The drumbeat to raise the CIO\u2019s role from functional expert to strategic partner has been a constant since at least 2014. But as Billy Crystal reminded us, \u201cChange is such hard work.\u201d\nSome organizations and CIOs get it right all the time, but if current surveys are to be believed, opportunities for improvement remain. For instance, the 2018 IT Trends Study from the Society for Information Management reports that activities associated with \u201ckeeping the lights on\u201d continues to be the largest single budget category for IT organizations.\nYou can\u2019t always equate the money necessary to keep everything functioning with what\u2019s really important, right? Not to worry. There are other metrics to consider.\nA report by Gartner states that simple growth is the number one focus for CEOs in 2018. On the other hand, areas that are typically linked to organizational growth rated much lower in the Society for Information Management Trends Study. Innovation, digital transformation, and agility (within the business and IT) were ranked at the bottom of the report\u2019s Top 10 most important issues by IT professionals. That is unfortunate because a survey by Forrester Research found that the CIO\u2014not the CEO\u2014is the most important organizational leader for driving and supporting business transformation.\nTurn interest into action\nContemplating how things could be different is an early step in the change process according to the Transtheoretical Model. Thinking and talking about change are, however, eventually written off as empty rhetoric without action. Here are four ideas to help you move closer to becoming the strategic partner your organization needs regardless if you are well into your journey or just beginning. As always, I have no financial interest in any of the companies referenced.\n1. Get the basics right\nNintex Global Ltd, a business process and workflow automation company based in Bellevue, Washington, published an interesting report titled\u00a0Definitive Guide to America's Most Broken Processes. The study asked 1,000 full-time employees about their organization\u2019s most broken processes and who should be blamed for them. The top two culprits identified were technology troubleshooting and access to the tools and documents that enable good performance.\nIn addition to these two, respondents also mentioned problems with equipment onboarding for new hires; requesting a new computer or other technology device; app troubleshooting; password resets; deprovisioning of employees who\u2019ve left the company; and printing documents.\nSurvey respondents are focused in their frustration. Seventy-three percent cited IT staff as responsible for the broken processes. A deeper look at the data shows an even more interesting result: 30 percent hold IT workers accountable while 43 percent blame the CIO or IT director.\nSuccessful partnerships are built on trust, and competence plays a critical role. Failure to deliver on the basic expectations of your role reduce the chances that others will see you as a strategic partner.\n2. Expand your vision for your role.\nIf projections hold true, 85 percent of the interactions with your brand will take place without human contact by 2020. Your business needs IT leaders to be more than experts in digital technology work. That is helpful if you can pull it off, but the pace of change will mean that Python is destined to become the next COBOL in relatively short order.\nThe strategic partner of the future will be the business leader who thinks about the customer experience from a digital perspective.\nKatie Hickey, Marketing Manager at Usabilla, believes that adopting a true customer-centric approach to everything you do is crucial. She sees digital technology as a tool to do more than simply capture information. According to her, \u201cUsing technology to humanize technology is the ultimate customer experience application.\u201d\nMeredith Schmidt, EVP & GM of Essentials & SMB at Salesforce, told me that adapting a customer mindset means that IT professionals must make technology as easy to use in their business as it is in the personal lives of the individuals who work for the company.\nJim Johnson, CFO of Adaptive Insights, a Workday company, echoed that sentiment. More important, he knows that the finance professionals on his team share that desire, too.\nThe new role involves more than saying \u201cyes\u201d to every request in the name of being customer-focused. Johnson believes that a big part of the role is to be the rational voice in the room.\n\u201cI want to embrace the tools people need to succeed,\u201d says Johnson. \u201cI also must understand costs and prioritize trade-offs within a fixed budget. I need my CIO to provide sound business thinking to inform those decisions.\u201d\n3. Become comfortable with the new world of IT integration\nAccording to Adaptive Insights\u2019 Johnson, SaaS changed everything. He says, \u201cOptions are everywhere. On premises ERP systems are no longer the center of the IT universe. If you see yourself as the keeper of the infrastructure, you will be left behind.\u201d\nThe best available tools, Johnson believes, are most likely to be in the cloud. They are specialized, easy to implement, secure, perpetually up to date, and self-service.\nSalesforce\u2019s Schmidt agrees. \u201cTechnology is so accessible and so good at fulfilling a specific need. It is easy for users to go \u2018off the leash\u2019 to pursue options on their own. The business wants to do things fast. A customized application isn\u2019t as important any more. Products are designed based on best practices.\u201d\nThe new role of integrator most likely means fewer long-term projects in the future. IT partners are likely to be on the evaluation and implementation teams rather than leading them. Users will look to you to ensure data portability, security, and flexibility to operate as their own system admin on the apps they use. They want to create their own reports when they need them not rely on IT to put it in the queue to run for them.\n4. Prepare for a world that is nimble and relational.\nThe need to be nimble is a given. The days of the IT department implementing and supporting a single or even just a few tools are numbered \u2026 if they even exist today. Johnson, the Adaptive Insights\u2019 CFO, sees a future where multiple tools are implemented for multiple customers all at the same time.\nTechnology leaders must have, as he says, \u201ca different skill set that isn\u2019t based on large database and enterprise applications.\u201d\nSecurity and infrastructure aren\u2019t going away, but it is entirely possible that the application development role changes over time in the traditional IT organization. It is foreseeable that your team will focus more on project scoping, vendor negotiation, and, most important, helping customers anticipate needs than writing customized code. Those are very relational activities that require connecting with humans.\nKatie Hickey believes that Usabilla\u2019s approach of \u201cAsk, Analyze, and Act\u201d will benefit IT leaders just as much as the more traditional external customer facing areas of the business.\n\u201cHumans need to feel heard and validated,\u201d says Hickey. Strong partnerships in our personal lives don\u2019t develop without shared goals, communication, and time. It is unreasonable to expect them to do so at work.\nThat might occasionally mean stepping aside to allow your partner to take on new challenges or solve problems on their own.\nMeredith Schmidt, in a previous role at Salesforce, implemented a new application without any involvement from IT. She is quick to point out that the purpose was to experiment on a single task, and the project was done with full knowledge and cooperation from her IT partners.\nNevertheless, a new application that would have taken about a year to develop internally was up in five days and only required the work of a single analyst.\nOver the next year, IT was heavily involved in the product evaluation. Today it is managed and controlled by IT. The application has also expanded from one to forty-six jobs over that time.\nSchmidt sums up the need for a nimble partner with a strong relationship this way, \u201cI need an IT partner that will create ways for the business to try things.\u201d\nIt is easy to hear the term \u201cbusiness partner\u201d and picture a cliched relationship between colleagues. No one actively undermines the other, but neither goes out of their way to proactively help either. Your business needs and deserves more than that. It needs someone who will be flawless at the fundamentals while earning a bigger role in a different world. It needs someone who will bring ideas rather than wait to be asked. Regardless of where you are in the journey, there is still work to be done. That\u2019s the way it is with the best partnerships. Everyone continually works to make the results better.