Seven Key Steps for the Evolving CIO

To remain relevant and competitive, CIOs must embrace two roles: keepers of infrastructure and digital facilitators of business value.

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Many CIOs have been invited into the C-suite to help transform their organizations and win competitive battles about all things digital. Unfortunately, many CIOs are unprepared for the unique challenges of the role, and survey data shows that they are often too deeply in the technology trenches to manage other priorities and aspirations.

As “digital” becomes the competitive priority of companies across every industry, CIOs must lead their companies in continuous digital transformation. While there are many definitions of digital transformation, the essence of the goal is to cost-effectively leverage current and especially emerging technology onto optimized business processes and even whole business models.

But transformation leadership requires much more than technology leadership. While the technical side of operations must run smoothly — communications networks must stay up, software applications must run, and data must be secured — CIOs must adopt new practices, missions, and modi operandi if they’re going to evolve into transformative digital leaders. There are seven key steps these leaders can take along their evolution.

1. Alignment to Some — But Not All — Strategies

Alignment with business strategy was, and remains, a priority for CIOs, though “only 23% of CIOs rate their organization as effective at business strategy and planning.” But which strategies matter most? Technology investments driven by long-term strategic assumptions are dangerous, divisive, and expensive. It’s just too difficult to predict the long-term future. Many CIOs still believe alignment means support for whatever strategy a business might generate. But savvy leaders understand that long-term strategic alignment is unlikely to satisfy today’s competitive requirements. Instead, they focus on nearer-term strategic priorities for which due diligence can be conducted. This means CIOs should focus on strategic priorities no more than three to five years out. Telling the board of directors that technology will be “ready” for whatever the company wants to do in five to 10 years will generate polite smiles but not much else.

2. Shadow IT Is Not All Bad

Most CIOs take umbrage with shadow IT — IT applications and infrastructure deployed without the knowledge of the enterprise’s IT department — and view it as rogue activity that must be driven out of their organizations. This seldom works, though, especially if there’s anything even remotely resembling a good business case for the rogue spending — which there often is.

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