Duality of a CIO’s responsibility

It’s not about keeping the trains on time vs. implementing the hyperloop. It’s about doing both.

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IT can often be a very emotional experience. Don’t believe me? Here’s an example:

I tend to think I’m a pretty sane guy. But there are several things that never fail to make me lose my mind.

  1. Inconsiderate Driving. I’ll be fine, mentally communing with my commute. Suddenly someone will cut me off. Two seconds flat and I’m insane.* And that’s when I’m not even in a hurry.
  2. Fallible Technology. I’ll be just about to hit my day running, ready for a 9 a.m. meeting. 8:59 on the nose and up pops notification that my password has expired. Not cool, man.

But people lose it. Including me. In order for a CIO’s team to successfully execute IT strategy and support the organization's objectives and goals (driving IT as the business), part of the job involves minimizing impact. That means that before you can revolutionize something new, you need to make sure to keep the lights on.

Whether at a tech or consumer company – in California, Texas, or Massachusetts – I’ve heard the mumblings when the new CIO arrives. “Oh, great, I’m sure he’s brilliant. But can he fix the Wi-Fi?”**

True, operations has to be a well-oiled machine; there is never a good time for something to go down. However, as important as the “IT basics” are, simply keeping things running smoothly is no cause for celebration.

It’s more than simply keeping the trains running on time. I’ve mentioned before that bi-modal IT is bunk. Teams should never focus solely on one over the other. From a strategic perspective, of course any CIO would want to move away from trains to the fantastical possibility of the hyperloop. As a fellow CIO once shared with me, “Don’t talk strategy when your operations stink; do talk strategy when your operations are fairly good.”

This may sound blasphemous. But the key is not to create or indulge in tunnel vision. Know what stage your company is in – when does the focus need to be on operations; when do you strive for transformation. A CIO’s team needs to earn the right to evolve a transformation. For that, you must look at the company culture. The same formula that works for VMware can’t simply be replicated and work for Dell.

Nobody just wants you to run the trains on time. Keep in mind that what may be your strategically transformative plane today will become the expected timed train tomorrow. As VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger recently noted, our expectations are moving from mind-blowing to mundane at an increasingly rapid pace.

* Don’t worry, the extent of my road rage is grumbling to myself using colorful street language.

** I use male pronouns here because this is a direct quote that reached my ears after I joined VMware. Also, our Wi-Fi almost always works.

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