Be the CIO Your Company Needs
Guest blog by Terry Bennett, CEO of consulting firm Differentiators LLC, and former CIO.
You’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 C-suite...is 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!