by Ade McCormack

The CIO is a Triathlete

Aug 22, 20125 mins
CareersIT Leadership

Watching the world’s best compete at the Olympics is enthralling. Sharing the joy of the winners and witnessing the excoriating self-flagellation of the losers takes us to both ends of the emotional spectrum.

There is certainly a theme in respect of the gold medallists. They use terms like preparation, game-plan and execution.

The Olympics is another day at the office for them. They have prepared for all eventualities. They have a clear sense of what has to be done.

And on the day they simply do what has to be done with a view on mistake minimisation.

Perhaps CIOs can learn from this approach. I do meet CIOs who despite the complexities of the organisation they serve appear to be on top of their responsibilities. But there are others where each day is an exercise in survival.

There is no time to plan beyond the present, despite the admonitions from people like me to gravitate away from technology management and become more relevant to the business.

Easy to say when you are not presiding over a forest fire-like event in the data centre.

I had the good fortune to watch the men’s triathlon. It occurred to me that CIOs could operate as triathletes, that is there are three key elements to your game and these are conducted sequentially.

There are also clear transition phases between the disciplines which have to be handled carefully.

So what are the three disciplines?

Firstly this triathlon is focused on moving CIOs and their unit from being perceived as a cost to be managed to being a source of value creation. Secondly the need to raise the trust levels between the IT function and the users is a key element to this journey.

Thus the key disciplines are as follows:

Event 1: Cost reduction It is a given that we need to deliver more for less. This isn’t as a result of an economic blip this is the new normal. It is galling to endure stern lectures from the other CxOs in respect of managing our spend.

Any attempt to fight this usually ends with a lot more free time on one’s hands.

Often because this is imposed on the IT function, the tendency is to become highly reactive to the needs of the business.

The last thing we want to do is stimulate more demand when we are struggling to keep the plates spinning as it is.

This discipline recognises that we must focus on cost management as a priority. Many CIOs do not put their heart into this because ultimately it shrinks their empire, which is often judged by staff head count or data centre acreage.

It would appear that these CIOs believe that it is smarter from a career perspective to build their empire even though it generates disdain in the community that pays their salary.

Forward-thinking CIOs have embraced the Cloud. Being able to parcel off large chunks of technology management to third parties enables them to focus on more value adding activities.

So a quick strategy for embracing the Cloud:

– All newly acquired applications going forward (from third parties or built in-house) to be Cloud-centric. – Identify existing applications that could be ported to the Cloud and start the process. – Identify all applications that do not lend themselves to the Cloud and either manage in-house or if it makes sense economically give them to a third party to manage.

Decommission your servers in line with progress. Where possible provide the associated staff with a career direction that is more service oriented and value-adding (from a business perspective).

Put this cost management initiate in a business wrapper, by stating that this exercise is taking place to create the high performance workplace of the future, or such like.

Thus your cost management starts to be seen in value-adding terms.

Your job is done in this discipline when the stern lectures stop.

Event 2: Service enhancement Now that we are running an efficient factory, we need to win the trust of the users. This is difficult to do when we hide behind service desks and ticket numbers. So there are two strategic moves here:

– Get personal. Dismantle the service desk barricades and relocate your service staff such that they sit with the users.  – Get out of the way. Empower the users with collaborative self-service technologies.

When your staff refer to users by name and not ticket number you are ready to move to the next discipline.

Event 3: Value creation Up until now it is likely that the service you deliver is both reactive and somewhat transactional. Now it is time to become proactive.

Demand stimulation or provocation selling are the focus here. The users don’t perceive they have a problem or can execute a process more effectively.

That is until you introduce innovative ways in which technology can be used to raise their game.

The focus now is more information than IT focused. Business intelligence, big data, predictive analytics are some of the key skills your people will need.

But now that you have a reputation for being trust worthy and cost sensitive they are more likely to believe your budgetary requests to implement these sexy new business enhancing initiatives.

Once the users buy the idea that the IT function is primarily a business innovation centre. This phase of the triathlon is over.

And having successfully completed the triathlon it is then time for you to move on and seek your next event, which of course will be at a different organisation.

No doubt organisations will seek out world class triathletes, so once you have a track record invitations to the ‘prestigious events’ will no doubt follow.

Ade McCormack is a Financial Times columnist, speaker and adviser on the digital economy (