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Get the CIO back in the driver seat, which driver seat?

on ‎12-07-2013 01:32 AM

Digital enterprise.jpg


How IT can get back in the driver’s seat, asks Forbes, reporting on the Sungard conferences. CIOs (and IT in general) seem to have lost their seat at the table when it comes to making decisions about cloud computing in the enterprise. And the bad guys seem to be the CMO, and cloud. Indeed, “cloud enables CMO to bypass CIO” claims Darinia Khongwir. ComputerWeekly asks, CIOs are from Mars, CMOs are from Venus, but then adds… not any more. CIO magazine asks a related question, are CIOs destined to work for the CMO? To re-use a well-known phrase: “Houston we have a problem”.


In the new style of IT, focused around the delivery of services the mysterious traditional IT department no longer has its place. A tech savvy workforce, the consumerization of IT, highlighted with our day to day use of smartphones and apps, force IT to change behaviors and address the needs of the business much faster and more accurately, or they will be bypassed.


We often hear people talking about the digital industry. Let’s look at it, everything is becoming digital. Our phone conversations, our photos, our books, our films and videos, they all are digital. 97% of money only exist under the form of bits and bytes on computers. Each and every one of us is using something digital every day, being it his mobile phone or his TV. So, the CIO can no longer present himself as the guardian of the digital world. Having him in the digital driver seat would mean he rules our lives.


Far away from me the idea the CIO should be bypassed. But IT can no longer rest on its laurels. It has to help add value to the bottom line. For doing that, IT needs to deserve the respect of its peers. In my mind this cannot be achieved by trying to get back into the driver seat, but rather by working with the other CxOs to digitally enable the enterprise and its eco-system. So, what should the CIO do?



If you’re a CIO, the first thing I would say, is listen. What are the business people expecting from IT? What does his team not address? How are the services he provides experienced? Why are they going elsewhere for services? The answers might not be pretty, but it’s important for you to listen.  Don’t start arguing. What you’ll hear is perceptions. Yes there may be good reasons why things are the way they are, but that does not change the perception.


Also, wait when your users are finished speaking. As people hate silence, they will tell you more. And that is what you want to hear, because that is when the fundamental feelings are coming out. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. You have to make sure you get to the bottom of things.



Analyse what you’ve heard. Group feedback by topic, and try to understand why the users have such perception. What creates that perception? What can you and your team do quickly to change perception? And what is feasible in the long run to address the perception?


Then start looking at what your users are expecting from IT. Think about how you could deliver that to them. What will you have to do? Do you need to change your priorities? Take a hard look at your operations. Ask yourself whether your team is properly organized. Can you make it more efficient by spreading the responsibilities differently? Do you need new skills to address the needs of your users?


Demonstrate results

Now, you know what you are left to do. Just do it, but be laser focused. Measure progress regularly. Go back to your users and ask them whether they noticed the difference. Celebrate the first successes with your team so they understand two things, first it’s an achievement and second, you’re dead serious. Don’t stop at the first improvement. Keep going. Once the users realize you listen to them, they will tell you more. That in turn will allow you to address other frustrations, the ones that did not come up in the first place.


Develop a continuous improvement dynamic

The only constant should be change. Build a mentality of continuous improvement within your team. But that requires dialog with your users. So, you may want to formalize that dialogue and put a governance in place so both parties understand what is required, understand what is feasible and build bridges. This will create the credibility you are looking for, both for yourself and for your team.


Some CIOs go as far as to implement portfolio and project management tools to receive the requirements of the users and address them. In doing that they gain a good understanding of the dynamics of their department while understanding how the budget is utilized. You may want to do that to facilitate the transformation you have ahead of you.


Transform IT to become the digital enabler of the enterprise

Once you regained credibility, you want to become a key force to digitally enable the enterprise. Notice, I wrote, a key force, not the key force. Nobody will be in the driver seat, except maybe the CEO. It is fundamentally teamwork where we combine the skills of the CxOs to re-invent the way business is done. IT has a role to play. The CIO specifically should become the one describing how technology can help the enterprise in its digital transformation. The CMO will focus on the understanding of customers and markets, the head of supply chain on the eco-system etc. But they all require help in understanding how technology can facilitate analysis and collaboration. And that’s where the CIO truly adds value. Board of directors understand intuitively that they need to evolve to that digital world, but most don’t really have a clue of how they can do it. That’s where the CIO helps.


Buy all of that, but I don’t have the budget

How often have I heard that statement? And it’s often followed with complains that the CFO, the “boss”, wants costs reduced. Well, if a large part of the company feels IT does not add value, why would the CFO give IT increased budgets? So, the CIO has to initiate the transformation under the “old” regime, as things will only start changing when perception has evolved. It’s the chicken and the egg problem.


Knowing that many IT departments still spend 70 to 80% of their budgets in keeping operations running, and only have 20-30% for improvement, I would advise that, in parallel with what I described above, the CIO may have to transform his/her IT platform, using automation and cloud technologies to reduce the operations costs, freeing up more budget for innovation.


Too much to do at once? Maybe, but do you have the choice? Probably not. Over the years I’ve noticed that teams having a sense of urgency, find the strength to change things quickly. If you’re on a burning platform, you’ll become creative and will find a solution to either extinguish the fire or jump from the platform.


So, the trick may be to create that sense of urgency within the IT department, making them understand the status quo is no longer acceptable. The CIO may want to let the most vocal users free to express their views to the department.



As the world is becoming increasingly digital, the CIO has a unique opportunity not to regain the driver seat, but to become a key member of the management team that takes the enterprise to the digital world. But to do that he needs to regain credibility and he can only do that by listening to the complains and addressing the issues. To do this within the available and shrinking budgets may seem difficult, but creating a sense of urgency may make the team more creative and willing to change. It’s a journey and there might be a couple bumps and sleepless nights along the way. But it is the only way for IT to regain its reason to exist.

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on ‎01-08-2014 06:12 PM

Christian, your fundamental point is excellent -- especiallywhen you say " IT needs to deserve the respect of its peers".  I've been both a CIO and a senior relationship manager between IT and global product lines, and I've found that many people in IT really understand the need to work "with the other CxOs to digitally enable the enterprise and its eco-system".  "Digital enabling" is what we like to do, what we dream of doing -- but we want to do that rather than the basic blocking and tackling of working with the other CxOs.  In my experience, it's because we don't know really what to do.  (You mention governance, for example -- but I've had dinner with the CIO of an amazingly large bank who still does not have any governance process for lining up his IT group's priorities with the core strategy of his business.)  The good news:  it is possible to make progress on this basic work of governing, communicatiing, and demonstrating the value of IT to others in the enterprise.   I've been writing about these basics at, and I'm convinced it's possible to make progress in showing IT's value even before you've completed the important work of "digital enabling".

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