Sunday, September 3, 2017

CIOs as “Chief Insight Officer: Why Was IT an Afterthought in Some Organizations?

IT shouldn’t be the afterthought of the business because technology is often the disruptive force.

More and more IT organizations are transforming from the back end internal support function into front office revenue generator and information hub; from the reactive order taker to the proactive changing agent; from "doing more with less" efficiency-driven to "doing more with innovation" people-centric; and from IT-business alignment to IT-customer alignment and IT-business engagement. However, in many traditional organizations which were stuck at the lower level of maturity, IT is still an afterthought, IT is just a service provider, their strategy execution falls apart because it's too late for a strong technical solution to be implemented in time, and when the problem happened, IT is often blamed by lagging behind the changes. So, what are the root causes of those outdated perceptions? And how can digital CIOs turn around the situation, make IT the integral component of business strategy, and rejuvenate IT to get digital ready?

IT leaders do not have a seat at the big table: IT is the afterthought of strategy management because many CIOs still don’t have the seat at the big table. The importance of the CIO having an active seat at the "C-table" (& board interaction as appropriate) is to build trust, share the technological vision for the business growth, brainstorm the IT role in digital transformation, develop a transparent relationship with peers. Meaningful exchanges and engagement will deliver competitive advantage. A foresightful IT leader can proactively drive changes, rather than being pushed to change. Thus, most forward-thinking organizations today are looking for strategic or transformational CIOs in leading their digital transformation journey. The variety of industry research shows that it is not just Boards, but also the C-suite is hungry for the CIO to step up with their knowledge of the business and proficiency of information management. CIOs need to speak business language. Information and insight are just two of the big reasons for being at the table. Being transformational or being strategic goes beyond skills only, it is about leadership influence, critical thinking, creativity, ethics, global perspective, cultural awareness, communication skills, and continuous improvement trait.

Communication is not clear between the participants in managing changes and implementing strategies: IT often becomes the afterthought if the business management can’t communicate clearly about the business problems need to be solved. IT is developing a different solution than the other department had in mind. Sometimes, it becomes all IT fault for delivering the wrong, even if it was what was requested. To improve communication effectiveness, IT leaders need to communicate with business executives for different reasons via different styles. There is a need for formal communications paths; there must be a level of rapport or trust between executives that can only be built through informal communications. There must also be regular, formal status communications, and informal conversations are critical in making sure that formal communications aren't misinterpreted, and become more productive.  

Non-IT personnel doesn't understand IT: Many business leaders or professionals lack the fundamental understanding of IT, for them, IT is either just the help desk or some fancy gadgets. Part of this “illiteracy” of management, is exactly what drives their own frustrations with IT but an “unwillingness” to acknowledge it. Some IT organizations are still running in the dark with puzzles about value, cost, risks, constraints. IT is an afterthought because other business executives may not feel they are part of it. When asking super busy business executives or personnel learn more about IT, they will definitely ask: "What’s in me?" How can IT help them do their job better, how can their "hard-learned" IT knowledge improve their management effectiveness? Gone are the days where the CIO is given a target and a budget and he/she executes. Nowadays, CIO and other CXOs should stand side by side with the goals of creating new and innovative products.  If IT strategic goals are derived from the business strategic planning process then all key players are more likely to be truly engaged, aligned and accountable, make IT more transparent and mitigate risks thoroughly. Transparency makes IT stronger and better at what it does and being perceived as change/innovation agent. Beyond that, CIOs are top-level officers, they must take the initiative to create their own training path in management and emerging technologies. Then when the CIO is at executive team meetings, he/she can offer those creative ideas that give organizations whatever competitive advantage is possible.

IT shouldn’t be the afterthought of the business because technology is often the disruptive force behind digital innovation and information helps to forecast the emergent business trend and customers’ need. Technology is pervasive, Business Transformation or business initiatives today nearly always involve some forms of technology implementation and information deployment. Though IT is not always the first thought of the business, IT surely needs to be put on the top priority agenda of the business executives and keeps sparkling innovation and catalyzing change in their organization.


Hi Pearl, great post! I agree that IT should be perceived as a leader and not just a service provider. I recently wrote a blog about why the CFO and CIO should work together, Today, more CIOs are being included at the big table but there are still setbacks delaying true partnership between the C level execs.

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