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Be the CIO Your Company Needs


Guest blog by Terry Bennett, CEO of consulting firm Differentiators LLC, and former CIO.

Terry BennettYou’ve heard it from Forrester, Gartner, and others – the siren call to transform corporate IT.  Yet in your company, the realities of today are limited by current budget, political, and internal/external business constraints.  

How can you possibly help your IT department – and your company - start to transform into what you know will be required for their future success?

The Concerns of the C-suite

The C-suite recognizes technology can be a disruptive force.  They are very concerned about the speed of technological change, and a large percentage feel that their IT department is not sufficiently prepared to take advantage.  Many of them view IT solely as a back office function – somewhat akin to facilities management.  Far too many see IT as slow, unresponsive, reactive, costly, and resistant to change.  It’s no wonder that they would work to limit the IT budget and question the value of involving their CIO in strategic discussions.

They want more out of technology but aren’t sure how to get it

Your CEO may be thinking about adding a Chief Digital Officer to spur innovation and digitalization.  Your CFO might express a lack of confidence in your “organizational and technical flexibility to respond to changing business priorities”.  Your CMO could complain that you are not moving quickly enough to support marketing – and the company.  He might buy SaaS solutions on his corporate credit card without consulting IT, and then wonder why you can’t quickly integrate his solutions with other corporate systems.

"The concerned about the speed of technological change, and a large percentage feel that their IT department is not sufficiently prepared to take advantage."

Few in the C-suite recognize that they themselves are contributing to the very issues they desire to overcome. They long for “strong CIO leaders who can articulate a compelling vision for how they will fundamentally change IT’s role, let go of today to embrace tomorrow, and rally the organization behind them.”    

Many CIOs understand the need for change, but …

Maureen Osborne, Global CIO for Ernst & Young, notes, “It is quite startling how few CIOs have taken steps to reinvent themselves within their business.”  Many recognize the need to move into a more strategic role but lack the urgency and/or skills and knowledge necessary for this transformation. 

Practical Steps to Begin your Transformation

  • Develop your C suite relationships. It is amazing how much difference solid relationships with your C suite peers can make.  You can’t do this by locking yourself in your office or in group meetings.  It takes one-on-one time to grasp what makes each one tick.  Go beyond business to learn about his family and hobbies.  Talk about his career goals.  Learn how he is measured by his boss and understand the metrics he uses to determine the success of his team.

  • Show me the money.  Establish a business-like mindset within IT.  Define and establish costs for all IT services, and then give your fellow business executives as much control over these costs as possible.  Regularly compare your services with outside providers and share that information with your C-suite.  Could any of your services be furnished cheaper/better elsewhere?  What must you do to manage those outsourced services to ensure their effectiveness and long-term viability for the company?

  • Get strategic.  Research the future of your industry.  Gain the insight of industry experts as well as your vendors.  How can you get closer to your customers?  How can your supply chain be tightened?  Where do competitors appear to be headed?  What are your company’s strengths/weaknesses as compared to each of your competitors?  Where could you possibly gain additional competitive advantage?  How could technology help generate additional revenue?  What potential disruptors are on the horizon?  Regularly discuss this in one-on-one conversations with your fellow business executives.

  • Change the game.  Any company that is quicker and more agile than its competitors has a tremendous advantage.  Recognize that this bar is continually being raised.  Your IT department must be able to operate at the speed of business and provide the flexibility necessary.  This will likely require IT to become more integrator than builder, more consultative and influencing than controlling.  Take a hard look at the skillset of your staff.  What needs to be done to prepare them for this brave new world?  Explore how to accomplish (and afford) such a radical change while ensuring that current business is not adversely affected.

  • Get your staff on board.  Ensure they know that you need their help, and that this new mindset is not optional.  Empower your managers and make certain that they empower their staff.  This will necessitate that you communicate direction and expectations.  Define the necessary guardrails (e.g., “do not exceed $50,000 for this effort”).  Establish meaningful metrics and service level agreements.  Give them the responsibility and authority, get out of the way, hold them accountable for results, and then coach them toward success. Free your time for strategic activities by drastically reducing your attendance at meetings lacking a strategic focus.

  • Be courageous.  This effort is not for the faint-hearted.  Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do.  Show a sense of urgency.  Schedule a frank discussion with your CEO about the future.  Talk about the speed at which business will need to operate.  Talk about the impact of technology-fueled, customer-led disruption.  Get her honest assessment of you and your IT department.  Then commit to making the changes necessary to lead IT and the company into this new frontier.

  • Don’t go it alone.  You will need support in this journey.  Build and actively maintain a network of fellow CIOs with whom you can share ideas and challenges.  You may even consider the services of an advisor or coach.

Maintaining status quo is not an option.  Will your company thrive by successfully responding to these challenges, or will it wither?  Will your IT department become the differentiator your business needs, or will it fade away?  The answer may not be the same for each company, but right now, in many ways, the choice is up to you.   

You can make the difference!

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Awesome post about traditional CIO challenges. If CIO's aren't addressing the areas above, it could be too late. The two most important areas to address is building strong relationships with other executives and understanding their part of the business (strategic). Don't delay - Get going.
Posted @ Thursday, February 06, 2014 12:12 PM by Ross Holman
Great blog post, Terry! It reminds us that business must always be evolving, and that the CIO can (must?) play a lead role spurring corporate innovation and reinvention.
Posted @ Thursday, February 06, 2014 12:21 PM by Matt Manning
Ross, I agree completely. Too many have delayed in addressing these issues. That is the primary reason that we see calls for eliminating the CIO position -- or relegating it to just handling the responsibility for the infrastructure.  
The C-suite wants more out of technology. They may not be sure how to get that just yet, but they will figure it out.  
Procrastination could be hazardous to the future of your company. A sense of urgency is needed.
Posted @ Thursday, February 06, 2014 1:49 PM by Terry Bennett
Matt,thanks for your thoughts. Technology is changing culture. It is changing business. It is changing the expectations of the C-suite. IDC predicts, for example, that within two years the primary role of the majority of CIOs will move from directly managing IT to becoming an innovation partner. Instead of a technology gatekeeper, the CIO must be a driver of change throughout the organization.
Posted @ Thursday, February 06, 2014 2:14 PM by Terry Bennett
Excellent post. I think these steps should be mandatory reading for CIOs. I mostly agree with the sentiment that running IT is running a business. You must have a firm understanding of the department and all its aspects - including finance. And must be able to speak the language of business to your peers. 
I second the comments about urgency - lack of it can wipe out all gains made by the IT department.  
Posted @ Thursday, February 06, 2014 3:27 PM by Rost Ginevich
One thing I didn't see but may be related to the "don't go it alone". In a market enabled by Software as a Service and other efforts involving other organizations, 3rd party management needs to be a core competency.
Posted @ Thursday, February 06, 2014 3:40 PM by Charlie Bess
Rost, thanks for your comments. When a CIO establishes a true business-like mindset, he realizes that he must: 
- truly understand his target market. Not only does this mean that he must speak their language, but he must understand their pains as well as their goals. 
- have products/services that meet his customers' needs, that evolve over time, & must be competitive 
- be able to easily articulate the value being brought to his customers -- in their language 
- continually work to refine his operations processes (because that is the primary source of profit margins) 
- have an excellent grasp on his financials
Posted @ Thursday, February 06, 2014 3:56 PM by Terry Bennett
Charlie, I agree completely that the ability to profitably manage 3rd parties is essential. It is mentioned briefly in the section entitled Show Me The Money.  
Speed & flexibility are critical factors. They can make or break a company. IT can be the difference maker, but they can no longer have the "not invented here" mentality.
Posted @ Thursday, February 06, 2014 4:01 PM by Terry Bennett
Dead on Terry! Your guidance is extremely important as companies embrace change and evolve so must each executive reposition and continue to drive value. I am going to share with a few who could benefit from your sage advice.
Posted @ Thursday, February 06, 2014 4:35 PM by Monica Coney
Monica, thanks for your encouragement. One thing that struck me as I read your comment -- should we be using the word 'evolve' here? My concern is that to many, that word does not bring to mind the sense of urgency needed. That's why I use the word 'transform'. What do you think?
Posted @ Thursday, February 06, 2014 4:58 PM by Terry Bennett
Great post Terry! Balancing the need for control with an eye towards ROI and innovation seems to be the proper course of transformation. Running IT like a business makes sense both common and financial!
Posted @ Thursday, February 06, 2014 8:29 PM by Jim Jinright
I agree that there can/should be more integration with solutions. However, you can start losing your business differentiation. Don't lose what makes your business unique - and many times that is also manifest in technology implementation. 
The other side is that you are trading internal development cost for higher complexity which will eventually slow you down and add cost as well - more points of failure, impedance between systems regarding data and processes, incompatible upgrade paths, etc.  
This is also part of strategic thinking in knowing the balance.  
Posted @ Friday, February 07, 2014 7:40 AM by Dwight Moore
Jim, you raise a good point when you mention 'control'. CIOs must ensure that the company's information assets are properly secured & protected. Acceptance of potential risks must be understood and in keeping with the company's risk posture. In some cases, these provide very good reasons not to move an application to the cloud, for example. However, this absolutely should not be a unilateral decision of the CIO or IT department. Instead it must be a point of discussion for the C-suite.
Posted @ Friday, February 07, 2014 9:00 AM by Terry Bennett
Dwight, good points! We must be aware of what sets our company apart. Some have uniqueness enabled by custom applications, for example. Others may use exactly the same commercial software as their competition yet achieve differentiation through their product development process, their speed, their customer intimacy, or other factors. As you mentioned, there are also risks inherent in integrating outside solutions. The CIO must not only take these into account but must also ensure that the rest of the C-suite understands & is on the same page.
Posted @ Friday, February 07, 2014 9:14 AM by Terry Bennett
Terry, excellent post! 
I have always said that "the only thing that never changes, is that everything is constantly changing". They are changing faster all the time. Your post certainly validates that, and you are absolutely correct that the CIO must not only embrace change, but must initiate and push it. However, diligence must be taken to realize which changes are good for your business, and which changes could slow you down. Strategic and strong relationships with the business leadership is crucial to being able to get the "respect" and "audience" to accomplish this.
Posted @ Friday, February 07, 2014 1:02 PM by Byron Hay
Byron, I agree. Changing merely for the sake of change can be expensive. As Ross Holman mentioned in an earlier comment, the most important first steps are to develop a strong relationship with your fellow executives, understand their business, and ensure you are all on the same page strategically.
Posted @ Friday, February 07, 2014 1:17 PM by Terry Bennett
Great points. I think the CIO of the future needs be a listener, visionary and a relationship builder. Building relationships up and down and across the organization. There is power when people feel understood, appreciated and supported!
Posted @ Monday, March 10, 2014 1:26 PM by Fred Donatucci
Great points. I think the CIO of the future needs be a listener, visionary and a relationship builder. Building relationships up and down and across the organization. There is power when people feel understood, appreciated and supported!
Posted @ Monday, March 10, 2014 1:28 PM by Fred Donatucci
Great points. I think the CIO of the future needs be a listener, visionary and a relationship builder. Building relationships up and down and across the organization. There is power when people feel understood, appreciated and supported!
Posted @ Monday, March 10, 2014 1:28 PM by Fred Donatucci
Great points. I think the CIO of the future needs be a listener, visionary and a relationship builder. Building relationships up and down and across the organization. There is power when people feel understood, appreciated and supported!
Posted @ Monday, March 10, 2014 1:30 PM by Fred Donatucci
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