how the business changes what they do to take advantage of the information and technology management. Make measurement easy and enjoyable to monitor the progress and outcome of initiatives. Demonstrating value is the first step, communicating that value publicly is just as important.

Every CIO is unique: How CIOs provide the appropriate leadership and how they convey to leverage IT for business value depends on CIOs' vision and leadership strength and style. Each of the senior managers has a different view of the job, what it will take to be successful, and how the goals are measured. When the top executive in the management team has different views, there is no way to keep all of them satisfied. Every case is different. Every CIO is different and whatever the management team needs or wants at the time out of the CIO will also be different, and by type of business needs will be different. It’s whether you can be what is needed at the time and execute to those expectations. 

Compared to traditional CIOs, digital CIOs have “multi-faceted personas,” they are both business strategist and digital visionary; customer advocate and talent master; process overseer and governance champion, and most importantly, they are the innovative leader to drive business’s digital transformation.


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