by Martha Heller

CIO Career Coach: Drive operational change

May 31, 2017
CareersCIOIT Leadership

In this video, executive recruiter Martha Heller discusses how it is the CIO’s job to create change at the operational layer so that systems deliver their expected value.

operations aligns with business4
Credit: Thinkstock

Welcome back to CIO Career Coach, a video series I created with and This season, we’re discussing the skills that top CIOs are developing to be successful in the new era of IT. 

Today’s topic is Driving Operational Change. 

In every company, there are these three layers:

  1. Strategy layer
  2. Operating layer
  3. Systems layer

Most companies are great at the strategy layer. They understand the importance of a strategy that, for example, creates a global enterprise from a set of previously decentralized businesses. But the operating layer? That’s where most companies struggle.

Think about it: Who is going to tell all of those cranky P&L leaders that they’re part of one global company now? Who is going to ask tell them to trade in their beloved business processes for a new global standard?

So, executive teams often decide on a strategy, but then they skip that murky operational layer and go right to systems. They say, “Oh, CIO, won’t you build us a single instance of SAP? Won’t you build us an integrated data strategy or a global CRM system?”

But the problem, of course, is that master data management is political. If you haven’t created change on the operating layer, don’t bother with systems. And what happens when you put new technology over old processes? You get expensive technology and a lot of frustration. 

As Michael Mathias, CIO of Blue Shield of California, says, “As CIOs, we have the luck and the curse to see the enterprise end to end. We can see the gaps, the possibilities, the history and the future.” And he adds, “It is our responsibility to bring that perspective to the table. We must have the courage to let everyone see when the baby is ugly.”

So, how does a CIO, whose job has always been defined as leading on the systems layer, climb over to that operating layer to create change? How does a CIO get a committee of executives—who have spent the last 30 years focused on their own region, function or P&L—to look up, out, and in the same direction at your company’s future? How does a CIO get powerful, opinionated, and sometimes change-resistant executives to pick up their oars and row the boat forward as a team? 

Watch this video to find out how some CIOs are rising to the challenge and driving operational change.