CIOs are secondary executives? It’s time to expand the role and assert its true value. […]
The role of the CIO has never been more important than it is today. IT trends such as security and data protection, cloud computing, machine learning and remote workforce plus the flood of legal regulations have raised the importance of the CIO position to a level that has long since equaled – or even surpassed – that of other C-level executives. Unfortunately, the perception of CIOs by top management in many companies is still firmly anchored in the past.
Only the CIOs themselves can enhance their role in the company by entering into business areas that were previously considered taboo or did not exist until recently. “Gone are the days when the CIO was a back-office IT cost manager,” said Chris Scheefer, vice president of intelligent industry at technology and consulting firm Capgemini Americas.
“Today’s CIO needs to adapt and become a business strategist, a digital innovator and an orchestrator for business.“
In practice, seven steps have proven how CIOs can expand and upgrade their role:
From the front office to the back office, the CIO must operationalize the strategy and bring new skills and talents to the company as a change agent. “The role of the CIO is to build resilience and organizational agility through the use of digital technologies. It thus becomes the engine that transforms new technologies and innovations into a sustainable competitive advantage,“ says Scheefer.
The key to success lies in developing the position into a role with which the business strategy and transformation impulses from top management can be advanced quickly and on a large scale. “For the CIO, this means being more than just a mechanism for deploying and managing technology projects,” he explains. The aim is to introduce a results- and value–oriented perspective into the work – together with a solid plan for the holistic implementation of the strategy.
Too often, CIOs would work reactively and wait for the departments to approach them. According to Scheefer, proactive engagement and the development of an IT organization that is integrated into the front office processes are crucial for success. This means that IT teams need to be involved and integrated with the most important strategic priorities and provide stakeholders with appropriate metrics to ensure a successful partnership.
Many, perhaps even most, members of top management are not particularly interested in technology. But everyone wants to learn how innovations can bring the company forward. “Don’t hide in the basement,” advises John Abel, CIO of network equipment provider Extreme Networks. “The worst thing you can do as a CIO is not to deal with the management”.
As a solution, Abel suggests organizing and leading monthly meetings with the management team to bring transparency to IT planning and operations. “To play a bigger role, the first step is to make sure that your topics are relevant at all to the people you are talking to.“ CIOs should know the particularly explosive topics and bring them to the table. “As a result, the CIO is better positioned in the company and can be more involved in the decision-making process,” explains Abel.
When the IT department starts to deliver added value in the form of profits and not just in the form of cost reductions, colleagues will see the CIO in a completely new and positive light. “This will change the perception of the CIO role,” says Brian Jackson, CIO research director at the consulting firm Info-Tech Research Group. “The more the CIO can support the company with important technological skills, the more often colleagues will underline their success with a strong relationship with the CIO.“
According to Jackson, the CIO will get a place at the top management table when IT is mature enough to implement initiatives that directly improve the company’s business model.
“If the CIO is able to generate new sales, create touchpoints with customers and advance data-based decision-making processes, then it will become an integral part of the corporate strategy.“ CIOs should also consider involvement in professional associations and organizations. This makes it possible to exchange ideas with IT managers of equal rank. “It’s usually particularly enlightening to discuss your own challenges and opportunities with other CIOs from the same industry,” says Jackson. “This is a way to find solutions to problems faster.“
In order to play a more significant role, CIOs should clearly formulate what they can and cannot do with the resources at their disposal. “A good start, for example, is to present the need for cybersecurity from the point of view of risk management and with a clear financial perspective,” recommends Tommy Gardner, CTO of HP Federal. “Combining such data with a strong expert opinion is very effective and will enhance the role of the CIO.“
According to Gardner, CIOs should also inform the management level that IT and security are constantly evolving and therefore must be permanently evaluated and supported by top management. “By making this an open conversation and showing ROI over time, CIOs can better position themselves and their teams as an integral part of business operations.“