As the CIO, is it really important that you familiarize yourself with your company’s corporate strategy? After all, your role is just to provide technological solutions, right? Not anymore. The role of the CIO, and the expectations of that role, is undergoing a dramatic transformation. It is no longer acceptable for the CIO to remain blissfully ignorant of a company’s corporate strategy. Ross Armstrong, executive advisor, Info-Tech Research Group, weighed in on how CIOs must change in order to stay relevant.
“I’m hearing from CIOs that they are aware that their roles are changing, yet predominantly these CIOs feel powerless to do much about it,” Armstrong said. “This sense of helplessness arises mainly from the fact that the majority of IT departments are still in firefighting mode – meaning, these IT leaders are so busy just trying to stabilize infrastructure and applications from breaking down they don’t have the time to even think about being strategic, much less innovative.”
Although it might make more sense to focus on immediate crises, Armstrong counseled CIOs to take a look at the big picture. “Strategy and innovation are exactly what the CEO wants to see,” he asserted. Their expectations of CIOs are higher than ever. “CIOs are being expected to justify the ‘C’ in CIO,” Armstrong commented. “If you’re just an order-taker, then you’re not a true CIO: you’re just a glorified IT manager in the eyes of other executives. At least, that’s what C-levels are saying and/or thinking.”
Armstrong detailed how C-suite expectations of CIOs are shifting. “CEOs, CFOs, COOs and even CMOs are increasing their expectations of the CIO role,” he remarked. “Especially in the sense that CXOs are feeling more and more that the CIO should be a business leader first and a technology leader second. A distant second, in some cases. More specifically, C-suite expectations of the CIO are rapidly changing in the face of massive issues occurring in the global economic landscape, issues that the CEO needs help with.” These issues include enterprise-wide strategic workforce planning, innovation in R&D and IT, selling in critical or emerging markets and the increasing numbers of mergers and acquisitions.
In order for the CIO to have a significant impact on the company’s strategic planning, he or she must have a strong relationship with the CEO. Armstrong acknowledged that barriers can frequently prevent this relationship from being formed. “From what I’ve seen and heard, the greatest obstacle to forming a strong CEO-CIO bond is a profound lack of two-way communication,” he said. “More often than not, the CEO is not effectively communicating any of these expectations to the CIO, and/or the CIO is not properly receiving the message.”
This lack of communication can lead to thorny problems. “This rift causes a fundamental disagreement between how the business defines IT’s value to the organization and how IT defines how it brings value,” Armstrong explained. “While IT can’t always be super-innovative 24/7, there is a growing sentiment amongst CEOs that IT leaders are clinging some very outdated notions (e.g. implementing technology merely to reduce costs, spending on tech versus investing in tech, and so on). Thus, the CIO’s perceived or actual lack of business acumen around “IT value” results in his or her inability to transform IT to a truly strategic business partner.”
The situation need not be bleak, however. Armstrong offered advice to CIOs about how to overcome the barriers to forming a relationship with the CIO. “The CIO must acquaint him or herself with CEO-level business challenges then develop innovative plans for overcoming those challenges,” he noted. “This requires the CIO to collaborate with the CEO to uncover company-specific business challenges. It will also force the CIO to develop new skills, as well as build out various roadmaps for applications, infrastructure, strategic planning, and so on.”
“The CIO can also overcome this barrier by building up his/her stock of business skills,” Armstrong added. These skills include expertise in business and data analytics, fluency in business terminology, the ability to accurately predict project benefits or outcomes, knowing difference between IT spending and IT investment and strength in long-term business and IT strategic planning. These core competencies will help CIOs to gain a seat at the table when strategic planning takes place.