Today’s CIOs have a simple choice: build relevance in a changing world or stay in infrastructure management. 75% of CEOs are asking you to take the leap.
CIOs must stake out new claims in today’s enterprise. A joint study by Dell and The Economist Intelligence Unit established that 75% of CEOs want such change and for their CIOs to assume an advisory role when it comes to business strategy. CIOs must thus change how they relate to their professional relationships, resources, areas of focus and outcomes to make this happen. It involves a new language and a new view about the value of time to solve business challenges and gain a different perspective about risk and reward, as well as new avenues for business growth and differentiation.
The office of the CIO must undergo a qualitative transformation. Whereas previous measurements of IT “efficiency” were the norm (e.g., speed, efficiency and lower cost), those figures are now table stakes and are no longer enough to solve more complex business challenges. According to Jim Stikeleather, Chief Innovation Officer for Dell Services, CIOs “need to not get caught up in the technology trap.” If the old way was about technology-centric performance, the current landscape is about technology-empowered business transformation.
A CIO needs to take the following steps to shake up the status quo and have a voice setting business strategy.
- Understand the value of time. It’s a CIO’s most valuable asset and must be spent on projects that promote business strategy. Leave other projects to a great team. Projects must be prioritized according to goals: e.g., sustaining projects, experimental projects and new digital world projects. These vastly different projects require unique time allocations, as well as underlying resources.
- Identify all relevant stakeholders regarding people, technology and organizational processes, and communicate in their terms.
- Engender a more risk-oriented culture. In today’s culture of rapid change, a culture of risk is critical in order to fail fast and quickly. CIOs must learn from mistakes and improve their initiatives. Penalizing the front line until it has no voice is especially counterproductive.
- Deploy human capital effectively. The 21st century is about human capital and how technology is designed and deployed and less about who has the best or most technology.
- Engage in collaborative restructuring of the CIO’s role. This cannot be done alone. Great CIOs typically do this in conjunction with the C-suite by presenting a customer-facing success that they can sell as being core to the business and with concrete business (not IT) metrics. This allows CIOs to sell their visions and get buy-in and sustained support from peers and superiors.
In order to assume this new role, CIOs must perform honest self-assessments across the new leadership criteria required:
- Self-awareness – Where time is spent versus where energy should be spent.
- Self-socialization – The ability to listen across the organization. Understanding others’ perspectives is key to driving change.
- Adaptation – The ability to solve problems with speed and agility. Change will never wait.
- Communication – The ability to speak the language of business. This is critical to any relationship with the C-suite and board. No CIO who fails at this can succeed today.
- Leadership and Influence – Influencing the strategy and having a seat as part of the CEO’s top-level team—and especially a relationship with the CEO—as well as the ability to identify new, value-accretive business opportunities.
The reality is that each of these self-assessments will fall along a spectrum of strengths and weaknesses. A healthy self-evaluation gives CIOs a gut check of their state of affairs, as well as opportunities to grow and become more valuable.
Modern CIOs do not have an easy role. They must be squarely centered in a new paradigm shift. CIOs have an opportunity to transform their role from one that is purely focused on IT into one that focuses on transformational business opportunities, revenue and strategy. This can impact not only the enterprise, but also long-term career aims.
A former Chief Information Officer, Mr. Fitzgerald is the Executive Director of Technology Strategy in the Office of the CTO, Dell Services.