Beyond the role of the CIO

Does CIO stand for ‘Career is over’, as commonly proclaimed in the popular press? Or could the next rung on the evolutionary ladder be the ‘Chief transformation officer’, as suggested by my boss at Cranfield School of Management, the Professor of Management Information Systems.

My belief is that the CIO role will evolve into the CTO, but that CTO could stand for one of two things: the ‘Chief transformation officer’ or the ‘Chief technology officer’. The role will be what you make of it, and success, or otherwise, is in the hands of every CIO of today. But what can you do to increase your chances of success and ensure that the former becomes the new reality?

The solution

To put things into context, consider the role of an IT function as a ‘Maslow’ type hierarchy of deliverables, as follows: At the base level we have service delivery. This is about getting the basics right, ‘keeping the lights on’ – i.e. delivering a reliable, responsive, robust service that addresses and serves the day-to-day needs of the business. This is your ‘licence to exist’ as a CIO, and if you can’t get this right the word ‘outsourcing’ will certainly be on the lips of your business colleagues.

The next level, project delivery, is about responding to the future needs of the business by undertaking new work and delivering projects on time, to specification and within budget. This is your opportunity to show what you can do, gain credibility and begin to have a voice within the business. Operating at this level is your ‘licence to thrive’.

Having mastered the two base levels you will have won the right to ‘contribute to business thinking’. When you are operating at this level, you will be working with your business colleagues to deliver real business benefit. Questions like

“Are we getting value for money from our IT function?” will have faded into the distant past and service level agreements (SLAs) will be gathering dust in some forgotten archive. At this level, the business trusts and believes in you – proof and evidence are not required. This is your ‘licence to influence’.

At the very top of the pyramid, ‘transforming business thinking’, you will have entered that illusive ‘inner sanctum’. You will be part of that small team shaping the future direction of your organisation. You will be au fait with future technological trends, the social and political implications of technology, the future trends of your industry sector and business in general. You will be injecting those nuggets of wisdom and generating those ideas that will transform your business. At this level, you have achieved your ‘licence to decide’.

But remember, if you haven’t got the technology sorted, can’t deliver on promises and haven’t built effective relationships with your peer group, you will never get the opportunity to voice your ideas or words of wisdom, even if they are the greatest in the world. ‘Being right’ is not enough!

Key messages

  • Sort out your service and project delivery. Recruit first-rate people beneath you who are team players; then delegate and let go.
  • Nurture and reward talent. Exercise consideration, compassion and sensitivity in your dealings with people and hence engender trust and loyalty.
  • Win friends and influence people. Build relationships upwards, downwards and sidewards. Build trust and respect; generate goodwill and take the opportunity to learn from this diverse network.
  • Develop your business knowledge and political acumen. Learn the art of influencing; make yourself useful and get yourself noticed. Be passionate and inspirational.
  • Take an interest in the wider world. Have an opinion and contribution to make in relation to every item on the board agenda and demonstrate original, ‘out of the box’ thinking.
  • Don’t wait to be told what to do. Take the initiative and be prepared to make bold decisions based on your heart and your gut instinct. Have the courage to challenge authority and accepted wisdom. Remember, it is better to ask for forgiveness than to seek permission.
  • And ultimately, become one of the new generation of chief transformation officers who have the ability to give their organisations their competitive edge and to become role models who help others follow in their footsteps.

The above will require three essential ingredients: a high IQ, emotional intelligence (EQ) and the will to do it. Most IT leaders have an abundance of IQ so, providing you have the will, the deciding factor will be your EQ.

As one of the CEOs in my research put it: “It all depends upon the size of your right brain!”

Dr Robina Chatham is managing director of her eponymous consulting, training and coaching company. She is also a Visiting Fellow at Cranfield School of Management, where she runs the series ‘Building Sustainable Relationships for IT Management’

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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