Take on Business Responsibility to Become a Stronger IT Leader

CIOs around the world find their leadership skills grow with expanded corporate accountability and targeted customer focus

Improve through expansion

Donald Martin, Armstrong World Industries

Since taking on the role of eCMO, I have become a better CIO. While developing consistent marketing infrastructure, content and messaging for our 140 websites, I have started working directly with our external customers. This has given me a new awareness of their needs and of our market, strengthening my understanding of our business. Learning to look at corporate strategy from their perspective has helped me develop better relationships with my colleagues at the executive level, which are further enhanced by my continuing experience as a cross-functional leader. I’ve also been able to better position my IT team to deliver customer self-service applications.

My track record as CIO is a big part of why the company’s leadership gave me the additional position—they noted that I could achieve results for multiple functions while being fair to all users and needs. I’ve now added a good deal of IT’s strengths—such as project management and requirements gathering—to marketing, which also has something to teach IT: creativity in finding and creating solutions.

Step Outside your Comfort Zone

Nick Masterson-Jones, VocaLink

When I left behind the title of director of IT to become the head of the transaction services business unit at VocaLink, I didn’t walk away from technology; rather, I expanded on how technology best serves the company and our customers. Our CEO recognized that the traditional business-IT organizational divide was not optimal for a technology-leading company. Restructuring VocaLink removes the barriers between the products and the IT function that creates them, creating greater focus on the customer, a single line of accountability and a true “one-team” spirit. The IT operations are centralized under our COO, which gives me the space to focus on strategy, sales and product management, and all the technology that allows those functions to happen. It is easier for me to make decisions on prioritization and funding, because I have both PaannddL accountability for my business unit, and the traditional CIO responsibility for delivering the portfolio of programs and products that underpin that P&L.

Despite the similarities between my old role and my current one, I am learning every day and honing new skills, such as product management and marketing. For example, I’ve rediscovered that market research, when done well, is one of the best tools a business leader can have in maximizing ROI. Knowing what technology will do for our business is simply not enough. However, I am fortunate in working with a very strong executive team who are always willing to share experiences and provide advice.

Become an External Advocate

Partha Biswas, Joerns Healthcare

Being an executive sponsor for some of our strategic customers gives me a broader business perspective and helps me play an active strategic role within our company. Along with our CEO and eight other executives, I am an advocate, adviser and problem-solver for our customers. As an extension of my CIO role, I oversee those accounts to maintain an executive-level relationship and create new business opportunities for our company.

When I joined Joerns, I had to first focus on building an IT organization from the ground up. While this earned me the respect of my executive colleagues, I was still a passive member of the C-suite who they filled in on strategy discussions instead of asking me to join the meetings, where I could influence the decision. I knew I had to become more involved in running the business, which meant getting in front of customers. I became one of the faces of the company at trade shows and industry events. I soon learned that we were missing many business opportunities through improving partnerships with our customers and embedding technology within our products and services. Our CEO developed the executive sponsor role to provide the needed perspective on our selling and business development process. To take on this additional responsibility, however, my IT house had to be in order, and I had to trust my direct reports to be focused on delivering value to our internal customers in my stead.

Martin, Masterson-Jones and Biswas are all members of the CIO Executive Council, a global peer advisory service and professional association of more than 500 CIOs, founded by CIO’s publisher. To learn more, visit council.cio.com.

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This story, "Take on Business Responsibility to Become a Stronger IT Leader " was originally published by CIO Executive Council.

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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