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4 Strategies for Ensuring Success During the Evolving Role of the CIO

CIOs have seen their duties expand in recent years, but they may lack resources. Here’s how C-suite leaders can help maximize the value that CIOs can deliver.
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Raphael Ly
4 Strategies for Ensuring Success During the Evolving Role of the CIO

AT A GLANCE

  • CIOs are under pressure to create value for their organizations in a business environment where technology is no longer a back-office asset.  Technology is now a competitive weapon. 
  • It is often necessary to decouple risk and disruption initiatives, ensuring that technology leaders have the freedom to focus and realize their mandates. 
  • C-suite leaders should gain alignment on technology governance, let go of past expectations, establish a clear definition of value, and surround the CIO with the right capabilities.

As enterprise technology has evolved, so too have the roles and responsibilities of the IT professionals tasked with managing it. In particular, CIOs and other corporate technology leaders have seen their duties expand significantly in recent years, though not all are equipped to bear the burden of increasingly great expectations.

Modern CIOs are under immense pressure to create value for their organizations in a business environment where technology is no longer a back-office asset but is now seen as a competitive weapon. Executives that make bold promises of innovation to customers, employees, and shareholders are turning to their technology leaders to deliver on those promises. Given the increasing velocity of disruption in today’s digital economy, their patience and tolerance for failure are often razor-thin.

Within many companies, however, CIOs lack both the authority and the resources to execute their most ambitious mandates. The average IT department today spends more than half of its budget on simply maintaining business operations, and far less on creating new capabilities and revenue streams.

Amid these constraints, CIOs must adapt to survive and realize the promise of the future.

Reinventing roles

In the not-too-distant past, corporate technology leaders could succeed by remaining operationally focused and risk-averse. That approach no longer serves CIOs tasked with creating value rather than preserving it. Success in the new business environment requires a dramatic shift in thinking.

Now, CIOs must aim to proactively contribute to their organization’s bottom line — not by finding the cheapest technologies or merely keeping networks and systems secure — but by identifying opportunities for growth and improvement. In addition to managing enterprise tech stacks and related investments and activities, they must share big ideas and be business partners in value creation.

As corporate technology leaders take on more responsibility for enabling business strategies, they must also adapt to new ways of working. The rigorous step-based approach that has traditionally characterized IT workflows must become more flexible, both to allow for the experimentation that is essential to innovation and to promote faster, more decisive decision-making. In much the same way that agile methodologies have largely displaced waterfall approaches in software development, agile IT departments will inevitably pave the way for successful organizations to fulfill their mission.

A shared understanding

In order to best position technology leaders to thrive, it’s critical that their peers in the C-suite set clear and realistic expectations. A CIO that has been asked to simultaneously conserve business capital and be ruthlessly creative will likely fail at both. Thus, it’s often necessary to decouple risk and disruption initiatives, ensuring that technology leaders (be it Chief Information Officers or Chief Digital Officers) have the freedom to focus and realize their mandates.

Additionally, there are several other strategies that C-suite leaders can implement to help maximize the value that CIOs can deliver.

Gain alignment on technology governance

The purview of the CIO might extend to all decisions related to technology investments and protocol. However, there are likely other stakeholders influencing these decisions as well, which could create friction that ultimately hampers productivity. To prevent this scenario, executives should clearly define responsibilities — whether they’re divided among a few C-level decision-makers or among entire departments — so that the right people are held accountable for spending, innovation, and any other key organizational objectives.

Let go of past frameworks and expectations

Seasoned CIOs might struggle to pivot to a more proactive role within the enterprise, and some IT departments will fail in a more unstructured environment. But to ensure success over the long term, modern technology leaders must accept the notion that they’re a Swiss Army knife and learn how to deploy the right methodologies and frameworks for each challenge they encounter, with the understanding that no single approach will be effective every time. Moving forward, the most effective CIOs will embrace new ways of thinking and working and will adopt a beginner’s mindset, welcoming opportunities to roll up their sleeves, learn new skills, and experiment with new ideas.

Establish a clear definition of value

To create value for their organizations, CIOs must first understand what value creation means in the context of larger business goals. Where one business might derive the most value from the introduction of new revenue streams, another might be more focused on preventing costly security breaches or achieving cost savings through automation. To achieve success, CIOs must understand the vision and objectives that the rest of the C-suite has prioritized, and then determine how custom business and technology solutions can best accomplish those objectives.

Surround the CIO with the right capabilities

Problems without a clear solution aren’t meant to be solved alone. As the challenges confronting technology leaders continue to expand, it’s increasingly important that they have co-workers with skills and expertise to supplement their own. By hiring the right talent, executives can significantly reduce technology costs and better position their CIOs to meet the expectations placed upon them.

The well-documented success stories of business leaders like Musk, Bezos, Zuckerberg, and more have highlighted the power of technology as a business tool. In 2022 and beyond, the spotlight on the CIOs who wield it will continue to get brighter. By implementing the strategies above, technology leaders and their peers in the C-suite can ensure they’re equipped to rise to the occasion and realize the promise of the future.

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By Raphael Ly
Vice President
Raphael is a trusted advisor to executives and is recognized for his leadership, creativity and ability to deliver holistic business transformations.

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