Friday, April 28, 2017

The “Upward” Digital CIOs: Can you Move Up from “Working in IT” to “Working on IT”?

An upward digital CIO has to focus on guiding the company through the digital transformation by working cross-functionally.

The traditional role of CIOs is to manage information, IT systems, and cost, often within the IT as the support function. Thus, IT is perceived as a cost center to “keep the lights on” only. Many of today’s C-suites are unaware of what is technologically possible now or in the future, and how to leverage IT to unleash the full potential of the digital organization. Hence, to improve IT leadership effectiveness and maturity, today’s digital CIOs should move “upward,” from working within IT, only focus on transactional business activities and improve the bottom line efficiency, to working on IT, expand its impact across the business boundary and lead the digital transformation of the company proactively.

The CIO’s role should shift from a tactical IT manager to an outlier digital leader: Traditional IT managers often get stuck in the “comfort zone,” to run IT as a silo function to keep the lights on. Outlier CIOs need to know how to play a bridge between what the business understands and what technology understands. They work on the IT, move across functions seamlessly, rather than just within IT. They would then make sure the two worlds meet to ensure an optimal performing business. Outlier CIOs are the one who can step out of a conventional IT thinking box, or linear patterns. Therefore, they could see things further or deeper. Outlier CIOs have the growth mind, interdisciplinary knowledge, unique insight, creativity, and their imagination are not constrained by the technical knowledge. They can convey a clear technological vision, and lead change confidently and effortlessly. Being outlier CIOs doesn’t mean they couldn't be the handy tactical manager when needed. It means that they are both strategic and creative thinker who dare to ask a deep “WHY” - to diagnose the root cause of problems but also ask the optimistic “Why NOT?" -The refusal to be bound by constraints and limitations and a pursuit of possibilities and discover the growth opportunities for the business. Because digital transformation means you have to make radical changes, that can’t be done by the existing mere management model, you have to adopt a fresh thinking and run IT from outside-in perspectives.

Working on IT also means that IT should shine in both roles as the business enabler and driver: Due to the increasing pace of changes and exponential growth of information, the biggest IT challenge is the pace at which the IT executive's responsibility for business operations, efficiency, effectiveness, and continuity is outpacing his or her authority to make those areas a success. The further concern is whether doing business-IT alignment is mature enough for IT to become a business’s strategic partner. What should be focused on is the integration of IT into the business decisions and processes. Information Management is no longer just IT’s business, but the business of the entire company. The CIO needs to understand the needs of the different business units, and take those needs and translate them into an IT investment to support that vision. An opportunity for the CIO to add a lot of value in the C-Suite is helping C-Level leaders understand the possibilities of how new technologies can enhance the creation or improvement of products and services while balancing the technical and business risks, the investment needed, timing, etc. IT needs to be the spinal cord for the organization, integrating various departments, to simplify and optimize processes across functional boundaries, and often across the entire enterprise.

IT leaders need to work across multiple functional boxes for connecting dots to spur innovation: Simply working within IT is not sufficient to transform IT leader from Chief Information Officer to Chief Innovation Officer. There’s a lot of opportunities to clarify the role of IT in innovation. CIOs can perhaps work within IT to innovate its function, but more importantly, they have to leverage IT to build the enterprise innovation capabilities. Companies are recognizing that IT is roughly coupled to the business strategy as an innovation engine, and it is a very good sign about how the companies will deliver value. The CIO is in a unique position to align process, technology, and people, from generating ideas on applying technology and data assets to drive business value, CIOs need to talk about commercial outcomes, not technical throughput. They should have team leaders partner with and even embed themselves in business functions so they can ensure IT folks understanding the commercial end point of their work. So, the business oversight is needed in managing the full innovation lifecycle.

An upward digital CIO has to focus on guiding the company through the digital transformation by working cross-functionally.  At the very least, IT must be a business partner within the organization. The organization has built highly interactive teams with representatives from each line of business focused on finding an innovative new way to improve the business performance. IT continues to reach a higher level of digital maturity, from alignment to integration, engagement, and optimization.


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