by Myles F. Suer

Delivering future-focused enterprises

Apr 20, 2018
CIODigital TransformationIT Leadership

What are CIOs doing to differently than their peers at future-focused enterprises?

Effective CIOs clearly have a key role to play in building and facilitating future oriented enterprises. Given this, I asked the #CIOChat two telltale questions to determine what they are doing differently. What should CIOs do to ensure their staff do not become just order takers? And how do CIOs and their team’s go about identifying emerging disruptive technologies? Their answers say much about delivering an organization that has the ‘the right to win’ in the digital age.

Driving a bigger role for their IT

Our CIOs had a mix of answers to the order taker question. Some said that being an order taker isn’t bad unless it is all an IT organization does. Others perceived the term as altogether negative.

Regardless, both groups of CIOs had some meaningful perspectives about changing this perception. They felt that the starting point for creating a change in perception is building a foundation for operational excellence. They stressed that it is essential CIOs get out of ‘firefighting’ as soon as possible. Fixing this starts by talking and listening to their team. Our CIOs said there can be a communication void between first level management and their CIO. First level managers know the real problems and often even have solutions, but they’re not always heard and often are afraid to talk to their CIO. After talking, CIOs and their teams need to execute and show a continuous ability to get things done.

With this accomplished, our CIOs felt that it is essential to be able to talk to the business in language they understand and to show an understanding for business challenges and goals. Speaking the language of the business was seen by some as the reason for CIOs to pursue an MBA. These CIOs claim that taking this step helps increase the odds of being able to thrive in the evolving CIO role.

Creating the foundation for innovation

CIOs feel that becoming more than an order taker involves creating an IT organization and environment that encourages and supports innovation, preferably within cross functional teams. They said that it is important to get the rest of the business to have ‘skin in the game’.

It is, also, important to avoid the perception of IT as a cost center. In accounting parlance, a cost center is an area of the business that collects costs but does not create operating value or revenue for the enterprise. When I worked on an ‘IT Financial Management’ Solution earlier in my career, I learned it was critical that IT organizations collect their costs not by things but by business services that operating groups recognize. By collecting the fully burdened cost of a service, the business can argue for the value generated by line items in annual budgeting processes.  

Becoming the group that doesn’t just say no

Next, it is important that CIOs and their teams ensure that IT isn’t perceived as the group that always says no, moves too slow, or doesn’t understand what the business needs. Part of fixing this is knocking down siloes within IT.  As a part of this, CIOs need to empower their organizations to look out for themselves for technology change that impacts the business services they support. CIOs need to overcome these too by staffing strategy and designing roles that are not only good at transitions and operations. 

CIOs said as well that it is important to adopt and train everyone on a framework that brings IT together with one voice and as one team. Framework examples include ITIL, TOGAF, and IT4IT. Our CIOs said this process should optimize things IT-wide rather than for a single team. CIOs said IT leaders as well need to push back on tactical band-aids and responses wherever possible. They need to establish proactive planning, strategic goals, and business-oriented metrics.  For example, instead of measuring tickets per month for disk space, they should instead be rolling up this kind of data into a strategic metric regarding capacity planning effectiveness.

Our CIOs believe that IT leaders should drive business value through everyone’s thinking. A quick way to do so is by examining the portfolio of projects and calculating their business impact. This means seeing if you can determine whether projects drive top-line or bottom-line results. It is essential that you share your IT results with business peers. By doing this, CIOs and their teams can gain the credibility to move forward on bigger transformational agendas and to tackle more innovative projects.

Identifying emerging disruptive technologies

Once the credibility is won, what can CIOs and their teams do to help drive innovation. They clearly need to use their own judgement and understanding of how the latest technology can do the following:

  • Create new business models
  • Improve experiences
  • Increase efficiency
  • Improve the work life for everyone

Part of succeeding here involves CIOs paying more attention to what customers are doing. In university settings, this could involve paying attention to what students are developing in the dorms and in hackathons. Clearly, CIOs of all stripes need to put more focus on technology that improves the satisfaction of their company’s businesses customers. This involves watching out for new disruptive technologies but importantly ensuring they’re adding value before implementing.

CIOs interesting say that often it can be the second or third iteration or combination of the disruptive technology that makes the biggest impact. That’s when it gets real exciting, even if there are low levels of risk. CIOs need as well to read as widely as possible across social media, industry publications, etc. but also try to keep up with academic and standards work through ACM, IEEE, and others. Areas of importance today are information that leads to knowledge and predictive analytics. AI and machine learning for personalization are great opportunities across all industries. Driving a successful experience matters. A challenge occurs when big data includes old data in a world where outcomes are changing quickly.

CIOs need at the same time to do the following:

  • Keeping tabs on peers in other verticals
  • Make sure there are actual business scenarios that make sense for the ‘shiny new toy’
  • Read both evangelists and naysayers to stay honest

But as when we talked to Whitney Johnson, people is where real disruption occurs. Joanna Young, former CIO of Michigan State University, shared here Spencer Johnson tale about four mice and how they handle change. Two of them bravely fail and learn their way through the maze to find new cheese, one of them slowly learns but adapts, and one clings to the past. Clearly, winning CIOs need to be fast learners.

CIOs, in the age of disruption, need to be always learning. They need to get their organizations out of just order taking. This starts by getting out of firefighting and by showing excellence at implementation. The truth is CIOs can drive excellent organizations for their business and for IT.