Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Can CIO’s Avoid Becoming Irrelevant in the Boardroom?

By Dan Kimble

Chief Executive Officer
Resonance Executive Coaching

At the recent Raising the Bar on CIO Leadership event in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to speak on an expert panel about IT Talent and Teams of the Future. The audience was full of senior IT leaders and it was clear that one of the most pressing concerns on the minds of CIO’s is how to stay relevant in a world where Chief Digital Officer and Chief Data Officer positions are getting so much of the fanfare.

These positions are being created in recognition of the need for not just provisioning IT systems and tracking data but making sense of data: drawing fresh, provocative, actionable insights and putting them to use to drive revenue growth, quality of decisions, and efficiencies in a new and proactive way. In a nutshell - it’s about transformation. Big data, gathered internally by IT systems is the ultimate work-smarter-not-harder opportunity, and we’re only beginning to understand just how huge this opportunity is.

The creation of these boardroom CDO positions is actually the direct result of a failure by IT leaders. Most CIO’s have known that it was possible to turn data into provocative insights and transformational drivers of the business. Yet, many have failed to take significant action on this, or perhaps tried but were unable to achieve sufficient buy-in to get very far. The fact the CDO’s are encroaching into IT territory and getting much of the glory is the result of CIO’s missing the boat on this kind of operational insight that is so clearly right in the wheelhouse of IT.
CIO’s, in order to maintain and grow their influence in the boardroom, must become drivers of the business – and be widely recognized as such - and not just cost centers. Intel’s CIO provides a great example of both driving the business and making sure you’re being recognized as such.

Given all of this, why have so few IT leaders truly raised the bar of expectations on their own teams to deliver fresh, data-driven insights that both drives top-line revenue and increases efficiencies in transformational ways?
IT leaders have allowed themselves to stay stuck in the closet for too long. Everyone knows that IT is a necessary and critical component of nearly any business these days. Yet too often what’s considered critical about it is largely just provisioning of systems and ensuring uptime. These days, that’s just table stakes for any IT leader.

A common complaint I hear from senior IT leaders that are looking to be more proactive in driving the business is that their peers don’t really understand technology and just don’t seem to get it. If others don’t understand what you’re saying, that means you need to do a better job of communicating in a way that makes sense to your peers and superiors who come from outside of IT.

If you can’t do that effectively, it’s your responsibility to improve your communication skills, your ability to draw analogies that make sense to a lay-person, and to effectively evangelize the business value and opportunity you see and can create within IT. If you don’t, then a CDO will…

With the incredible insights and efficiencies available to the caretakers of a company’s data and technical systems, IT leaders are well positioned to grow their influence in the boardroom, yet too often have squandered that opportunity.

Here are six key places to focus your attention as an IT leader in order to fully reap the benefits of your purview:
  1. Invest in developing your leadership skills. You need to be the kind of leader that people want to follow, regardless of your functional area.
  2. Learn to meet people where they’re at. Communicate in a way that speaks to the business value of everything you and your team do.
  3. Don’t just stay on top of the latest technology trends, innovate them on your team. Many IT teams have a lot of great, yet under-utilized talent that would love to be able to innovate more.
  4. Run your department like a business. If you’re not driving the business, increasing top-line revenues and not just minimizing bottom-line expenses, you and your team will be increasingly marginalized.
  5. Be visionary and proactive. IT is uniquely positioned to understand what the business needs before they know what they need. You and your team need to provide so much value in anticipating the needs of the business that the business can’t wait to talk to you.
  6. Of course IT needs to keep the lights on too. Drop that ball and nothing else will matter.

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