The Reflective CIO - So you want to be a CIO?
Welcome to my premiere blog post. The theme is “The Reflective CIO” for those who have considered the question: “I want to be a CIO?”. I will present views based on my own observations and first hand experiences.
Over a 15 year period, across multiple organisations, my own CIO roles have been quite diverse. This includes very large public sector ICT environments in both NZ and Australia. I’ve driven rapid transformation of ICT services, reinvented an organisation using Business Process Reengineering (BPR), leveraged ICT to transform business operations, commissioned data centres, and managed all facets of ICT operations, projects, strategy and architecture and stakeholder relationship management. Acting as a change agent and a change protagonist has been a common feature throughout my CIO career. I see leading change as a prerequisite quality for a CIO.
Being a CIO has presented me with many challenges. Many of these are as relevant today as they have always been and include:
- How to be seen to reduce ICT costs without sacrificing service levels
- How to improve business and ICT relationships and collaboration;
- How to bring a commercial focus to public service ICT;
- How to refresh capability and right-size ICT.
Plus there are many more and I will eventually cover them all in upcoming posts. Through these experiences I have gained a damn good education as the top ICT decision maker in several excellent organisations. This is an education I am happy to pass on, to fast track your own path, and improve the practice of the Chief Information Officer.
To get started, I have outlined my retrospective CIO wisdom to serve as food for thought. In doing so, consider what type of CIO you are, or would you want to be? We all have our strengths and weaknesses. And yours, just like mine, mean that you will be better suited to some challenges than others, and will best solve these challenges in your own way. As you ponder this, consider these, the things in my view that will never change:
1. You will need dogged determination if you are to succeed as a CIO
I rate ‘dogged determination’ as the number one prerequisite attribute for a CIO. The lyrics: “I get knocked down, but I get up again” come ringing in my ears like a resounding anthem. You have an undeniable duty to take your organisation on a journey. That journey may involve smooth sailing or, more likely, a rough crossing through unchartered waters.
2. Should the Business drive ICT or should ICT drive the business?
Current technology trends include the needs to navigate through the cloud, embrace (or contain) social media and exploit Big Data. In the past, equivalent evolutions might have included such things as: client server technologies, ERP and wireless networks. At the same time CIOs need to be intimately connected to the business with their fingers on the pulse, formulating approaches to help differentiate the business in the market, support operational improvements, or help protect market share from companies or products that didn’t even exist last month.
it is clear that ICT is indeed driving every business, many markets and whole industries. Technology and business challenges are irrefutably and increasingly linked and paradigm shifts will continue to emerge. But one thing should always remain constant. All ICT should always be approached from the business perspective.
3. Success will be measured through the eyes of your customers
Achieving 99.9% server availability alone doesn’t cut it anymore. In fact such service levels will be assumed and organisations will look to source such guarantees over the cloud. Only end to end service availability counts. That includes the servers, the applications, the structured and unstructured data and records, the web services, the networks and the tools that bind them all together. Add the business processes and the performance of staff and the value chain is complete.
Ultimately it’s about the number of repeat orders, the number of referrals and/or the value and volume of sales. It’s about the utilisation of assets, the return on investment and the value of shareholder earnings. In short, it’s not about technology at all. ICT organisations will need to significantly redefine themselves if they are to have relevance. New value propositions need to be devised and new business models need to be created to ensure your organisation is gaining the value from ICT that it will need not only to survive, but to prosper.
4. You’re only as good as the team you lead
ICT in a large and complex organisation generally extends well beyond the capacity of even the most seasoned CIO. Inevitably the CIO’s role must elevate to that of a ‘Lead CIO’ with ‘trusted advisors’ taking their places as Subject Area CIOs – example subject areas could be Strategy/Architecture, Portfolios, Programs and Projects, Capability Development & Sourcing, Service Delivery, Relationship Management.
As you decide what type of CIO you are going to be, it will be important for you to appoint complementary skills to your team. If you are a big picture conceptual strategic thinker with a mission to transform the business, you will need to include some ‘finisher’ traits with attention to detail. Likewise, too much technological competence and not enough business and customer affinity may seriously hinder stakeholder management and relationships.
5. Don’t expect recognition and you won’t be disappointed
Once you have dusted yourself off from all the knockbacks and redefined your purpose in real business terms you are ready for your due recognition. Surprise! It’s not coming. In actual fact it’s your peers on the executive team who are basking in his/her new found glory. Sales targets are being trumped month after month. Customer satisfaction is reaching new heady heights. The share price is 20% up for the year and a generous bonus is winging its way through in bits and bytes to their bank accounts. You’ve done well!
6. Talk the talk before you walk alongside your customers
For many years observers have marvelled over the seemingly irresistible tendency for ICT people to riddle plain English sentences with incomprehensible jargon. This trait singularly accounts for more broken relationships with business associates than any other vice. Why do we do it? Well apart from attempting to preserve the mystique behind our craft, it seems that we have a belief that it elevates us to a specialist status. In actual fact it simply reveals our craft to be more of a black art than any science, rendering it and us to be untrustworthy and unreliable. If ICT is to be an integral part of the business and not stand apart then using business language that business people can understand will get you there more quickly than anything else. If you feel ready to take on that challenge, perhaps you’re ready to be a CIO.
Well that’s my starting post. I would welcome your thoughts.
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Associate Partner, Information Professionals
Tony has over 30 years experience as an ICT professional including 15 years in Chief Information Officer (CIO) roles. His particular skills include ICT and business strategic planning, program management, business and ICT alignment and stakeholder management. He is particularly valuable for organisations seeking to get more out of their ICT investments and/or to use ICT to transform their organisation.
Labels: Architecture, Change Agent, CIO, Costs, ICT, Learning, Mentoring, Operations, Projects, Service Levels, Strategy