|The ITG Evangelist (Table of Contents)|
|015||Time to End the Claims of “The End of the CIO”||January 31, 2012|
|I’m sick of the so-called pundits and self-proclaimed experts who are yet again contending IT’s days are numbered and the role of the CIO will soon go the way of the dodo. I can barely stomach the assertions that IT and the CIO must change – implying that IT and its leaders have not been in a constant state of change since their very beginnings.
The advent of cloud computing and the consumerization of IT are the latest “threats” to IT and the role of the CIO. Who needs the CIO and IT when you can simply buy a smartphone and use Gmail from Google? Yes, that is an outlandish oversimplification, but the spirit of it is on the mark given research shows the majority of business leaders view IT as a source of efficiency or effectiveness as opposed to a source of strategic or competitive advantage. For most organizations, IT is a cost-to-be-controlled and the CIO doesn’t even have a seat at the enterprise leadership table. Combine this perception with the fact that almost every business leadership team has long-neglected their role in governing IT and it is easy to explain the view of IT as overhead.
To make matters worse, IT is often its own worst enemy. Far too many IT organizations are disconnected from their business counterparts. They are slow-to-respond, overly complex, and too expensive. Couple this with the lack of IT governance I already mentioned and you have a CIO who doesn’t have the mechanisms in place to prove or even measure the business value of information technology. It is no wonder that most CFOs continue to bludgeon the cost out of IT.
Nick Heath of silicon.com just wrote a great post on the absurdity of the “death of the CIO”. One of the many great points he raises is the fact that the CIO, unlike other department heads, is not similarly cast in every enterprise. He cites a recent study by City University London finding that more than half of the CIOs surveyed said they had no clear definition of what their role is, and that many considered their responsibilities to often be misunderstood and ill-defined.
Though these circumstances do not bode well for IT and the CIO, the idea that they spell doom is ludicrous. Organizations who gladly shut down their datacenters and gleefully kick the CIO to the curb will eventually find they threw the baby out with the bathwater. They’ll be in for a rude awakening when one of their cloud providers goes out of business, shuts down a service because it is no longer profitable, or simply doesn’t meet required service levels. In lieu of turning to their long-gone CIO, they’ll be turning to their legal departments - and won’t that be a fun alternative. And that is actually a lesser problem compared to the consequences of a competitor who crushes them in the marketplace because their IT organization delivers game-changing innovations.
So what is a CIO to do to end these claims of IT’s imminent demise? Though I don’t think we will ever see a one-size-fits-all CIO job description, I am convinced there are principles and objectives that will serve every CIO. Here they are:
Deliver on bread-and-butter IT services
If the CIO is to have any chance of getting a seat at the enterprise leadership table, the business must first trust IT. This trust is highly unlikely if IT does not have a reputation for successful information technology service delivery. To do this, the business must believe IT
Advocate, promote, enable, and foster sound IT governance
Did the bullets above sound familiar? They are the principles of IT governance. The CIO must have an acute understanding of IT governance. This understanding will include the knowledge that IT governance is a function of the business, not of IT. Given this is lost on almost every business leadership team, the CIO has the unenviable but not impossible task of educating business leadership and taking every step necessary to remove the impediments to establishing the mechanisms necessary for the business to govern IT. Business leaders who participate in governing decisions about information technology eliminate the insidious and prevalent ‘us and them’ relationship with IT.
Understand the business
Though this may seem excruciatingly obvious, it needs to be stated. The CIO must ensure that IT is not a technology-focused silo. It may be safe to assume every CIO understands the business of their enterprise, but that is not enough. Everyone in IT must have an acute understanding of their products, their customers, and their markets.
Fight for the right to…no, not to party… to participate!
The CIO must have a seat at the leadership table. Research shows this is one of the most telling indicators of the role IT has in the business. CIOs sitting at the leadership table participate in shaping enterprise strategy, as opposed to responding to it (at best), or impeding it (at worst).
Understand the art and science of innovation
If IT wants to be a source of business innovation, the CIO and their charges must understand innovation. In addition to understanding innovation lifecycles and methodologies, IT must establish the mechanisms and means to enable and foster innovation. The CIO must also be a champion in creating a culture of innovation, and this means managing the cost of failure vs. managing the risk of failure. A great place to start is removing punitive responses to failure and making innovation part of everyone’s job in IT.
Embrace the so-called ‘threats’ to IT
No, I’m not going to recite the trite calls for the end of the “CIno.” But the CIO must obliterate any perception that IT is a roadblock or a deterrent to business progress. This requires the CIO to ensure IT is on the forefront of every technology advance – especially those viewed as threats to the organization. IT is not like pro football, the best offense is not a good defense. Instead of fixating on the shortcomings and perils of emerging technology trends, IT should charge head-first into overcoming barriers and enabling the business to exploit every technology-enabled opportunity.
I realize these suggestions will require a ton of work that will be hindered by countless obstacles. But CIOs who master these challenges will cement their role as a source of meaningful innovation, thoughtful change, and trusted deliverer of business value. And as Nick Heath stated in his post, “maybe the uncertainty over the CIO's future would finally go away.”
~ Steve 01/31/12
Article 015: Time to End the Claims of "The End of the CIO"
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