Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Running IT from Eccentric to Extraordinary

IT simply becomes the “digital brain” of the business to make the company smart, responsive, flexible, and innovative, to unleash the full business potential.  

Traditional IT organizations are often perceived as a back office support function full of IT geeks and tangled cables, look a bit eccentric. Nowadays with fast-changing digital technology trends and exponential growth of information, many forward-looking digital leaders are empowering their IT organizations to lead business transformation at front. Nowadays CIOs have so much more on their plate than before, because today more often the business is inextricably connected with technology, and the functional barriers are starting to weaken. The invisible divide IT vs. business needs to go away. Digital CIOs should convey a clear vision to reinvent IT from eccentric to extraordinary, advocate IT as an integrated component of the company, a strategic partner of the business in order to run IT as an innovation hub and revenue generator for the business.

From an isolated support function to a holistic ‘digital brain’ and the nervous system of the business: Technology is shifting from monolithic heavy duty to mosaic lightweight, information is permeating into every corner of the business. Hence, today’s IT management is no longer the business of IT department, being treated as the backroom and business comes to them only when they need them. IT management is the responsibility of the entire company. In fact, digital IT today is more like the nervous system of the company that can help to “sense” growth opportunities as well as feel the "pain"- potential risks of the business. Because information brings about business ideas; business ideas generate lots of information. Information Systems are the backbone and provide valuable information for key decision making. IT is core to most parts of the business and must, therefore, be visible and present, high mature organizations treat IT as their strategic partners and often engage them in situations of no real tech need at the short term. IT is also shifting from eccentric - the business doesn’t have so much clue of what IT is doing, to more open and flexible, IT leaders should ask open questions, what can you do to make the customers' life easier? Showing that you truly understand the business and what is required to deliver value will create the "trust.” IT simply becomes the “digital brain” of the business to make the company smart, responsive, intelligent and innovative, and unleash the full business potential.  

The CIO position is shifted from an IT specialist to a specialized generalist and a strategic business leader: Regardless which industry sector they work for, digital CIOs need to provide strategic leadership to the organization from board level down to the business unit and IT organization. Have a good understanding of both businesses and IT is crucial while understanding of all IT subject matter is impossible and not crucial. The CIO will need to have a strong team with complementary skills and experience. When CIOs communicate like IT specialists with all sorts of technology jargons, perhaps the business executives think they are a bit eccentric. Thus, CIOs need to speak the common business language to enhance communication and harness collaboration. The highly technical leader who can’t communicate effectively with stakeholders may fail to create allies and partners to take on the business’s needs. The CIO is a business executive first, an IT manager the second. As the CIO, you must lead the efforts of the department, but you also have to facilitate communications with stakeholders. If there is a conflict inherent in serving both individual business functions and the enterprise as a whole, as the rationalization in many cases serves the enterprise at the cost of specific units. The digital CIO should ensure the business a whole is superior to the sum of pieces. Increasingly, modern CIOs look to play a role in supplementing the business vision with technology as the accelerator and innovator. So, the growth mind, versatility, and egoless adaptation are important for improving the digital CIO leadership maturity.

From inside out IT-driven to outside-in customer-centric: When IT is operated via an inside-out lens, and measure things only IT is interested in, it might look eccentric to the business. The CIO has to work with the senior executives to understand the business, the business drivers, long-term strategic goals, and objectives, and then ensure that he/she is providing input to support these. This, in turn, will lead to the development of related IT strategies/initiatives. CIOs as the C-level business leaders, do need shift mindset to become the business strategists, to fill the gap at the big table and contribute to business planning. If IT doesn't completely understand what the stakeholders are asking for; or if the stakeholders don’t understand what IT is delivering the results will reflect that disconnect, and the business as a whole is suffering. CIOs can deliver ‘competitive capabilities” to the business as many companies will plateau without IT. CIOs need to be able to listen to a wide range of opinions and approaches and understand how that might benefit the business. From IT performance management perspective, it is important to select the right set of indicators of improvement, innovation, and investment, and measure them effectively.

For IT to break the cycle, from eccentric to extraordinary, from the ‘weakest link’ to superglue, it has to provide both business and technical insight into how they bring success to the company as a whole instead of being a commodity only. The best approach to run an extraordinary IT is to experiment new ways to do things, incorporate a bit of many different approaches and remain flexible in an inflexible environment. Many times, the overly strict, "religious-like," adherence to any one method is neither wise nor effective. Digital IT needs to be holistic, proactive, adventurous, and people-centric, to pursue long-term business goals with strategic perspectives.


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