Time is now for transforming the CIO role in enterprises. For many organizations, business and technology strategies operate independently. There’s the mumbling on the business side that tech doesn’t understand what customers want. IT departments marvel at the lack of technical knowledge in the business world. Even when they do come together, there’s contention over timelines, budgets, and features. As technology and business strategies merge, companies need to ensure that IT is part of the conversation. While approaches may differ, experts are unanimous in the need for transforming the CIO role.
Once, CIOs may have been responsible for implementing and managing computer technologies to support business objectives. But, they must be more than technical resources. Today’s CIO must be strategic. They can’t exist in an IT silo, where maintaining the technical infrastructure is their only task.
Transforming the CIO Role into a Swiss Army Knife
If CIOs are to play a larger role in developing business strategies, they must prove they can contribute in meaningful ways. They need to take on different roles that have an impact on the digital landscape. Specifically, CIOs must take on the roles of:
To be effective business leaders, CIOs must become part of the driving force behind digital transformation.
Transforming the CIO Role
For many, technology is a foreign language. With its overabundance of acronyms, it’s no wonder that executives just want to know how much it costs. CIOs need to explain the value of the proposed technology by addressing the following:
- What business problem does it solve?
- Are there alternatives?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of each solution?
CIOs must act as interpreters when presenting solutions to company leaders. They must translate the technical jargon into business applications that demonstrate value. When CIOs can successfully explain the business value of a technical solution, they create an image of a business-aware technologist.
For example, an organization wants to deploy an AI solution for an internal helpdesk in six months; however, the short timeline doesn’t leave space for a control test before enterprise-wide deployment. When management understands that without a controlled test, the implementation could result in downtime or a lack of employee acceptance because of delivery problems, they can see how delaying the rollout by 30 days is necessary to mitigate risk. CIOs should not assume that everyone understands the tradeoffs between delivering on schedule and proper testing.
Revolutionize how IT departments operate. Most employees head for their cubicles or workstations focused on their tasks for the day. They may have an occasional water-cooler break but most IT departments are understaffed with little time for interaction. In fact, some employees may struggle to find solutions because they don’t want to interrupt already overwhelmed co-workers.
The problem with that approach is there’s no collaboration and no time for innovation. It doesn’t create a community that can work together to find solutions. Bureaucratic processes and layers of management can stifle employees. Giving professionals the autonomy they need to get work done creates a more open environment. How many reports, forms, and approvals are really needed?
CIOs must live collaboration not just promote it. They have to demonstrate how working together produces better results than working alone. Take cybersecurity. Instead of isolating cybersecurity personnel, place them in cross-functional teams so that security by design can become a part of every project.
Effective collaboration means giving up some control. As more cross-functional groups are formed, CIOs must be willing to guide with minimal oversight so projects can move forward. If CIOs do not relinquish control, they can become an impediment in an agile organization.
CIOs must find the best available talent and retain them. Although outsourcing has been a resource for bridging the skills gap, CIOs need to rethink the value when it comes to critical capabilities. Not every project can be outsourced. Instead, CIOs need to look at their internal skill gaps and recruit or retrain to fill them.
Anyone in tech knows that the need for skilled people far exceeds the supply. If CIOs are to attract top talent, they need to revisit how they recruit. Look beyond standard job sites to HackerRank or General Assembly. Talk to existing employees about how to attract new talent. Most importantly, CIOs must make sure that the hiring process evaluates a candidate’s ability to fit into the department culture.
Recruiting is not just for external hires. Individuals within IT or across the enterprise may be a great fit with a little retraining. CIOs should have a list of the priority skills needed within the department and determine which employees would be open to re-skilling or up-skilling to newer technologies such as analytics or cloud computing. They need to invest in the necessary training to ensure that a steady flow of qualified talent exists within the organization.
Digital transformation is more than moving to the cloud or deploying AI across the enterprise. It is a change in mindset that sees technology as part of every strategy and process in the company. CIOs must be willing to commit to transformational change and the multi-year journey it is likely to be.
CIOs can’t wait for change to come to them. They need to create partnering relationships by learning more about each business unit. For example, CIOs can ask about business goals and discuss ways technology can help. Maybe, IT could serve in a consulting role to help a business unit meet its technical needs. Working together can ensure that IT is delivering products and services that will be adopted.
Planning should be part of a CIO’s DNA, but transformational CIOs ensure that enterprise-wide dependencies are part of the plan. How will moving the CRM solution to the cloud impact sales and marketing? Including all stakeholders in the planning process is crucial to successful transformation.
With an effort as large as digital transformation, planning must be dynamic. It must allow teams to remove obstacles and re-allocate resources when needed. Finding some way to consolidate all activity in one place makes it easier to track progress and identify issues before they become problems. This tracking process should be collaborative to continue to develop that revolutionary approach.
CIOs need to understand business strategies. They need to invest in learning business realities on the ground. Talk to business-unit personnel and digest customer-satisfaction reports, customer support calls, or other feedback methods to gain an understanding of the customer experience. With that knowledge, CIOs can inform their technology decisions. For example, working with the e-commerce unit CIOs can see how slow downloads impact cart abandonment. They can then explore solutions to improve the customer experience.
Developing a better understanding of how an enterprise works can help CIOs make informed decisions about technology deployments. Sometimes, acquiring different perspectives on business strategies can add to a CIO’s value. Whether it is taking a course or extending a work network, CIOs need to find ways to broaden their understanding of business strategies. They might consider volunteering to be part of the board of another company or organization to get a glimpse of how other entities develop business strategies.
Transforming the CIO Role into a Business Partner
CIOs can become active participants in transforming a business into an agile organization that is ready to pivot to deliver solutions that align with business strategies. However, their roles must be redefined to enable them to become leaders with the skills to revolutionize how IT interacts across an enterprise. CIOs must be willing to translate technology into business solutions and to establish a department that is collaborative and innovative. Organizations must be willing to see CIOs in a different role and CIOs must be willing to accept their new roles
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