I often use this column to give advice to CIOs about how their role is changing in the digital age and what they should be doing to ensure they can take advantage of the opportunities that these changes are creating. Over the last few months I have had conversations with a number of CIOs that are indeed changing; they are becoming more business focused, thinking about the customer experience and identifying how technology can be used to create value for their organisation.
But many of these CIOs are finding it difficult to change the perception that the rest of the business holds about their role and that of the IT function. In many organisations the CIO role is still viewed as a technical position and not as a business leader, while the IT department is seen as a support function instead of a partner that can help solve business problems and identify opportunities to use technology to create value, grow revenue and create competitive advantage.
My response to CIOs in this position is that there is always more they can do to change how other members of the C-suite view them. Every conversation or interaction with a peer is an opportunity to influence that person's perception of the CIO role. And it may take some time; many executives have only known highly technical IT leaders and most of those will not have shown any interest or aptitude when it comes to business issues. But I also understand that there is a limit to what any individual can do to change the perception of others. And many organisations do not have the luxury of time; for many industries and businesses the risk of disruption is very real. By the time the CIO has finally changed perceptions about their role and is viewed as a business leader that can help shape the organisation's digital future, it could be too late.
So, with this in mind, here is an open letter to CEOs and the rest of the executive team to encourage them to view their CIO through a different lens.
Digital will impact every industry and every organisation at some stage. It is a question of when, not if. Your business will therefore have to become a digital business in order to survive in the long term. But becoming a digital business presents many challenges. Digital spans the entire organisation and requires businesses to rethink their business models, products and services. Technology is key to digital; it is both the enabler and the driver of digital business.
Your CIO is well placed to play a key role in leading your organisation's digital transformation. They occupy a unique position within the organisation; no other role or function has the same end-to-end view of the business allowing them to gain an unparalleled understanding of the people, process and technology issues spanning the full business lifecycle. This end-to-end perspective is key to creating seamless digital experiences and identifying opportunities to use technology to create new revenue streams. No other executive has the knowledge of technology and the end-to-end view of the business that is key to being a successful digital business.
CIOs are changing – they are becoming proactive business leaders instead of just being reactive technology leaders. They understand what technology is available and how it can be used to create value for the organisation. They are outward looking, focused on what is coming next and how the organisation can use technology to generate revenue, create new products and services, and enhance the customer experience.
But, to get the most out of your CIO, you need to give them the right support, remit and profile within the organisation. Here are five steps you can take to ensure your CIO can help shape your organisation's digital journey:
1. Be clear about the CIO role
Your CIO should be playing a key role in setting the overall direction for the digital business, using their unique perspective of the organisation, together with their knowledge of business and technology to identify opportunities for technology-enabled, game-changing innovation. This remit needs to be communicated and understood throughout the organisation.
2. Support your CIO in transforming IT
Digital businesses need a different type of IT function and a platform that can cope with the challenges of digital markets, products and services. The transformation will be a major undertaking but it is essential to being a successful digital business. Mistakes will be made along the way, service levels are likely to dip and some staff will resist the changes. The CIO will need your support and backing to see the transformation through to a successful conclusion.
3. Become knowledgeable about technology
As a leader of a digital business you have to be comfortable talking about and using technology, you have to promote its use and underline its importance. If you are unable or unwilling to engage with technology then you are sending a signal that technology is not important, that it is peripheral to the core business and so, by association, is the CIO.
4. Involve and engage them
Your CIO can only lead the digital transformation of the business if they are attending the right meetings and being involved in the right initiatives. This may mean giving them a seat on the board but at the very least the CIO should be part of the top team of senior executives that runs the business and should therefore be included in the relevant executive committee, chief executive's team or management board meetings along with the other C-level roles. As well as providing your CIO with the profile and prominence required to perform their role, this will also ensure that technology is a central part of your organisation's thinking in all such forums.
5. Set business objectives and measures
Your CIO's performance should be measured in terms of the value they create and their contribution to revenue and other business metrics in addition to the cost and performance of the technology and services they are managing on behalf of the business. Setting objectives based on creating value and realising the organisation's strategic goals will underline the focus for the CIO role as a business leader.
You get the CIO you deserve; if you give your CIO the right level of support and endorsement then they are far more likely to add value to the organisation. If you do not provide the right support then your CIO will continue to be viewed as the head of a technical support function and your organisation will be depriving itself of skills and experience that are essential to its digital future.