Sunday, April 29, 2018

The CIO’s Tough Choices for Running High-Performance Digital IT

Nowadays, there is a lot of stuff on the CIOs’ plate, they just need to learn how to spin them skillfully.

Contemporary leaders in modern businesses have to make many tough choices in the growth-maturity journey, either making decisions in strategic planning, talent management or innovation exploration. Forward-looking organizations are at the tipping point to see IT as an asset, capital, and source of competitive advantage. Still, there are quite a lot of tough choices CIOs have to make in order to reinvent the IT brand and run high-performance digital organization.

When to be the strategic business leader; when to be an IT manager: There are multiple personas CIOs have to play. The tough choice facing CIOs is not about only picking one identity as either being strategic or tactical, but about WHEN- should act as a strategic leader, when should play as a tactical manager and how to play each role effectively. To improve IT leadership maturity, IT leaders should spend significant time on practicing strategic thinking and gaining business knowledge. To reimagine IT as the business catalyzer, CIOs need to first become the real business leaders to work within IT and across the business scope and seek ways to grow revenues, improve profitability and spur innovation. IT needs to build up the new set of core digital capabilities in transforming itself and business as a whole to get digital ready. The emerging digital technologies make IT more shared, integrated, lightweight, responsive, flexible, reliable, and fast. CIOs will have their intellectual voice heard on the big table by sharing a clear technological vision and outlier’s thinking about IT-enabled business potential. IT leaders need to be a fluent digital interpreter that has a comprehension/synthesis level understanding of the business and provide the valuable insight in the form of revenue from the new unexplored business idea or money saved. Communicate with common business language to bridge the gap between business talks and IT talks. Being a strategic business leader means that CIOs are no longer just order-takers, they co-develop strategy, show constructive dissatisfaction, practice true critical thinking to diagnose the root causes of business problems, not just fix symptoms only, understand the risks and potential bear traps, but be courageous to take calculated risks for exploring the new possibilities for running innovative IT. On the daily working agenda, the CIO role as a tactical IT manager is responsible for making sure that the IT meets the business requirement, and make continuous improvement to achieve operational excellence, build high-performance IT team who can deliver well, and commit time and attention to effective governance, performance checks, and balances. When a CIO is able to position and maintain the IT organization to ensure it addresses both "IT effectiveness" and "IT efficiency," strive to achieve IT agility and maturity, they have earned their stripes.

When to speed up for catching the digital trends, and when to bend over or step back in order to leap forward: Many IT organizations or companies as a whole are at the inflection point of digital transformation. On one side, they need to accelerate performance and drive changes; on the other side, in order to go digital systematically, they have to slow down in a certain way for fine-tuning the underlying structures, functions, or culture. Or put another way, crouch down in order to turn around, bend over in order to make a leap; slow down in order to speed up. IT Engineering practices and disciplines require structural approaches and problem-solving capabilities. Senior IT leaders weigh the risk/reward/ongoing maintenance (labor) equation all the time whether conscious or not, capture opportunity, roll it out and measure the result accordingly. They are systematic and good at calculating the risk, the value of taking risks is tied to the broader importance of staging a venture systematically. Even a highly innovative IT leader has a moment to be mechanical when facing IT management reality such as budget cut, priority changes, resource reallocation, or technology diversion, etc - which force them to be reactive and be more mechanical. Further, being proactive or innovative is not equal to being spontaneous or lack of the plan. If idea creation is more art than science, and then the nature of how the "implementation of the idea has to follow a logical path for the solution. CIOs are in the right position to balance the art and science of innovation which is a crucial management discipline of running digital IT, to be skillful on when to break down the old rules to innovate; and when to set the standard to improve efficiency and manage risks. They should try new technologies when there are clear returns that can't be found in the existing technologies, of course with great care on the potential risks. The dangers are getting too involved in the technologies and losing the sight of the real goals. Technology is not the goal, it is a tool to achieve the goal. CIOs must maintain vision on the goal.

Digital CIOs need to know when to lead from the front to inspire and share; and when to lead behind to observe and coordinate: Leading companies empower their IT leaders to lead change and digitalization. CIOs are dynamic leadership role that needs to continually practice, experience, learn and adjust. There is the time they should stand out to inspire and motivate, share the vision and articulate strategy; tell success stories or share lesson learned; there is also the time that CIOs should lead behind, to pull resources or talent in the right direction, make a deep observation or give others opportunities to shine. They are not only self-motivated but also motivate teams to cultivate change capabilities and cultivate the culture of learning and innovation. A high mature CIO is bright enough to be visible; but humble enough to listen to others and show respect. To keep the fountain of creativity flow, empowerment, empathy, and enablement are all crucial for executives to lead effectively. The idea that the IT organization is overlooked as an innovation driver and is being bypassed by business units comes at an odd time when you consider the robust new technology prospects and pervasive information influence. The biggest source of innovation within a company is built on culture - the collective attitude, the focus should be on the capability of innovative thinkers to contribute to particular professional practices in specific contexts. The front side of IT should be intuitive and user-friendly, but the back side of IT is complex and technical, but not less important. The CIO plays a significant role in envisioning the art of possible at the front but also pulling all resources and critical business elements together for running a high performance and collaborative digital organization.

Nowadays, there is a lot of stuff on the CIOs’ plate, they just need to learn how to spin them skillfully. Every CIO is unique, every leader is also unique, they have to figure out their own way to make the tough choice or take the different path of leadership, to break down the old IT thinking and lead their organization up toward the next growth cycle and catalyze business transformation.


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