CIO—the Key Enabler of IT Empowerment
The enlightened CIO of today is best described as a “business consultant”. Successful IT can only be reflected in a successfully-enabled business. Business sponsors “own” the IT that is weaved into the tapestry of their operations, whereas the CIO guides them to mature and profitable project ideas, to “innovate-to-value,” to set the right expectations, and to create a flexible and sustainable technical architecture. Most importantly, the CIO facilitates a cross-departmental consensus for the optimization of business processes. He/she works closely with the COO, and where there is none, or where the COO’s focus is not process-driven, the CIO fills that coordinating gap. In other words, technology is a means to an end, and, regardless of the CIO’s role some aspect of service delivery, his/her raison d’etre is to elevate and connect others to achieve a collective success.
"IT organization must evolve to a highly flexible management organization that can simultaneously, not schizophrenically (internally combatively), manage an effective-and-efficient focus across all areas of IT"
IT is an enabling layer, embedded in the business. So long as a CIO emphasizes IT as a “control function”—as is sometimes necessary for cost, purchasing or security purposes—he/ she will find resistance within the business. That is a great mistake. Any notion of IT “control” will overshadow the CIO’s consultative or partnership role, and resistance to it will manifest in “hidden IT.” Business transformation, whether innovating or re-engineering, cannot occur without an open-ended partnership. A mentoring CIO once told me that nothing brings people together like shared accomplishment. So, too, building a strong IT reputation is not so much about coercing an opinion as it is about looking in the rear-view mirror about what has been achieved, together, and focusing on the new road ahead.
Business is undergoing transformation in the form of a ‘Digitalization’. This involves an explosion of data, new tools to automatically exploit that data into information, and new opportunities to “disintermediate” interactions with the end-customer. The gripping aspect of this is that the line between internal operation and end-customer product is increasingly blurred. The product is increasingly embedded with IT, and the scope of operations is increasingly interlinked with the product behavior—some of which involves conscious end-customer interaction and some of which is captured passively in the background, such as usage factors and security logs. Moreover, product creation is itself increasingly laced with software development and cloud deployments— both of which are familiar to the IT organization and alluring to its domain aspirations. So, the question is posed: what is the IT organization’s involvement in the product domain? Typically, product managers are protective of their turf. And indeed, the product management mandate—to strategically craft a product/service with the correct return on customer value—is both sacred to this function and distinct from that of the enabling IT organization. If the IT organization hopes to extend its influence into the product domain of digitalization, this may be best achieved through the continuing ownership and sponsorship of product managers and strategists. So, rather than assert his/her product stakeholder role, the CIO might focus on busops and sharpen the IT role as business consultant.
Innovative IT management should be promoting a number of Business Innovation Trends (BITs), such as Blockchain Security, Internet of Things, Adaptive Manufacturing, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and Predictive Analytics. In particular, Blockchain technology holds amazing promise for “unlocking” and enabling the potential of all these other technologies to proceed toward business value, without undue risk. Meanwhile, the existential challenges of the business world demand these, transformative technologies— sooner, rather than later. Where it may seem that internal and external business customers are not yet asking for BIT technologies, IT isn’t listening closely enough. Sometimes, IT will need to “challenge the customer” to generate these demands. Sometimes, the technology will be embedded in more highly functional vendor products. Oftentimes, IT will need to support platform experimentation. This “exploratory mode” is the highest and most-privileged form of IT business consultation. The enlightened CIO strives to equip the business with the latest knowledge and tools for success.
IT is undergoing an ever-sharpening focus on both effectiveness and efficiency. IT’s “effectiveness focus” leverages metrics and industry knowledge to ensure business process change through the infusion of IT. Executive customer satisfaction (toward IT) is increasingly measured. Best practices are shared more profusely across industry, as well as among business units and departments within the same company. Exploratory activities are encouraged and incubated within—and not against—the IT governance model. IT’s “efficiency focus” leverages benchmarks and a re-division of labor within IT—to pooled, cost-effective service delivery versus business partnership and analyses. IT must be careful with the efficiency focus, because any commoditization of IT work can have adverse effects, such as sub-optimization of arbitrary technology groupings, such as infrastructure, CRM, or “ERP.” Rather, new digitalization, innovation, privacy and security challenges upend long-standing architectures. IT methodology must also be called into question. Much is being written about the “innovation value chain.” The IT organization must assist internal customers in applying BITs to their operation by advancing new ideas into proposals, prototypes, and feasibility studies. It must evolve to a highly flexible management organization that can simultaneously, not schizophrenically (internally combatively), manage an effective-and-efficient focus across all areas of IT.