The differentiated CIO: 5 ways to change your context

The CIO is probably the most schizophrenic role in modern business. Struggling to balance immediate tech goals and long-term business objectives, and deal with the fact that their traditional turfs are being encroached upon by the CDO, Chief Innovation Officer, and others. Many CIOs are now at the top of the business; but to keep that position, CIOs need to re-calibrate themselves and how they deliver to the business in order to remain valuable and ensure a seat at the strategy table.

These pressures result, as we see from Raconteur’s infographic (with sources from Deloitte, EY and Harvey Nash), in a potential war between CIOs IT targets, their business growth goals and ambitions, the view they have of themselves – and how the rest of the C-suite sees them. At the moment, CIOs spend 54% of their time on operational/IT goals and 45% on strategic; a strict divergence that’s preventing CIOs from contributing the value they can deliver to the wider business. And while a key CIO goal is to evaluate and select the best technologies to help their business achieve and differentiate, it’s also incumbent on CIOs to differentiate themselves within their organisation and avoid that bunfight with the Digital/Innovation/Strategy.

It’s not that these goals shouldn’t all be achieved – it’s the stark split in activity, and the fact that the planning and strategy to achieve each is not the same. The rigid, planned nature of IT progression and rollout, and the flexible, adaptable nature of business strategy and vision may undermine each other.

How can CIOs combat this? Simply (and nothing is simple, of course…) by bringing things together and making business the goal, not technology. In other words, by fusing business and IT, and becoming more strategic and visionary CIOs by default.

Five steps to change

How can you act to change the situation and put yourself into a different position? Below are five steps that aren’t the only ones you can take, but could be vital.

1. Be a true leader. CIOs are still split into those who are essentially high-powered managers and those that have taken command authority. This is changing – 57% of CIOs are now on exec boards – but if technology is key to business, it needs to be the general rule. What can you do to get a seat at the strategy table? Of course, this may require that you:

2. Put business goals into digital, data and IT context. Explain technology strategy only in the context of business, rather than allowing IT-nativism to take over (business first, not IT first). Only by doing that will you not only be seen as a business leader, but be able to remove the historical divide between business and IT – which still persists in many cases.

3. Shrinkwrap cost and efficiency into effectiveness. Once you take the step above you can see that both cost reduction and efficiency drives are only valuable if they contribute to business operations. Making effectiveness the controlling criteria for cost and efficiency is much more business-centric, and allows for far more flexible understanding and decisions.

4. Remove silos. Drive agile approaches, joining people, things and processes together to deliver to the evolving goals of the business.

5. Bringing together IT and digital/data shifts (as long as those pesky CDOs don’t mind). The other divide that’s much more recent is the battle between the CIO and the CDO for dominance of the digital tech strategy and vision. This is an ongoing conversation, but one you can’t avoid.

Shift the CIO context

In the end, perhaps it’s time to recalibrate the way we think of CIOs. In today’s world, the ability to command, control and coordinate information, data, insight and knowledge are about more than IT. The CIO is not the chief desktop officer – he’s the CIO – and ‘I’ can stand for Intelligence, Interaction, Insight, through putting information in a different context. CIOs that lead in the future will be the ones that understand how to change their context to add value to the business, and how to shift the business’ context to add value to the market and customers. Is that you?

For a bit more insight on how we use this kind of thinking to strategically differentiate businesses in a complex and changing world, take a look at our blog.

For some specific thinking on the kind of change that the C-suite needs to consider, have a read of Category shift the C-Suite: time to reconsider the basics?

Or for some insight on how differentiation is still the goal even in a digitally transformed world, you can read through Digital Transformation delivers complexity for Sales & Marketing.