Focus on People and Processes: Unorthodox Advice for New CIOs

Chad Cardenas, Chief Innovation Officer, Trace3
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Chad Cardenas, Chief Innovation Officer, Trace3

The role of the CIO has changed dramatically in recent years, from maintaining IT systems to deploying IT as a strategic weapon to drive overall business growth. Most newly hired CIOs get this concept, yet they remain unclear about the best strategies and tactics to achieve their goals

Let’s face it, the problems we CIOs face today are increas­ingly complicated. They include managing big data analytics, hybrid clouds, BYOD smartphone apps, social media feeds, and endpoint device security, just to name a few. These ever-evolv­ing IT problems and their available solutions multiply so fast that it can be hard to keep up with the latest technologies, let alone make the best buying decisions.

My own CIO title at Trace3 echoes this shifting job dynamic. I work with many CIO clients daily, yet in my case the CIO title stands for Chief Innovation Officer rather than Chief Information Officer. We make this distinction at Trace3 because we believe that being a CIO today means leading strategic innovations that help move the business forward.

The rapid rate of change in IT makes it a thrilling time to be a CIO, but it can also be daunting when you are just starting out at the C-level. Here are a few recommendations to help new CIOs elevate their IT efforts to new levels of strategic importance by focusing more on people and processes, not technology.

Work to achieve proper alignment among you and your peers on the executive team.

CIOs face plenty of challenges around transformation, change, and innovation. The last thing we need is a disjointed internal team that makes the adoption of change initiatives more difficult than it needs to be. In-fighting, backstabbing, or jealousies can all lead to staff dissension that impedes progress.

Strong organizational health is the centerpiece of every successful technology implementation, not the budget nor even the technology. More often than not, the underlying problem involves social friction due to internal politics, or simply the status quo of, “the way we’ve always done things around here.” Simmering grievances tend to fester. It’s much better to address the root causes of internal strife head-on and then begin the healing process.

One approach is to work with management consulting partners such as the Table Group, which hosts executive team off-site meetings to help groups become better aligned and engaged. By holding structured discussions to enhance mutual collaboration, team members can learn how to operate together at a healthier and more effective level. Getting all the soldiers marching in lockstep is the first step to winning big battles.

Request frequent and direct access to all business leaders within your organization

Teamwork is a kind of puzzle which only works when all the pieces fit together. Building and maintaining relationships with all business stakeholders is critical to achieving IT leadership success. Don’t be afraid to build bridges outside the IT department. That even includes engaging the board of directors from time to time when necessary.

None of this progress helps advance the IT agenda unless other people know about it. That’s why it’s so important to be bold and frequent with your internal and external promotion of business successes that are driven by IT. This is not some personal vanity quest, it is a sensible strategy for IT growth and recognition, which should be the logical focus for every CIO.

To become a CIO of tomorrow, it’s important to gain an ongoing and intimate understanding of your business imperatives, and then to reach out broadly to reinforce your mutual alliances.

Develop decision-making models to identify, categorize and prioritize everything you do.

It is shrewd to create IT decision-making models that are comparable to investment models. This is how bankers, venture capitalists and fund managers justify their every investment. Likewise, IT leaders should take the same dollars-and-cents approach to plotting out their every move.

What is your method for analyzing and making these critical decisions? If you don’t have one in place, it’s best to step back and reassess your methods before making any other important choices.

Start by asking yourself, what are the decision criteria for how I spend every dollar of budget? For whom I hire? How I allocate resources and time? And, how I choose which projects and programs get launched, and what approach is taken for each one?

In terms of the big picture, ask yourself what is mission-critical and what is market-differentiating for your business? Your answers to those two central questions should guide every action.

Plan out how to match today’s business needs with the disruptive technologies of tomorrow.

Nobody can predict the future with certainty, but CIOs need to develop a clear vision for where their IT roadmap is headed. What’s needed is a process for identifying needs, applying effective market research, vetting and evaluating solutions, and then effectively integrating them into your environment.

No longer is the CIO role only about solving technology problems and keeping the IT lights on. The next-generation CIO needs to implement technology innovations that help solve critical business problems while also strengthening organizational health. Making this transition requires a completely new mindset.

Pulling off a digital business transformation takes careful planning, diligent execution, and unwavering patience. Of course new problems are sure to arise. That’s why you’ll need a sensible plan to develop workable solutions and promote your IT successes over time. And remember that solving these problems is what makes your career as a CIO so exciting and fulfilling in the first place.

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