Over the past several years, the role of the Chief Information Office (CIO) has changed. If you are a CIO, do you know which type you most closely align with…or aspire to be? If you are working with a CIO, do you know the characteristics and why they are so important? The details are incredibly important regardless of your stakeholder status as a partner, customer, board member or fellow c-suite member.
The CIO’s job is hard and complicated. To gain a full appreciation of why, one needs to truly understand the anthropology of IT. That alone is worthy of a book. Suffice it to say that decades were spent creating the role of the CIO and IT culture. One cannot simply unwind decades of culture over the course of a couple of years. This is where my concept of the Three-Legged Race for transformation comes in. The CIO, IT organization and rest of the organization must work together for transformation to truly take shape.
THE TRADITIONAL CIO
When most of us think of a CIO, we are thinking of the traditional CIO. There are several characteristics that identify the traditional CIO. Many of the traditional CIO characteristics are centered around building an organization that supports technology. This makes sense, and fits well for organizations that have not started their digital transformation journey.
However, the role of the traditional CIO is in decline. As more organizations recognize the strategic value that technology plays, the demand for the CIO shifts from traditional to transformational.
THE TRANSFORMATIONAL CIO
The transformational CIO is a business leader first who happens to have responsibility for IT. To be clear, this does not mean a business leader that does not have experience leading IT. It means that the leader is highly experienced in leading business and IT, but focused on the business aspects as the driver for IT.
The characteristics of the transformational CIO are quite different from that of the traditional CIO. In general, they are business centric and less focused on technology. In many ways, unlike the traditional CIO, the transformational CIO is having the same conversations as the rest of the c-suite. Put a different way, if the conversation is not one that the CEO would have, neither would the CIO. Transformational CIOs are very much looking for business opportunities like that of the CEO or many of the other c-level executives. The transformational CIO is perceived by the other c-level executives as an equal. This is a dramatic shift from the traditional CIO. The key words here are ‘perceived by others’.
MAKING THE SHIFT FROM TRADITIONAL TO TRANSFORMATIONAL
At the risk of being over-inclusive, every enterprise will need to take the digital transformation journey. Technology is playing a more central role to every enterprise. Put a different way, technology is quickly becoming the strategic weapon for every enterprise. Think of companies that have disrupted different industries. In most cases, technology was central to their ability to disrupt their industry.
As part of that journey, every enterprise will need to rely more on a transformational CIO. However, that transition does not happen overnight. Recall that it is not just the CIO that must transition (read: Transforming IT Requires a Three-Legged Race). Transformation, much like culture changes, is a journey. There is no specific end-point or finish line.
One could ask, how does a CIO make the transition. For each CIO, the journey is incredibly personal and transformational in their own way. Shifting paradigms of thinking from traditional characteristics to transformational characteristics is not trivial. It requires re-learning much of what we have learned over several decades. Essentially, we are learning a new role. A new job. A new way of thinking. For those that do make the transition, the change is incredibly rewarding not just for the CIO, but the team they lead, the larger company they work for and ultimately the customers they serve.
DOES THE CMO OR CDO REPLACE THE CIO?
The transformational journey takes time, yet customers and executives want immediate change. How is this gap addressed? Speculation suggests that the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) or Chief Digital Officer (CDO) will replace the CIO and fill the proverbial gap (read: The CMO is not replacing the CIO and here’s why.). There is value in the CMO or CDO filling some or part of the gap in the interim. However, over time, the transformational CIO is well equipped and best suited to address these changes. The gap, while significant, is only a temporary phenomenon.
The time to start the transformational journey is now. Time is not your friend. With any organizational change, it is a team effort. It may start with the CIO, but will require the support and understanding of the entire c-level leadership team and IT organization. For many traditional CIOs, that is easier said than done. The best place to start is to establish a vision that sets the tone and cadence. From there, examples and success will quickly change the perspectives of those that may have been skeptical in the past. In addition, those that lead the transformation journey will find the process rewarding on many levels.