by Diana Bersohn

4 steps to success for a new CIO

May 04, 20155 mins
CareersCIOIT Leadership

New CIOs must be ready to go live on Day 1, learning the company’s agenda and positioning themselves as architects of innovation, writes an Accenture Strategy’s managing director.

cio success
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New CIOs have about 90 to 120 days to make their mark on an organization. The transition also creates a tremendous opportunity for CIOs. Anticipation of what digital can deliver is great.

But it is not an easy task. The lines of demarcation in companies are blurring.   New CIOs must read between the lines – between industries, customers and product developers — as they move swiftly to learn the business, find their niche and make an impact on the enterprise. Speed – or multiple speeds in the world of IT, given legacy systems and the arrival of digital – is the focus as digital drives the rate of innovation and business leaders’ expectations.  

But new CIOs are not the sole masters of their enterprise’s technology. As reported in the Accenture 2015 Technology Vision, only 34 percent of executives expect the IT organization to be the main generator of innovation in the next two years, down from 71 percent just two years ago.

That compounds the challenges faced by new CIOs who walk into the job fully aware that the average tenure of a CIO tends to be shorter than that of their other C-suite colleagues. Still, the opportunities are great for those CIOs who heed four imperatives.

1. Know how digital demand affects every area of the business

To grab the golden ring held out to new CIOs as companies seek to take advantage of digital capabilities, they need to shift the conversation from digital to business. The technology and business strategies should be intertwined.

To accomplish that, successful CIOs ground themselves in the business strategy, challenges, financials and trends. They familiarize themselves with industry dynamics, gaining an understanding of how the company’s partners and competitors use technology to drive their digital agendas.

It’s in those early days when the new CIO has the greatest opportunity to inquire about the company’s culture and perception of IT, and gather facts that can lay the groundwork for a metrics-driven plan that is both credible and actionable as the company moves its digital agenda forward.

The plan sets markers that allow the IT organization to show tangible progress towards the future digital state vision. For example, one CIO embarked upon a multiyear transformation to modernize their company’s application architecture and migrated to a shared services operating model to increase efficiency, using metrics that would allow him to demonstrate progress at each “value drop” throughout the program.

2. Become the company’s innovation architect

CIOs should be the innovation architects who sit at the epicenter of the digital transformation.   A credible CIO will put a provocative, bold plan forward, fusing business and IT visions with the potential to disrupt. For instance, a financial services company might enable new functionality on a mobile app for its customers – giving them near real-time access to financial activity, or offer customers access to a virtual customer service representative when they enter a branch.

Additionally, business strategy, imperatives, value drivers, key customer considerations and technology expectations are factored into short-term plans, such as a cloud strategy, that can light the path for IT to lead and deliver quick wins. In so doing, the CIO and IT team can demonstrate that they are primed to support the organization and move swiftly.

3. Embrace the ‘we economy’

As leading organizations adopt a “we economy” that taps into digital business, customers and networks to shape experiences and outcomes in new ways, CIOs would be well advised to do the same across the enterprise.

That means working collaboratively across departments, identifying tech-savvy executives in finance, marketing, sales or research & development, etc. to forge alliances with executives who they can work with to propel the company’s digital transformation forward. To do so, they will need to show real business chops — converse about the business and the vision for it.

The conversation also should move beyond optimizing costs and streamlining processes to drive innovation and top-line growth.  

And so, while CIOs are known for their IT prowess, they also need superb communication skills.   CIOs must listen astutely and convey complex digital concepts with the passion of a great orator to energize internal stakeholders and build support for their views, mobilize stakeholders, establish dialogues across the business and set and achieve stretch goals for how IT can support the business.

4. Rally the whole IT team to support their IT agenda

Within a couple of months, a new CIO should have a clear picture of their team’s talent and where capability gaps exist. A successful CIO will act promptly and decisively to make changes, and recruit new talent and ideas sooner, not later. They will shape a team that, like them, is conversant in the business as well as technology.

Doing so may involve training, rewarding team members to take measured risks and experiment sensibly as they change the IT culture as well as investing in new career tracks. Creating the dream team also may require looking beyond their organization to create a network of talent.

However daunting as the challenges seem, new CIOs who rise to meet them and quickly learn the company’s agenda, positioning themselves as architects of innovation, can make a significant and sustainable impact on their enterprise.   To do so, they will want to embrace the “we economy” and build a team of digital dynamos who can support them as they move along the path to success.

Diana Bersohn is a managing director in Accenture Strategy, which operates at the intersection of business and technology. Accenture Strategy brings its capabilities together in business, technology, operations and function strategy to help its clients envision and execute industry-specific strategies that support enterprise wide transformation.