Yes – IT is Still Relevant

consmerITWe had a great discussion recently on the topic “Is IT still relevant”, where I was joined with Tim CrawfordMark Thiele and Bob Egan on a Google Hangout and Twitter chat (#CIOitk), and a few themes came out that I think are worth highlighting:

The Consumerization of IT has changed our expectations of enterprise systems, and has raised the bar on what technology should be like in the
work place.  These expectations, the speed of change in today’s business environment, and the ability for the business to obtain cloud services themselves, has turned the IT organization upside down.

The challenge for today’s IT leader is to recognize this change and adjust accordingly.  Many CIO’s have already done this, but there are still quite a few who haven’t.  There is no “model” that CIO’s can just pick up and follow, but they can follow a few simple guidelines to improve their standing with the business and ensure relevance:

  • Speak the language of the business. You can’t focus on providing business value if you aren’t talking to the other business departments and executives in their language.   See my previous blog post on this subject.
  • Get out and understand the challenges your employees are facing. IT leaders must be outward looking, fully understanding the business challenges facing the organization from within and externally.
  • Embrace shadow IT. This  means embracing how the cloud is helping bring innovation into your organization faster (and better) than you can do it yourself.  There is a need for IT to be involved, but not everything has to go through a centralized IT department.
  • Focus on customer engagement. The customer is king and this is what drives the future of your business, so understand the customer needs.  Think ahead and ensure that the IT organization is doing things that can improve customer engagement.

Culture Matters

Another point that was brought up on Twitter was about culture and how that affects IT’s perception. This is a very important point and something that can’t be overlooked.  Culture really does matter.  Yes, technology has become a big part of everyone’s business but not all organizations have completely caught up to this thinking throughout the C-suite. Without a culture of valuing and leveraging technology, IT leaders face headwinds on change. Change is hard for many organizations and for those that are slow to adopt, they’ll likely be left behind.  Just ask Blockbuster.  So, all the hard work can easily be met by cynicism and doubt, but you can’t give up.

The IT Organization and the CIO of the Future

The future of the IT organization was also discussed, and a common theme was that staffing is an issue.  Cloud adoption, embracing shadow IT, and an agile mindset change the way IT organizations operate and think and the skills are different. I went through these in a presentation last year on the Future of the CIO, but the highlights are that IT leaders need to be:

  • Consultants to the business
  • Conductors vs builders
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Social
  • Evangelists for innovation and agility
  • A business enabler, focusing on what’s core and strategic to the business

Many thanks to Tim for moderating the session, Mark and Bob for their great insight, and Amy Hermes for her drive and unparalleled PhotoShop and marketing skills.  Keep an eye out for the next CIOitk (in the know) chat session.

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.

The Next Gen CIO’s are Leading Today

I had an opportunity to speak about The Next Generation CIO at the Constellation Connected Enterprise conference a few weeks back, and the topic brought to light the theme of what really makes a CIO an effective business leader both today and in the future.  In my view, the skills required for the next generation CIO aren’t much different than what’s required today.  In line with what I presented previously on the subject, one must possess business savvy, leadership, relationship building, and social skills, have the ability to act as a consultant and integrator to the business, embrace the cloud and Shadow IT, and understand the power of data and mobile.  It’s also knowing that it’s all about the business and not the technology, a crucial skill for success.  All of the skills needed in the future are already present today in those CIO’s who are on the leading edge.  Therefore, if you’re currently embracing these trends and skills, then you’re already a Next Gen Leader.

A CIO, both today and in the future, needs to be a business leader, always focusing on how IT can be leveraged in growing and improving business capabilities.  This means the CIO needs to understand the business just as well as the other executives, while always speaking the language of the business.   That’s the Golden Rule I wrote about earlier this year, and if a CIO isn’t doing this when speaking with the other executives, then they’ll just be viewed as the “IT guy” and not a business leader.  Everything IT does needs to be focused on adding business value. It should not be about the technology, and that point is what has given the CIO a bad name in the past.  Truly understanding how technology can best be leveraged for business improvement is a requirement, but the CIO of the past didn’t always get that point.  Translating technology capabilities into new business and customer engagement opportunities is what sets the “Next Gen CIO” apart from the others.

The Next Gen CIO is a consultant to the business and an integrator, and should be embracing Shadow IT.  Embracing Shadow IT means you don’t require everything to come through a central IT funnel, but CIO’s and their teams can still add tremendous business value to these decisions with contract expertise, integration direction, security oversight, and vendor partnering among other things. This is where the consultant role also comes into play.  There is a great deal of innovation happening today that addresses specific business problems, and many times those in the business are the first to discover these new tools and approaches.  They have the most knowledge on value, so letting the business champion and drive discovery is a great approach that helps IT from having to say no. What does need to happen though is that IT needs to be included in the discussion, particularly on the points mentioned above.  Without it, the risk of having insecure applications, bad and expensive contracts, and data silos increases exponentially.

Lastly, a CIO needs to understand the power of data and mobile, and leverage the cloud as much as possible.   My team has been cloud all-in for many years, and the business benefits go way beyond pure costs.  The speed in which we gain access to new product functionality, while significantly reducing our in-house development staff has been transformational.  On the infrastructure side, we’re almost out of the data center business and are relying on the mass scale and capabilities of others to meet our needs.  Unless your company is in the hardware business, moving your infrastructure to the cloud, whether pure public or hosted private, is a requirement now and in the future. In addition to the cloud, a Next Gen CIO recognizes the demands, and capabilities of mobility and data. Using data to make critical business decisions is not a new concept by any means, but the availability of new data sources  in the digital and Internet of Things world, and the amount of unstructured data being consumed has made this more critical and complex.  When talking about transformation, digital business, and new business capabilities, leveraging data and the insights it brings is even more important.  Helping the business take advantage of this data trove is a capability that will make IT critical for business success.

New skills are definitely required in the future but I believe that future is already here for many CIO’s that already have these skills.  Are you one of them?

The CIO Golden Rule – Talking in the Language of the Business

There have been many articles lately about different types of CIO’s, particularly one by IBM about CIO’s being split into two classes of leaders; strategic and operational.  The topic also continues to be front and center in many CIO conversations and conferences.  It’s a topic that I believe is very important, particularly as I continue to observe many examples of people who still don’t understand what the CIO’s real role is: a strategic business leader who focuses primarily on adding business value; whether it’s increased revenue, higher customer satisfaction, new business opportunities, or increased customer retention. To make this happen, a CIO really needs to always be talking the language of the business.  Conversations with other executives and business users need to focus on what they’re facing every day in their jobs. Talking to them in business terms is absolutely critical and one I call the CIO golden rule.

The relationships a CIO builds with the C-suite is critical to success and the conversations you have with them is a big factor towards building successful relationships.  Therefore, the conversations need to center on what you can do for the other business leaders, in their business terms.  How can you help them achieve their goals? What business problems are they facing, and how can you help them fix these problems?  These discussions should be completely about the business problem, not the technology.  Using technology acronyms or talking about the latest technology fad is a path to failure.

Additionally, by ensuring the technology projects have a direct business goal attached to them, the conversations about these projects will naturally center around a business context that will have meaning to the business executives and users. They will understand it and have a better appreciation for what IT is doing and the value you bring to the company.

I heard one technology executive talk recently about how she couldn’t get the CEO to understand why they need an Enterprise Service Bus. Hearing her say this sent shudders down my spine as that’s the type of conversation I would never have with a senior executive, let alone a CEO.  If your conversation is about a need, the business outcome should be front and center.  Not the technology.

To ensure you are always talking in the language of your business, it helps to do the following:

  1. Understand your business just as well as the other business leaders– As I’ve told others many times, my goal is to understand our business as well as, if not better, than the other senior executives.  This is critical.
  2. Know what the drivers are for long-term revenue – You know your business, but do you really know what drives revenue?  What are the levers that you can help move to increase revenue? Where will the company be in 1-2 years time, and what can you do to help get them there?
  3. Understand your customers – What do your customers want and what drives them to do business with you?  You can’t help increase revenue or improve customer satisfaction without really understanding your customer.  Better yet, go visit them.
  4. Know your employee base – Your internal customers are critical.  What hurdles are they facing in doing their job?  How can the applications they use be easy to use and intuitive?

The mission to speak the language of the business shouldn’t stop with you.  Getting your team to do the same is just as important.  As a leader, your team follows your examples and listens to your words.  I always hold periodic department meetings where I invite business leaders to speak about their specific area.  My staff gets excited by this and often come back to me for additional questions, so it’s an ongoing dialogue that is important to maintain.

To expand your team’s business knowledge, have them go through training conducted by the business groups.  New employees should attend training classes devoted to new business users.  Rotate them through short stints in the field if possible.  The goal here is not just understanding what the business does, but learning the language as soon as possible.

If your company is periodically mentioned in the press, make sure your employees see those clips and have the opportunity to ask questions. Highlighting press about the company and taking the time to talk to them in the hallway about these items is another reinforcement opportunity.

Everything above is done to ensure your teams don’t just feel a part of the business, but that they truly understand it and can talk in business terms.  It will make you, your team, and your company more successful.

The Ongoing Talk About Titles

There have been numerous articles and conversations lately about what the “new” CIO title should be.  Most of the conversation is around the Chief Digital Officer, as digital has become the mantra for organizations.  Some of the other titles being bantered about these days are Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Infrastructure Officer, Chief Integration Office, Chief Data Officer, Chief Social Media Officer, Chief Risk Officer, Chief Cloud Officer, and so on….

The real question is, does it matter?  Does the title really change the role, or is the role driven by the company culture and the IT Head’s ability to engage, transform, and innovate?  Most of the titles listed are really persona’s, and not titles.  Many CIO’s actually play one or more of these roles at any time, shifting from an integration focus to a data focus to risk, while focusing on innovation throughout.

My view is that the talk go back to focusing on HOW the CIO can innovate and help drive increased revenue or raise customer satisfaction.  Even the Chief Digital Officer role implies that the CIO has a focus that is purely digital.  What about integrating cloud services, a key function that progressive CIO’s need to handle today as they move more of their applications and infrastructure into the cloud?  Does “Digital” describe this?  Not really.   Social Media is another example.  That’s another area of disruption that the CIO needs to understand as it affects the employee base and the way we collaborate.  A role focused solely on social media could be a subset within the Marketing department, but not likely a good description for a CIO.

These discussions are not new and they do highlight the transformation and changes affecting CIO’s today.  They are worthwhile as we highlight the roles, or persona’s, that we need to understand and take on.  Let’s just not let it get in the way of creating real business value.