Fixing the “Malfunctions” of the CIO

Malfunction StampI just read “The Four Malfunctions of a CIO” by Joe Scherrer and wanted to expand a but on what Joe writes about.   Before I do that, let me share the ‘four malfunctions’ that Joe highlights. They are:

  • Not knowing yourself.
  • Not communicating well.
  • Inability to communicate the business value of IT.
  • Not being organized.

These are definite malfunctions but they are ‘fixable’.  Joe provides some good advice on how to go about resolving these particular malfunctions. I won’t rehash his solutions here but I recommend you jump over and read them yourself.

I shared Joe’s post earlier today via Twitter and quickly had a great question from @zach_g about any ‘additions’ that I’d add to the article.  I was already thinking about writing something but Zach pushed me over the edge to get this post published.  Thanks Zach! 🙂

While I agree with Joe’s “malfunctions”, there’s a few more that I’d like to add to the list.  They are listed below and a discussion of each follows.

  • Not understanding the user base within your organization.  This is a difficult thing to ‘solve’, but it is a must for any CIO to address.  If the CIO (or IT) doesn’t truly understand the users within the organization, no technology solution can possibly deliver what the business needs.
  • Focusing on the ‘solution’ over the ‘problem.’  Many times, we within IT tend to focus on the solution rather than the larger problem we are asked to solve. We call something ‘complete’ once we’ve met a set of requirements and then we move on to the next solution to implement. We move from one project to the next without looking at the bigger picture of the business, which includes the larger business problems that cannot be solve with piecemeal solutions.
  • Not pushing ‘agility’ as a core capability of IT.  The modern (and future) IT group must be an agile one. It’s no longer good enough to focus on processes and systems and keeping the lights on…the IT group has got to be able to work at the pace of business today, which is not the pace that we are used to working within the IT group.  Agility will bring rapid change for the better to both the IT group and the organization as a whole.

What are some additional ‘malfunctions’ that see with CIO’s today?

Demystifying IT

head_scratchingIn a recent “Movers and Shakers” article by Martha Heller titled “The Power of Metaphor“, Malini Balakrishnan, CIO of Building Materials Holdings Corporation (BMC) claimed that one of the most important roles that a CIO has today is helping the organization uunderstandwhat role the IT group plays.

Balakrishnan is quoted as saying:

“As CIOs, we need to demystify IT. When current business executives were coming up through the ranks, technology was not as pervasive as it is today so they were able to achieve success without having an understanding of it….How do you explain to a wide range of people what IT is, what role the department plays, and how our work relates to them?”

Ten years ago (and maybe even five years ago), I don’t think you’d find very many CIO’s who were talking about ‘explaining IT to the business.’  Most were focused on their role as controller and manager of technology and information.

The days of old are gone. People within most businesses have figured out how technology works and how they can use technology within their businesses. Most marketing organizations today have taken the initiative to ‘own’ their technological future. The role of the marketing technologist is one that has grown from an idea to a reality within just a few short years.  Gartner has predicted that by the year 2017, the CMO will spend more on technology than the CIO will.

The fact that the CMO and marketing group seems to be getting all the love these days makes some CIO’s today feel hampered or sidelined by the fact that they aren’t ‘in charge’ of all technology projects and initiatives within an organization.  Some CIO’s are spending their days complaining and whining about their current situation, when in fact they should see it as an opportunity to step up and lead their company through a very interesting time of change.

As I wrote in “Woe the CIO!(?)“:

CIO’s shouldn’t spend their time bemoaning their current predicament. They should see it as an opportunity to reshape their job, their career and the roles that the IT group can play within the organization.

Nowadays, the CIO should be spending their time working with the people within their organization to help the company understand the value of proper management of technology. CIO’s should be spending their time demystifying IT.

In years past, many within IT loved the fact that their jobs were a ‘mystery’. They loved the fact that nobody else in the company could do what they did. They loved the fact that everyone had to come to them to get anything done with technology.   We all know how that has played out over the years. We’ve seen the proliferation of Shadow IT over the past few years and now we see the CMO and marketing groups ‘taking over’ the budget for technology.

The role of IT and the CIO is changing from what it used to be. Companies no longer want a ‘controller’ of information and technology….they want a leader who can help them understand and use technology to deliver value and help innovate. Companies want someone to help demystify IT.

The Role of the CEO – Driving Corporate Culture

The role of the CEOI’m sure there are many definitions of a CEO out there. Plenty of people will say the CEO should be a leader, manager, communicator and facilitator.  Other’s might say that the CEO is the person most focused on strategy and the ‘future’ of the business.

Investopedia defines the CEO as:

The highest ranking executive in a company whose main responsibilities include developing and implementing high-level strategies, making major corporate decisions, managing the overall operations and resources of a company, and acting as the main point of communication between the board of directors and the corporate operations. The CEO will often have a position on the board, and in some cases is even the chair.

Not a bad definition of the role. It does highlight the main functions of a CEO…but I’d like to add some commentary about the role of the CEO that isn’t highlighted in  that definition or in most definitions of CEO that I’ve found.

The one addition that I would add to the definition? Culture.

The CEO must be the owner and driver of corporate culture.  If culture is an important aspect of the competitive advantage for a business, the ownership of the company’s culture must live with the CEO.

If you want your business to be ‘customer focused’, that needs to be the main focus of your organization’s culture. You can’t just say to your front-line people that they should be focused on the customer…you have to live and breath ‘customer focus.’   If you want your business to be ‘agile’, you’ve got to ensure everything about your business screams “agility”.

Recently, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, was asked about his role these days. His answer? He focus on culture.  The full response was:

My main job today: I work hard at helping to maintain the culture. A culture of high standards of operational excellence, of inventiveness, of willingness to fail, willingness to make bold experiments. I’m the counterbalance to the institutional “no” who can say “yes.” I’m not going to be here forever. Many of the traits that make Amazon unusual are now deeply ingrained in the culture. In fact, if I wanted to change them, I couldn’t. The cultures are self-reinforcing, and that’s a good thing

Here we see the guy that started Amazon saying that his main goal isn’t making day-to-day decisions on operations (although he does chime in when he needs to) but his main job is maintaining and driving the company’s culture.

A company’s culture is pervasive and requires leadership from ‘on high’ like that provided by Bezos. One of the most important role’s of the CEO is to help drive and shape corporate culture. Sure, the other stuff is important as well, but without a culture that fits the business strategy, your business might just spin its wheels.

Woe the CIO!(?)

tumblr_maxet8dJqQ1rhw7hco1_r1_500Talk to some CIO’s today and you’ll hear nothing but a pity party about how their role is no longer seen as ‘valuable’ to the organization. These CIO’s will point to the growing role of marketing and the CMO in selecting and managing technology systems and solutions.  These CIO’s will talk about the ‘good old days’ when the role of the CIO was the end-all-be-all for technology and IT.

These same CIO’s talk about how they are always trying to get in front of marketing’s projects to slow them down, take them over or stop them. These CIO’s also spend a good portion of their time pushing their agenda and trying to rest control of budgets and projects from all areas of the business.

I tend to get a bit aggravated while talking to these types of CIO’s.  For some reason, they’ve decided that they don’t like having someone else ‘play’ in the technology field and are doing everything they can to make things difficult for the CMO, marketing and the rest of the organization.   Rather than embrace the new world that exists, these CIO’s are trying to hold on to the way they used to do things.

The marketing group’s ownership of digital has been growing for years and will continue to grow over the next few years. Gartner predicts that by the year 2017, the CMO and the marketing group will spend more on IT and technology than the CIO and the IT group. That really scares some folks who are used to the ‘old’ ways where the CIO and IT group was the one-stop-shop for all things technology.

Stop Complaining and Start Leading

My good friend Gene De Libero recently wrote about the migration from the CIO’s ownership of technology to the CMO and marketing group’s involvement with of technology and ownership of digital. He wrote:

This shouldn’t alienate CIOs. Instead, they should embrace this driver of digital transformation by partnering with the chief digital teams. The CIO should understand there’s a very relevant role to play in terms of addressing both the stated and unstated needs of their customers. To accomplish this, the CIO must develop a comprehensive and authoritative view of all the customers IT serves across the enterprise.

Well said Gene.

Rather than sit around and complain about their ‘demise’, CIO’s should take Gene’s advice and step up and take a leadership role within the organization. The role of the CIO is still as relevant today as it was in the future…and I’d argue that the CIO’s role today is even more important than it was in years past.  Ian Cox, author of Disrupt IT, agrees in a recent post titled “Are CIO’s being squeezed?” when he writes:

But I disagree. Far from being a sign that the CIO role is diminishing in importance, the growth in technology expenditure across the rest of the business makes the CIO even more important and influential. But it is a different type of CIO role, supported by a different type of IT function. Rather than being the gatekeeper of the technology budget and the provider of all technology used by the business, the new type of CIO and IT function act as brokers, providing advice, guidance and access to the technology required by the rest of the business.

Nicely said…and very true.

The fact that the organization is turning toward technology more today should mean that the CIO’s role should grow in stature and responsibilities.   The role of the CIO is no longer about keeping things ‘locked down’ with systems, processes and acting as a gatekeeper. The CIO role of today (and tomorrow) should be more strategic and less operational.

A few years ago, I wrote about the changing role of IT in a post titled “Spitting IT – Operations and Innovation.” In that post, I argue for the splitting of IT into ‘operational’ and ‘strategic’ arms.  This idea makes even more sense today. Organizations are already heading down this path today…its just up to the CIO to ensure the IT group plays a part in innovation and strategy and they aren’t relegated to the back room in the world of operations.

The CIO should be seen as a leader for all things digital within the organization. This doesn’t mean the CIO should own all digital projects and budgets, it just means they should be involved in a consultative role to ensure technology solutions fit into the organization’s strategic technology plan.

CIO’s shouldn’t spend their time bemoaning their current predicament. They should see it as an opportunity to reshape their job, their career and the roles that the IT group can play within the organization.

The Sidelined CIO

soc14-info-ss3-100526352-gallery.idgeThe 2014 CIO State of the CIO Survey has some interesting data related to the role of the CIO. One of the interesting pieces of that survey relates to the idea that CIO’s are feeling as though they are being pushed aside. Nearly 30 percent of CIO’s reportedly feel ‘sidelined in their businesses as they watch shadow IT increase.’

My instinct tells me that many of those 30 percent of CIO’s are struggling today because they haven’t taken the step forward to drive innovation within the organization, embrace new systems and help their organization’s drive new technology adoption to allow for flexible and agile service delivery for internal and external clients.

In most cases, if your role and your organization isn’t seen as one that delivers innovative ideas, the organization will find a way to work around you. That’s what is happening with many of these CIO’s who feel sidelined. These CIO’s have stayed in the ‘old world’ of IT where no technology project was initiated without their approval. These CIO’s are seeing themselves sidelined today because they are still waiting to be asked to ‘help’ when, in fact, most parts of the business can turn up new systems and services at the push of a button with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) providers.

Being sidelined is no fun, regardless of what role you currently hold but being sidelined as a CIO must be extremely frustrating. There’s a secret that most of these sidelined CIO’s don’t know though. That secret has to do with leadership from the CIO.

Martha Heller, author of the CIO Paradox, describes it perfectly when she writes that the CIO needs to lead inside and outside the IT organization. The organization wants the CIO to lead innovation via technology and systems. The organization wants the CIO and IT group to be at the leading edge of everything that touches technology. The organization wants the CIO and IT group to take the lead.

The only person really keeping the CIO sidelined is the CIO themselves. They are also the only person that can get themselves off the sideline and back into the game. The CIO needs to take the lead in all things technology. They need to step in front of every project that touches technology (including shadow IT) and offer their assistance. They shouldn’t try to derail these projects; they should offer any and all help that can be provided from the IT group.

One of the most important ways the CIO can get back in the game is to take a look at their data center(s). The data center is, arguably, one of the largest issues the sidelined CIO can address to provide additional value to the organization, especially if the data center is still being operated using old operational methods and techniques. Working on making the data center more agile, efficient and optimized can help make the CIO and IT group more of a leader in the eyes of the organization.

There’s no reason for a CIO to remain sidelined. 2014 CIO State of the CIO Survey has a few suggestions for CIO’s who find themselves in this predicament. They are:

  • Focus on building relationships across the enterprise.
  • CIO’s must take a leadership role within the organization and help drive business innovation, strategy and cultivate partnerships.
  • Ensure that every project is a business project, not a technology project.
  • Force the IT organization to become more focused on the business and the customer. Work with your clients to make sure you are able to help with their problems. Listen to what your internal and external clients are looking for and find ways to deliver on their needs.
  • Reimagine and reorganize the IT group to ensure agility and flexibility to deliver at the speed of business, not the speed of technology.
  • Take a look at your data center to make sure you are able to deliver new services quickly and efficiently. Investigate the use of cloud, converged infrastructure and mobility solutions to ensure that you’ll be able to deliver the services the organization needs today and tomorrow.

Being sidelined can be a difficult thing for a CIO (or any leader), but there are ways to get off the sideline and back into the game.

This post is brought to you by Symantec and The Transition To The Agile Data Center.

Are you avoiding risk or managing risk?

avoid_risk_from_ITADI just read a great article over on the Mckinsey & Company blog titled “Building a bridge from CMO to CIO” where Matt Jauchius, EVP and CMO of Nationwide, describes his approach to working with the CIO of the company.    I encourage you to jump over there and read the article…there’s some great advice to help the CMO and CIO work together.

There was a line in that article that really caught my eye. The quote from the article is provided below:

As CIO, you want a CMO to be safe and avoid obvious risk. Marketing has a cultural need to be innovative.

Now, there’s something to be said for avoiding obvious risk. You don’t want to rush off into the world and take on every risk that comes along but you also don’t want to avoid any risk altogether. Part of being in any leadership role is to decide on what risks are worth taking and then determining how to manage those risks.

There’s a considerable different between avoiding risk and managing risk.  When  you avoid risk, you put yourself and your company at a disadvantage.  As a CIO (or CMO) you should never want to avoid risk at all…your goal should be to identify and manage the risks that are necessary to ensure your organization meets its goals.

Back to that quote from the McKinsey article regarding CIO’s wanting CMO’s to be “safe and avoid obvious risk”.  While I understand and can somewhat agree with the spirit behind the statement, I can’t agree with the statement itself.    If I were a CIO, I’d want the CMO (or any other colleague) to identify and manage risk, not avoid it. In fact, if risks are ‘obvious’ there’s generally a way to manage those risks. It’s usually the non-obvious risks that really cause the most trouble for an organization.

Rather than avoiding risks, the job of a leader should be managing risk and mitigating risk. Every activity undertaken by an organization has some risk involved with it. Software development has risk.  Outsourcing has risk. Using cloud services has risk.  The difference in whether any project is a success or failure lay partly in how risks are managed and mitigated.

I have to ask you…are you managing risk or avoiding risk?

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