The job description for a CIO today is more expansive than ever. Among the many responsibilities are the roles of leader, visionary, innovator, resource manager, tech guru, occasional evangelist, risk taker, and digital transformation expert.
Especially with digital transformation becoming so central to an organization’s business operations and strategies, CIOs have come to be responsible for far more than technology itself. They sit in the position of the sun in a solar system of business processes and operations that are being transformed, along with all the aspects of the enterprise that are touched by them.
What does it take to succeed and thrive as a CIO in this new environment? Here are five key elements:
1. Leadership and vision. There have been so many books written about leadership that if you read one each day, you could never get through all of them in the course of your CIO career. That reflects the importance of the topic in today’s business world.
Essentially, leadership is about vision – crafting a vision and working with people around you to drive effectively toward that vision. And overcoming the myriad challenges along the way. You will work with, and lead, a broad range of people on that journey, and achieving your goals and objectives and vision will require patience, authority, mentoring, culture creation, effective hiring, and sincerity.
As futurist Jacob Morgan explains, employees today hunger to understand how the work they are doing has an impact, and leaders’ task is to enlighten them. To focus on the purpose and meaning of the work they are doing and its impact on others inside and outside the enterprise. Leading them effectively will result in driven, motivated employees and teams that can work to achieve the CIO’s vision.
2. Team building. Always look at your teams with the future in mind and how they can help you get where your organization needs and wants to be. That means a constant state of assessment of their strengths and talents and a determination of any gaps that need filling.
It will require an infusion of new people and new ideas and talents to achieve what you want in your digitally transformed business. Recognize that with new people come culture change concerns, and consider how to make sure you foster a culture of openness to different points of view while at the same time ensuring the greatest agility in decision-making.
3. Communications skills. Today, communications isn’t just about dealing with your own people. That’s relatively easy, compared with the challenge of explaining sometimes-dense technical concepts to the non-technical people throughout the company, from the many departments you interact with to the CEO and the board of directors. Remember, for them it may not be about technology, but more about the benefits that technology fosters.
At the same time, you have to be able to explain business concepts to people in your own department, so they fully understand the value of the work they do within IT to the organization as a whole.
Communication is also about listening, proactively seeking out and paying attention to feedback from users and customers to determine how things can be improved. Here at Sprint, for example, we use customer feedback, analytics, and real interactions with users, sales representatives, and customers to establish digital transformation priorities. Hearing from them about their needs and pain points provides a holistic perspective to how technology is deployed internally.
4. Idea generator. Ideas are the fuel that powers all successful organizations. But not all ideas need to be homegrown. Truly understanding what the enterprise needs and knowing where to go to find it – to leverage the innovative ideas of others – is an invaluable talent.
It’s a creative world out there, and innovation is happening in many places, including idea hubs such as the Sprint Curiosity Lab in Atlanta. That facility is an IoT and 5G-focused hub of creativity and testing of next generation technologies in mobility and IoT applications. The lab pays special attention to advanced automotive technology, which is in many ways the next technology frontier.
Labs such as this recruit idea-driven startup partners who can more quickly test and refine their ideas in order to bring them to market sooner. A CIO who keeps up on the ideas that are percolating in technology – particularly as it relates to the company’s industry and lines of business – can more readily put these ideas to work.
In terms of size and scope, an enterprise may be poles apart from a typical startup, but the energy and drive and dynamism typically associated with a startup is an incredibly valuable mindset for a CIO. Sure, there is more red tape to deal with in a large company, but by focusing on keeping the organization nimble and competitive in today’s business environment, everyone benefits.
Moving beyond the daily routine of tasks and meetings and processes, a CIO needs to be able to see the “big picture” of where the company is, en route to where it needs to be. To constantly evaluate how technology can be used to create new lines of business and even entirely new business models. Just like a startup aims to disrupt its market, the CIO can take a disruptive approach to innovation and transformation.
In the end, the successful CIO will recognize the job isn’t all about technology. It’s also about skilled leadership, the ability to work effectively with individuals and departments across the enterprise, and being an informed, forward-looking innovator.