I recently published a book aimed at those about to enter the world of work. The exponential rate of technological advancement is having an impact on society, work and workers. Well-meaning parents, whose working life was largely played out in the industrial era, are in danger of thwarting their offspring's prospects by virtue of doling out advice relevant to a previous époque.
I believe CIOs are faced with the same career path issues. Many jumped on the career conveyor belt with the intention of being lugged up to the esteemed position they now occupy. Often that path involved acquiring technical and commercial skills. And, in some cases, people management skills.
The pinnacle for the CIO being the top banana in respect of technology management within the organisation. Many people call this role, IT manager; an abstract term that hides the complexity that sits behind the shiny app interface. You of course understand this as does, in some cases, the leadership team that hired you into the organisation. The only problem is that the role you are doing, which needs to be done, is not the role the organisation now needs you to do.
One might conclude that in terms of career path choices you simply made the wrong choice. But you didn't. It's just that the world has changed. Digital has moved centre stage, and IT is slowly disappearing into the cloud. Your empire is being dismantled and your budget is increasingly bypassing your department.
This is not a conspiracy. The CMO is not making a land grab. It is just that your organisation cannot keep up with the changing world and nobody has got around to:
- Redesigning your job specification.
- Laying out the development path you need to take to address any competency gaps.
Many CxOs are not really aware of what is going on in the market beyond their profitability being eroded. Some see disruptive forces at work. And some have a vague sense that it is somehow your fault. Thus we are seeing CIOs becoming the scapegoat for the boardroom's poor grasp of how to run an organisation in the digital economy.
They cannot be sure whether digital equals IT, whether they overlap or whether digital is something to do with the marketing function. In kneejerk fashion, they appoint a Chief Digital Officer. This poor individual is the boardroom equivalent of a business analyst, acting as an intermediary between the users and the IT function. They don't have power as such. Their role is to try to make sense of what the boardroom wants and somehow get you to do it, as if digital is just another IT project.
You may be bewildered by the appointment of a CDO, but at the same time you may be grateful that they have brought someone in to take the boardroom heat off of you, so you can get on with the challenges of technology management.
The market is moving at a rapid pace. I would advise you to make career planning a daily rather than an annual activity. Your job now is not to reposition yourself for the market today. If you do that, then by the time you are done the market will have moved on. So you need to anticipate where the market is heading and aim for that point. Think of your career as a lean startup or Agile software development project.
So regardless of what the market wanted from you yesterday, you need to respond to what they need today and equip yourself for what they will likely need tomorrow. You need to keep talking to your career stakeholders; and talk to them in their language. You need to throw away your vision of you in the perfect role and focus on developing the skills that will keep you strategically relevant. Of course this will be highly demanding so you need to be sure that this is really what floats your boat. If not, then there will no doubt be tech management requirements on the sell-side of the cloud.
Maybe we could work up the necessary passion by not so much thinking of your career as a lean startup, but by you developing a lean start up version of your employer's business that just so happens to be aligned with where you want to take your career.
With some IT operational efficiency improvements, you could create some budget to develop a prototype to share with the boardroom. Hopefully you will gain funding for this 'change the business' experiment. Do this well and you might find yourself the CEO of this 2.0 version of your employer's business!