The Changing Role of CIO

CIO is such a powerful acronym! Besides sounding so cool, it puts them in the elite “C” Club – the movers and the shakers. In today’s world when one hears organizations blazing new trails – new ideas, concepts, buzzwords – ground-breaking new technologies, and one starts thinking – am I leading my organization in the right direction? On one hand, you have business screaming for that new “APP”, that would double revenue while on the other side, you look at your technology stack in-house, people, budget and say ”Are you kidding me?”

Are organizations prepared for the “RAT(Rapid Access to Technology) Race” which is now snowballing and how can the CIO take on the role of Navigator and guide that transition?

First, let’s understand the traditional role of CIO which we all are accustomed to. They were initially managing infrastructure, delivering the projects and keeping the lights ON. Then came the period, when they were given big budgets to do mission-critical applications. They excelled in Program management, system implementation and made sure they delivered those critical applications.

And now their role changed, when the business started asking the new technology through which they can “ disrupt” the market. Suddenly they became part of innovation, transformation and revenue generation. They are the new “SEESAW”, on one side there is business and another side is technology and they have to ensure the balance is maintained. How do they do this magic?

As one of CIOs I know says – First of all, CIOs should know their business – eat, breathe, sleep it and so on and so forth. They should be “Business enablers”. Not at the surface level but at the deepest level, where they can talk to the business in their language and understand their perspectives. You have to be one of them so that they see you as a partner, not as a head of IT(Cost function) who is burning their hard-earned money.

Once you have understood the business, the other important skill a CIO should have is “listening skill”. They should be able to listen to what the business is asking.  And able to question the sanctity of that ask. Business is always under pressure to deliver more revenue, more profitability and they would want everything under the sun to get to that growth. But just by delivering what they are asking, would they truly be able to achieve that growth? As a CIO, if you accept everything they want, it would be a classic case of “Over-Promise and Under-Deliver”. CIOs need to develop that keen filter to realize what’s truly necessary, and what’s unrealistic – and be able to educate business accordingly.

Another important skill for the CIO is “The Power of saying NO”.  Business understands only one language “ MONEY”, understands only one color “ GREEN” and only want a one-word answer from technology “ YES”. They attend conferences, meet new people and keep a close tab on the competition. They can easily get dazzled by seeing some “shiny new technology” with the competition, or some “sweet talk by a flashy person” and may put CIO in a tight spot. Do you have the “Power of Saying No” and own the outcome? This can never happen if you are the only technologist and not deep in business with them. Unless you convince them in their language, you would never be able to say “NO”. This will also help you define the business and technology priorities as well.

On the technology side, “Digital” is the new mantra which has replaced “AUM-The Divine Sound” in the corporate world. How ready is your organization to handle that transition? You need not be an expert in all the newer technologies like (AI/ML, RPA, Blockchain, Quantum computing, etc.) but should have the ability to connect pieces of business, technology, and people together for the tangible outcome. With the cloud showering at all the corporates, do you have vendor management skills? With so many pricing options available, how good are your budgeting/finance skills? What governance is needed? These skills are a MUST but relatively easy to acquire.

Whether one likes it or not, CIO role has become, if not bigger, but as equal as CEO. It is up to you if you can handle that transition and take yourself and organization to the next level. Business only understands business and technologist only understand technology. You are the only conduit, who understands both sides of the world. There cannot be a better time than current times for CIOs. Wear your “learning” hat and jump in. Be a part of this journey – don’t watch this journey from the sideline and blame business after some time. In any organization, people who bring in money are the most important (most of the times) – question their thinking, don’t let them get dazzled by seeing some demo or video or some slick talk, give them a vehicle to excel, help them exceed their quotas and they would love you for it.

And if they are asking for too many new technologies by yesterday, keep this quote handy from Bill Gates for the business: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10 years.”

The Changing Role of CIO

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