The CIO shift: from reactive to creative

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The technology leader within the business is at a tipping point: constantly balancing the day-to-day minutiae of IT management with the bigger aims of business transformation is causing huge pressure for technology chiefs.

Much to the dismay of the modern CIO (or any C-level executive), the cloud and the proliferation of easy-to-use and ramp-up technology has empowered end-users in ways only dreamed of five and ten years ago.  Need a new reporting system, collaboration software, or invoicing system?  There's a cloud service for that--and, very likely, for free.  That makes enterprise-level decision (and regulation) justification extremely difficult.


Should CIOs focus on keeping the lights on or should they instead concentrate on illuminating new opportunities for the business through the use of digital technology? Royal Mail CIO Catherine Doran recognises both the conundrum and the uneasy equilibrium.

"Technology now pervades all aspects of business and there are very few initiatives that can take flight without it, so you're constantly balancing the tactical with the strategic and short term with long term goals," says Doran, one of the UK's most respected tech chiefs.

As the article author points out, this shift from tactical to strategic and creative doesn't mean that technology executives are exempt from the day-to-day fire fights.  Email goes down, it's the CIO's fault. Virus worming it's way through the network, the CIO better be at the front lines. Joe Bob accidently deleted "The Presentation to Rule Them All"... you guessed it, the CIO better restore it.

Now, we all know that the CIO, in most organizations, isn't the one actually doing most of these roles; however, it does fall to the CIO to ensure that the infrastructure and systems are in place to address these line-of-business issues.

However, while the business might clamour for innovation, there is little evidence to suggest that a passing of accountability for IT management from CIOs to line-of-business employees is taking place. The report highlights how supposedly old school concerns - like downtime, network availability, and data recoverability - are still the issues upon which the performance of IT leaders are most likely to be judged.

While the organization at large may be interested in how CIOs can improve the quality of life (QOL) for the organization, that doesn't stop the day-to-day fires. However, these opportunities to innovate does reach to the CIO/CTO as well.

It allows all technologies, whether you're a CIO, CTO, or programmer sitting in the corner, to ask:

How can the technologists improve the organization via technology?

Technology is no longer a fluff that enables workers to do their job easier--it's a requirement in almost every organization of every sector.

Taking business and IT by the scruff of the neck is the only option

There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel. Technology now pervades all aspects of business. And while end users can source their own IT, the wider organisation will still need someone special to oversee these choices, to ensure integration, and to find new creative solutions to business challenges.

For those IT leaders who grasp the opportunity, modern CIOs do seem to have greater standing and are now more influential. More importantly, and despite the fact that many IT leaders are still judged on technical factors, their performance is increasingly measured by business results.

Compared with two years ago, 81 per cent of IT decision makers believe CIOs now own more key business performance indicators, such as budget versus revenue growth, employee satisfaction, and the lowering of operational costs.

To me, this is a tremendous opportunity. One of my favorite roles in my career has been one of process improvement. Not simply addressing squeeky wheels, but to use KPI metrics, customer interviews, team interviews, and loads of data to find ways to use technology to make things better for everyone.

As a CIO, there must be balance between the mundane "operations" and the forward momentum required to add value to the organization.

How can a new workflow, a new application, a role change, or (in one past case, a new door so team members didn't have to walk around the building to talk to peers) improve the performance of the organization?  

And remember, when implementing a process improvement--don't forget to improve yourself. How can any of these help free up YOU from the mundane so that you can focus on the strategic and creative goals for your organization?

  • cio
  • roles
  • process improvement
author photo - David Longnecker by David Longnecker

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