The CIO as a Consultant, Evangelist and Innovator

big bangThe evolving nature of the CIO’s role is a hot topic these days as technology becomes an essential part of every business.   This evolution is required as many CIO’s had traditionally been focused on operational issues and risk avoidance, along with a smattering of growth enabling projects. While risk is still very important with an increase in cyber security and with operational issues abundant, the cloud provides plenty of services for helping manage both risk and standard operations. This frees up today’s CIO to focus on more strategic and innovative projects.  So, what does this really mean for today’s CIO, their role, and the skills required to be successful?

Last year, I gave a lecture at an Executive Development Program, where I presented on the CIO of the future.  In reality, it was really about what the CIO should be today, not in the future.  Specifically, I said that some of the skills and roles required for today’s CIO were:

  • An evangelist for innovation and agility
  • Acting as a consultant to the other business groups
  • Being a business enabler
  • A social champion
  • Having the ability to make the complex seem simple.

There were others, but these are what stand out to me as I reflect upon what is really needed today to be a successful CIO.

At the top of the list is that the CIO needs to be an evangelist for innovation and agility.  Innovation and agility are front and center and required in today’s fast moving business climate, and the CIO needs to be right there leading the charge.  This doesn’t mean that the CIO is going at this alone as that won’t be successful.  That’s where the evangelist side comes in.  Coming up with new digital business opportunities, championing new projects, leading by example, and evangelizing change are all part of what a CIO needs to be doing day in and day out.  Change doesn’t happen overnight so persistence is definitely needed.  Driving transformation within IT is critical as the IT department should  be ground zero for change and agility, but these themes need to become pervasive throughout the organization for true change to happen.  Moving the culture away from accepting the status quo needs to be pushed throughout the company.  That’s where today’s CIO can shine.

When talking about the new roles a CIO needs to play, being a consultant to the other business groups is one of the most important.  One of the biggest knocks on corporate IT in the past was the culture of saying no.  This was typically the case when everything had to come into a centralized world and the IT department had to control all software, whether internally created or externally purchased.  There was usually more demand than IT could handle, causing the word no to come out more often than it should have.  Long, drawn out projects became the norm, resulting in the rise of rogue IT where the business went off and procured software on their own.  In today’s fast moving world where enterprise class SaaS applications can be purchased with a credit card, this centralized control-center IT world is no longer necessary and an inhibitor to innovation and agility.

Today, the CIO needs to accept that there are great cloud technologies available and the business no longer needs to go through IT if they don’t see any value provided.  This is where the CIO needs to be the consultant to the other business groups.  The CIO shouldn’t be saying no, but instead be working closely with the business to consult on how an application will integrate with other systems, provide expertise on due diligence, contracts, security, and vendor capabilities, and advise on how the application can be quickly implemented without unnecessary bureaucracy or risk.

All of the above then empowers the CIO to be a business enabler.  Not only should the CIO be consulting on integrating cloud apps, they should also be looking for other innovative ways for the business to grow.  They should be speaking with customers to get a better understanding of what the customer really wants and how they might better interact with the company.  A good CIO can then use their experience to help champion new digital ways of engaging with the customer, enabling business growth.  The CIO holds a unique position in a company as they get a view into every business group and all the critical processes, both internally and externally facing.  If they really understand their business, and if they’re aware of the digital technologies available, they should have the ability to truly identify where the potentials exist to enable new business opportunities.  This digital mindset should also be internally focused, improving employee satisfaction and productivity. The CIO should be thinking about this every day.

To be truly effective though, today’s CIO needs to be social.  This means they’re creating relationships with other business leaders, while at the same time pushing a social culture within the company and with their customers.  They should be active on Twitter, LinkedIn, Vine, Google+, and other social media channels, and interacting with peers inside and outside their industry.  Championing internal social tools is important. I’ve seen firsthand how internal social adoption can be a cultural challenge, but it helps tremendously to be able to demonstrate experience using social media and how these tools can be used successfully internally to improve productivity.  You can’t champion change without being a first-hand social CIO.

Lastly, a successful CIO needs to be able to make the complex sound simple.  They need to be able to simplify the complex world of business technology and explain what’s happening to business leaders in simple terms.  Not using acronyms and speaking in the language of the business is critical (see my post on The CIO Golden Rule-Talking in the Language of the Business).  If you can’t easily explain to a CEO how the cloud enables business agility without any technical speak, as an example, then you won’t be successful nor listened to when championing new digital business ideas.

If your focus or current skill set isn’t strong in any of these areas, think about how you get there.  Success in today’s quickly evolving world demands it.

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