CIO Responsibility and Strategic IT Advice for Better Business Leadership

What makes for a good chief information officer? The criteria likely differ from company to company, but there are foundational principles that don’t change – and which work. We hope to elucidate those of you who are looking for insights on CIO responsibility and strategic IT advice for better business leaders.

We believe CIOs should seize every opportunity to build information technology capabilities and credibility from the bottom up – and come by it with skill-sets infused with a sense of modern innovation.

CIO Challenges and Development

How clearly defined are your responsibilities for digital business? Are you the a) champion; b) influencer; or c) facilitator of digital strategy — or d) a bit of all three?

If your answer is “d,” you aren’t alone. Digital business is changing market paradigms and enterprise priorities at blink-and-you’ll-miss-it speed.

Another question that’s ripe for the asking in 2017 is: How sure are you as chief information officer that you can handle all threats and contingencies on your own?

Do you work in conjunction with a team of IT staffers, or are you basically on your own in solving complex IT issues?

For CIOs, these questions and their implications present both opportunities and challenges, according to John MacDorman, research director at Gartner.

“CIOs have an unprecedented opportunity to transform themselves and their departments and become a key voice at the executive table,” he explained. “However, many enterprises haven’t defined their expectations regarding digital leadership. The CIO’s leadership role in digital business is largely contextual.”

Mr. MacDorman’s advice for ambitious CIOs: “One of the first acts of leadership a CIO can contribute to the enterprise is to drive digital role clarity and teamwork expectations.”

Establishing Core Leadership Responsibilities

Also known as a CDO, or Chief Digital Officer (Chief Data Officer in some circles), the digital leadership path for CIOs starts with building capabilities, employee understanding and buy-in (“Why are we doing this?”) and enterprise credibility from the bottom up.

The challenges of the new digital age make the role of a CDO a no-brainer. After all, who else will ensure that the company’s key strategies are supported by emerging technologies and new organizational competencies?

Visually speaking, said Mr. MacDorman, you can think of this as a pyramid that has IT leadership at its foundation, upon which you and your team develop the digital engine. This then makes it possible to achieve the pinnacle state — digital business leadership.

CIOs can focus on the following main responsibilities to define their role in digital business strategy:

Promote three IT subcultures: The digital and the physical get blurred with digital innovation, so culture can’t be addressed in a stopgap fashion. Nurture three distinct subcultures in IT:

  • The Operator, focused on keeping things running and improving;
  • The Innovator, focused on speed and exploration; and,
  • The Guardian, focused on leading and balancing innovation with risk.

Develop a bimodal capability: Bimodal is an approach that enables your enterprise the flexibility to innovate while ensuring that day-to-day business requirements and regular performance goals are met. Getting the business engaged in the digital agenda is difficult if you don’t establish this capability.

Need advice on being a winning CIO, or advice on business leadership in an IT-dominated marketplace? Then, call us today at (415) 543-1033 or email us for more information and/or to schedule a quick and easy consultation with a San Francisco IT company you can trust to help you gain more clarity on being a CIO – or, will act as your virtual CIO.

Renovate the IT core: Many enterprises today have old, monolithic enterprise applications in a closed business architecture. Renovation initiatives include investing in improved data access, big data analytics, integration, and cloud infrastructure.

Uncover and develop talent: Digital requires new skill sets, which is why so many CIOs cite talent as one of their biggest innovation obstacles. Beyond training and developing existing employees, digital leaders can overcome the talent gap through external hires, acquisitions, and partnerships.

Move from IT governance to enterprise digital governance: Digital business requires the ability to assess and advise value/risk tradeoffs at digital speed. You’ll need to bring executives, suppliers and other external partners more closely into these processes and carefully delineate responsibilities within digital-domain teams.

Champion digital business strategy: A key component of the business strategy is the digital strategy, which is supported by the IT strategy. Identify disruptive trends, threats, talent and partners, and then champion proposals and priorities that will help your enterprise survive and thrive in an increasingly digital world.

Digital Leadership and Impact on CIOs

To understand digital leadership, roll back the clock to imagine the first conversation between a CEO and his executive team as to what they were going to do with these newfangled things called computers. In many respects, the term chief information officer (CIO) is exactly the right title for an executive who is exercising digital leadership.

But over the last 35 to 40 years, the term CIO has been transformed into the equivalent of “a box and wire jockey” — someone who simply acquires boxes and wires and replaces desktops and handles servers.

In today’s information technology (IT) organizations, new roles are emerging to deal with digital business, including the chief data officer (CDO), the chief trust officer, the data management executive and the information governance lead.

All of these titles are jockeying to fill a current void in corporate leadership to assure the quality and the functional value of information.

Improving Collaboration

Collaboration has always been the keystone to modern leadership. Instead of acting in a bossy manner, collaborative leaders blur the lines between the boss and junior employees by focusing on garnering participation across the board, creative thinking, and team building. With collaborative leadership, it’s not about who’s in charge.

But how does technology fit into all this?

Well, experts cite social media and the internet in general as the source of all this collaborative spirit. The internet has changed how we organize ourselves into groups and share information. The internet makes people equal. These individuals then group themselves into different social circles and communicate. On the internet, it’s all about engagement and participation. Business leaders who come to this realization and tap into this enthusiasm achieve greater things than their counterparts who don’t.

Redefining Success in a New Tech-Ready World

The world is increasingly becoming reliant on technology, for so many things. As a business leader, you need to concentrate on technology and what it means to your organization. Some major business leadership titles such as CEO are changing and sometimes taking the backseat of positions such as CIO or the chief information officer, an individual charged with the task of creating new business via technology and making sure that the organization is maximally exploiting available technological resources.

Business leadership positions are solely driven by success; knowledge, relations, power, and authority have no place. The success of a business leader is now based on how well they can apply technology towards the realization of the company’s goals.

Evaluating CIO Engagement and Building on a Firm Foundation

The six capabilities described here show a progression from the CIO as IT leader to the CIO as the digital business leader. The ease and speed at which CIOs who aspire to digital leadership can attain it obviously depends on the circumstances of the enterprise where they lead.

In a business that lacks significant technical DNA, for example, the CIO is often asked to drive as well as support digital innovation. Relationship dynamics, such as the IT department’s credibility and engagement with the business, are also critical baseline factors.

Ultimately, said Mr. MacDorman, “CIOs who aim to be recognized as digital business leaders need to have a vision of what needs to be achieved and the ability to enlist business leaders in the discussion.”

(Source credits: CIO.com, Gartner.com)

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