Wednesday, September 13, 2017

CIO...The Rumors Of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

When I was promoted to CIO 15 years ago, my co-workers joking referred to my new title as 'Career Is Over'. It was amusing at first, but I later began to wonder if it was true. I quickly learned every good CIO must have a healthy dose of paranoia to be successful. Fast forward to today and many believe all CIO's careers will soon be over. You can hardly attend a technology event, read an article, tweet or post without someone predicting "The Death of the CIO".

THE CIO IS DEAD!

The typical logic behind the demise of the CIO role is driven by the consumerization of technology and the multitude of cloud solutions now available. Business leaders argue: I no longer need a PC at my desk. I can buy my own tablet or smartphone and the apps I need at the touch of a button. I no longer need a datacenter full of hardware. I can purchase software as a service for my business, using just my credit card, without the need for IT's approval. Why do we need an IT department, much less a CIO?

For decades, the CIO and the IT organization have been viewed as the outcasts by the other business leaders. What IT does is not understood by their peers and superiors, which often materializes as a lack of trust. CEOs understand finance, sales and HR, but they rarely understand what IT actually does. How many times has a CIO heard from the CEO "I don't know what you do, but you sure spend a lot of money!'? I can remember getting frustrated with these comments, thinking, I just reviewed the IT budget with you. Why don't you understand? After the scars of many battles, I have learned if a CIO is experiencing these challenges, they have no one to blame but themselves.

WHAT IS A CIO TO DO?

The first reaction of a CIO might be to create a robust IT vision and strategy that explains everything a business leader needs to know about IT, to the nth degree of detail. The problem with this approach is these documents are often full of IT jargon and technology details that only support the misunderstanding and mistrust from those outside IT. (Keep in mind, a common reaction to the misunderstood is to avoid it or get rid of it!) The best way to communicate with someone who does not speak your language is to learn their language. In this case, what is most important to this business leader and what is IT doing to support that objective?

IT Strategy can be simply stated in three business categories. Think of these as the legs of a three-legged stool (the strategy will not stand up if one is missing). You will notice these categories are in terms that any business leader can relate to.

1. Deliver on Commitments. A business has commitments to its customers, employees, shareholders and suppliers, either clearly defined or assumed as a part of doing business. These commitments could include Service Level Agreements (SLAs), physical and information security compliance, project schedules, customer and employee engagement and other business, regulatory and contractual obligations. If the IT organization clearly defines, measures and delivers on the agreed IT and business commitments, the barriers of misunderstanding and mistrust will quickly be broken down and the CIO will become known as a valuable asset instead of a redundant expenditure.

2. Grow Profitable Revenue. It's a safe assumption profitable revenue is a clear objective of most companies. IT's contributions to meet this objective might include new product development, significant enhancements to existing products or services, and integration of acquired products or services. Although this sounds simple on the surface, ensuring alignment with the priorities of the company leadership and shareholders is critical to the success of the CIO and the IT organization. This category is a great opportunity for CIOs to demonstrate their value as an innovation leader instead of a dinosaur headed for extinction.

3. Drive Operational Efficiencies. Early in my career, a CFO clearly defined the importance of driving unnecessary cost out as 'every dollar saved is a dollar of profit'. Because IT is often thought of as a cost center, it is imperative that CIOs focus on operational efficiencies. This includes analysis and possible adjustments to all expenditures, including people, processes and technology (hardware, software, service agreements). Keep in mind to be the most efficient sometimes requires a level of investment. For example, investing in employee training could/should result in more efficiency from that employee. If a CIO can demonstrate a commitment to operational efficiency and its direct impact on the company's financial success, the IT organization will be less likely seen just as a necessary (evil) expense.

The pace of technology change is staggering. Unlike any other executive, the CIO's challenges are changing every day. However, if a CIO successfully aligns and delivers on the objectives defined in these three categories, they will gain understanding and trust from other business leaders required to avoid an early 'demise'.

By Steve Reynolds

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