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The Role of the CIO, evolution or revolution?

on ‎03-14-2014 12:42 AM

Source: CloudTweaksYesterday I read that the CIO from DWP in the UK was quitting. News of CIOs changing jobs happens regularly, but what got my attention was a small paragraph in the article “The CIO role is being gradually removed across central government, in favour of a combination of a digital chief and a CTO – a model promoted by the Government Digital  (GDS), led by digital director Mike Bracken and government CTO Liam Maxwell.”


Digging a little deeper in the second article, the role is split between a CDO, Chief Digital Officer and a CTO. The CDO is responsible for the digital strategy and citizen engagement, the CTO for the IT infrastructure, supplier relations and the bits and bytes of technology.


A couple weeks ago, the Register published an article stating “The CIO is now a venture capitalist and you work at their startup”. In that article, a Deloitte study describing the tech trends for 2014 is mentioned. CIOs are reshaping how they run the business of IT.


Is the CIO dead or alive?

I’m not sure about you, but titles often mean little to me. Frankly, it is what people do that is important, not how they are called. So, whether the title of CIO, as Chief Information Officer, remains or not is beside the point. What is clear is that the role is fundamentally changing. But where things become complex is that they often have to “transform the plane in flight”.


CIOs need to figure out how information technology can truly support the business in their quest to growth and innovation. Ultimately it is all about how new technologies (Cloud, Mobile, Social & Big Data) can give the business the insights they are looking for, facilitate the interactions with employees, suppliers, partners and customers, improve operations and find new business models/markets.


But in the meantime, the CIO is asked to maintain core delivery and operations within the budget and operating model established many years ago. They need to ensure the enterprise is secured from ever more sophisticated cyber-crime, they have to maintain compliance and they are expected to keep the plane flying.


The CIO, superhero or team player?

Today’s CIOs have the choice. Either they try to manage it all themselves or they build a strong team with clearly defined responsibilities. What are those? In my mind there are six.

  • Keep the plane flying, in other words, maintain the operations and do it at the lowest possible cost. This doesn’t sound fun, but it is critical for the transformation. It requires thorough operations management combined with a good dose of lean/six sigma expertise and technical knowledge.
  • Understand the business, interact with the business teams, define their requirements and develop/adapt the IT strategy to their continuously evolving needs. This function defines what is needed in the future state.
  • Scout for technology, understand what is available in the market today and what is coming. Make your bets and invest in a portfolio of technologies you believe will enable the future state as it is being defined.
  • Manage the transformation. Knowing the future needs, having an understanding of the technologies, define, plan and manage how things will be transformed. Establish a roadmap, a governance model, a budget and ROI and ensure the transformation takes place from a technology, operations and change management point of view.
  • As the new environment comes along, there is the need for managing it, ensuring on the one hand, it delivers to the standards the enterprise is used to, and it evolves as the needs of the business do.
  • Last but not least, manage the organization, its skills, its maturity and its responsibilities. In a period of uncertainty, resulting from this massive change, communication is of the essence. Beside taking care of evolving the organization it is critical regular messaging on the evolution is provided, both to the IT department and to the business

That is the team I would put in place to perform this transformation. I leave the choice of titles to you. There are a couple characteristics though that are critical. There is a budget and in most enterprises things need to be done within that budget. So, it becomes a question of making choices. I’d say the choices should be made collectively so all members of the team fully participate to the transformation. There is a sense of ownership. The final decision maker, in case of inability to come up with a consensus, is the leader though. But discussions are open, honest, transparent. Mistakes will be made, and that is fine. They should be recognized and lessons should be learned. But it should not become a blame game.


At the same time, agility, customer focus and responsiveness needs to be distilled in the organization. In such transformation, the only constant is change.


The CIO as a transformational leader

Up till now, IT has been the guardian of the software and the data of the enterprise. Information Technology was the responsibility of IT. Business people relied on IT to deliver the functionality and information they required. But that is changing rapidly. As digital technology percolates all parts of the organization, as business units and departments hire IT literate people, as the consumerization of IT makes the technology more available to users, all parts of the company are jumping on the bandwagon.


And frankly, in most enterprises, there is no organizational or technical governance to streamline efforts. This is where the CIO should take the lead. But he should do it in a collaborative fashion, not try to preserve the old empire. Leadership skills are critical here. By demonstrating the benefit of a joint approach, by being seen as above the turf wars, the CIO can regain the credibility he requires to lead the transformation. Being able to count on a strong team within the IT department, he can focus his efforts on corralling the organization around a vision of the future and an implementation plan of how to get there. Again, this requires communication, communication and communication.


Should the CIO change title?

You know, CIO does not just stand for Chief Information Officer, but also for Chief Innovation Officer. On a more serious note, what is important is to earn the right of leading the digital transformation. If the term CIO is loaded within the organization, changing titles to mark the new start may be beneficial. In that case a term such as the Chief Digital Officer may become an alternative. But titles are ultimately no more than titles. What is key is showing the change, demonstrating there is a new mindset, getting to results.



Is the transformation to the digital world an evolution or a revolution for the CIO? I would say it depends. Some CIOs. Primarily those already linked to the business will see it as an evolution, the continuation of the efforts they have already taken to work hand in hand with the business. Other CIOs, focused mainly on technology will definitely see it as a revolution. Where are you in that spectrum and how do you take on the digital transformation?

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