CIO Mission – Change Innovate Operate?

CIO Mission – Change Innovate Operate?
Published: 22 November 2019

We are in uncertain times, which for me is always a trigger for positive reflection. Amongst my current reading has been the outputs of the most recent Gartner conference. The concept of becoming an ‘Offensive CIO’ seems to be writ large.

Without a doubt we’re having the same cheeky thought; ‘I can think of a few of them’. I have no doubt there are some who hold me in similar regard!. Side of mouth jokes aside, the drive for CIOs to be out ‘on the front foot’ – challenging, shaping, influencing and driving – is no bad thing. You’d expect it of all other board members. I believe this has been the ‘action list’ for the ascending CIO for quite some time. It has certainly been at the heart of client demand as we see it.

Gartner calling it out quite so starkly is hopefully a clarion call for the rest of the Board; CIOs can, will, and should deliver as senior commercial leaders. Not just service providers. They will fight for what they believe to be in the best interests of the organisation. Expect it to be well governed, disciplined and strategically aligned. Further, CIOs will create value by leading the Board in evolving the operational delivery model, create new revenue streams, redefine customer relationships, and enable the evolution of organisational culture, and beyond. Whether this role continues to be badged CIO (something better must evolve), Boards must embrace the abilities and ambitions of the new breed of CIOs.

If I have a concern, it is this; about a decade ago there were several CIO types defined. It was variously amusing, concerning, but to some degree useful. Perhaps the least helpful was the ‘Paratrooper CIO’. The Paras are an exceptional bunch and recognise the value of exceptional team execution. Those claiming the Paratrooper CIO badge, generally were not! As much then as now, offence or defence, interpretation into action will be everything.

The other outcome of particular note from the Gartner conference seems to be the ‘TechQuilibrium’ concept. It is defined as meeting the challenge of maintaining stability in operating technology, as well as instigating and enabling innovation across the organisation. I am naturally warmer to this concept – it’s a real and meaningful tension that is a part of daily business life. I confess to being a little suspicious that it’s Bi-modal 2.0 but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The themes called out in the ‘TechQuilibrium’ thinking are closely aligned with the prevailing demand for CIO and IT & Digital leaders as we see it;

  • Enterprise Decision Making – CIOs should be in and of the dialogue that shapes the enterprise vision – senior leaders first, functional managers second. Leadership can't help that it's bi-modal in new clothes
  • Leadership – in thought, action and deed, leading and contributing to the direction of the business not just the teams under their command.
  • Customer Experience – CIOs consistently provide the route to meeting customers where they wish to do business. Push beyond this to really seek to nail down the value in assuring the transaction, securing loyalty and a depth of relationship through insight and enhanced customer experience.
  • Digital Society – In my view this is possibly the area where some will falter. This is the area where the CIO can hardwire innovation to drive commercial benefit, through wider community benefits. In my view some will find this too nebulous. Others will really key into it. Progress here, over the others, is less likely to be well received, but it could be a means to building influence, and increasing impact on associated initiatives.

Offensive or defensive, the concept of a team remains at the heart of achieving all of these objectives. Next week we have a busy schedule of events including; the Odgers Berndtson Annual CIO Cocktail Evening, and the Berwick Partners Midlands CIO & Digital Leaders Dinner. I am looking forward to discussing these and the many other issues at the front of CIOs' and their Board colleagues' brains.

Matt Cockbill leads the IT & Digital Leadership Practice for Berwick Partners.

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