The role of the CIO (Chief Information Officer, or leader of Information Technology) has evolved as technology has become a critical business differentiator with an impact on both the top-line and bottom-line of a business. A CIO can have an impact on the business performance of every department, customer satisfaction, product success, speed of implementing new products, and virtually every aspect of a business. In many companies, CIO’s are now involved in business strategic planning sessions, consulted for ideas, and requested by company boards to provide presentations.
Even with this shift, some CIO’s are still focusing on tactical activities, continuing to prove their value to the business, running IT like a cost center justifying shrinking budgets, fighting fires, and simply “keeping the lights on”. Visionary CIO’s are driving business innovation, repositioning IT as a true strategic partner. How can a CIO make this transition in an organization that doesn’t immediately recognize IT as the competitive advantage and strategic tool it can be?
Following are five keys for making the transition to a strategic CIO:
- Bulletproof the basics. It’s challenging being strategic if you don’t have a handle on the day-to-day basics of running the IT operation, providing optimum customer support, strong security, and consistent delivery. Start here and shore-up your organization with best practices and smooth operations. Prove that flawless execution is not only possible, but predictable. Continuously improve IT performance through process improvements, standardization, up-to-date technology, and continual communication.[spacer height=”20px”]
- Increase the focus on value-add projects. Many organizations speed far too much of their budget on operational/maintenance initiatives rather than innovative projects that add true business value. Maintenance work could take up 100% of the budget if left unmanaged. Governance must have a stated and intentional balance between maintenance and value-add projects, with separate budgets and resource allocations. Work should be prioritized based on value and business outcomes, with a clear roadmap and strategic plan. Projects must be clearly aligned with the strategic business goals.[spacer height=”20px”]
- Educate. Educate yourself and the executives on the competitive landscape, technology trends, the digital era, and how new technology could be used to add value to the business. Keep up-to-date not only with competitors, but those outside your industry, as competition can come from unlikely sources. Provide transparency to IT costs so the business can make strategic decisions on the cost of maintaining an application relative to the business value. Communicate the converged business/IT vision and strategy. Learn the language of the business and communicate in business-speak rather than techno-speak, with a focus on the critical business drivers and goals.[spacer height=”20px”]
- Be proactive. Communicate metrics that are meaningful to the business and proactively make improvements as needed. Have agility designed in the governance process to proactively address changes in the business. Have scalability designed in the IT environment, for both business processes and IT infrastructure. Proactively identify projects and opportunities to add value, don’t just be an order-taker doing the requested projects. As we have experienced when doing a strategic plan, it is often the new innovative projects that are identified during the planning process that add far more value than the projects previously requested and identified in the backlog.[spacer height=”20px”]
- Be a change agent and facilitate innovation. Many CIO’s wait for the innovation to be identified by the business, yet many businesses do not have the ability to see outside their current mind-set. The CIO can be in an ideal position, supporting the entire business, to question the basics and challenge the status quo. When obtaining information in the strategic planning process, the CIO can be an agent of change, asking the right questions, identifying ways to accelerate the business to let go of practices and thoughts that no longer serve the company well. The CIO can introduce technology, ideas, and challenges to help the business invent their future and transform the business for the digital evolution.
Consistently mastering these five areas will help a CIO transform into a critical business enabler valued by the business.