Information technology departments have become such an integral part of business, and IT’s success hinges on an ability to remain agile and forward-thinking — yet, in the minds of the majority of the workforce, the CIO is largely irrelevant.
Only 30 percent of business respondents in a non-technology position said the CIO has a strong impact on “technological innovation and creativity,” while 23 percent say the CIO has little or no impact on innovation and creativity, according to a recent Tech Pro Research report.
And, according to McKinsey’s latest survey on business technology, “few executives say their IT leaders are closely involved in helping shape the strategic agenda, and confidence in IT’s ability to support growth and other business goals is waning.” What is the problem?
“The challenge in a lot of cases is the typically embattled CIO is handed a lot of mandates with operational concerns about keeping IT lights on, so they pick up more than enough challenges, and the difficulty may be in some cases they’re so overwhelmed, they’re unable to get their heads up to deal with the crazy chaos and look at the broader business integration,” according to Eric Hanselman, chief analyst at 451 Research.
“In some organizations the mentality still exists that IT’s job is to ‘rack and stack’ systems and rebuild PCs,” he added.
“There are a number of organizations that have not gotten to high levels of virtualization,” which is “scandalous,” Hanselman said.
Where change is needed
Part of the problem is the IT department is often still viewed as a back-office organization, and many CIOs are not given the opportunity to drive companywide innovation, added Peter A. High, president of Metis Strategy, a management consulting firm, and author of the book “Implementing World Class IT Strategy.”
Organizations have dramatically expanded their use of IT to improve business processes as they become more mobile and digitized. But the McKinsey survey found there is little agreement on how IT can play an integral role in helping the business grow.
“IT and business executives still differ in their understanding of the function’s priorities and budgets,’’ the survey found.
IT teams tend to be concerned about losing their jobs as more workloads move into the cloud and physical servers become less widespread, making them change-averse.
“While there’s not a lot of value in configuring servers and slapping them into racks, that’s still somebody’s job and people doing that are often the ones who are most reluctant to make those transitions happen,’’ Hanselman said.
“The reality is, CIOs need to make sure their teams can move forward and enable these transitions and [ensure] people will have jobs,’’ he said. “We still need the people — they just need to be doing smarter things.”
How CIOs can stay relevant
Certainly there are many savvy CIOs that are making headway, especially those who have learned how to have smarter communications with various lines of business. When IT isn’t well-integrated with what someone in accounts payable needs, for example, it creates a problem. That tends to happen in many organizations, because of budget and infrastructure constraints, Hanselman said.
Hanselman added that one of his favorite phrases is about getting CIOs to a point where if they’re going to be valuable contributors to the business, “they have to not be in the department of no, but know.”
The CIO has to become a trusted adviser to remain relevant. He or she has to know what the business wants to do and how they can leverage technology to make that happen — rather than be a naysayer. If they can’t do that at the board level, they need to reach out to individual business leaders, according to Hanselman.
“It can be a matter of making sure you have dedicated IT people in the business units,” he said. That means “people who can be more in touch with business and move beyond a reactive help desk mentality to spending time asking the business units what they need, what are their problems.’’
High agrees, saying he recommends to CIOs that they put in place a business information or business technology officer who has a relationship with different business units. In addition, “Great CIOs realize they need to build an internal network to garner insights, inspirations and thoughts,” he said. “I advise them to make a new best friend,” with any functional department head who has influence, “and devise a few different ideas to pursue that are of unusual value and prove IT can deliver in this way.”
Start small, High advised. That helps change the perception of IT and especially the CIO as being more of a valued contributor and being more proactive.
The trick is being able to present options and not retain ultimate technical control over the decision-making process, Hanselman added. While some of what the business proposes may not be ideal, “the CIO’s job should be translating the technical concerns into meaningful business language.”
IT leaders also “have a great opportunity to be educators in leveraging and tapping people in their network” said High, whether in the venture capital or academic communities.
In his book, High writes, “A further-looking, visionary strategic mindset is the hallmark of world-class IT.”
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Source: Power More Business