Here are five steps to re-invigorate the CIO position and get you a seat back at the big table.
1. End War And Seek A Negotiated Truce.
Once upon a time, the size of your budget reflected your importance in the company. CIOs with huge technology budgets owned bragging rights, were the envy of less-well-endowed CIOs, and got to play golf and eat steak at vendor-sponsored junkets. Those were the days, but they are gone now. Here's a radical idea: Your value as a CIO will be measured in how much of your budget you give away. Give those budget dollars away to the marketing department, to human resources, to sales and so forth. Crazy idea? I don't think so. You give away the budget and embrace the role of technology conductor, the hub through which all those departments travel.
This "hub and spoke" strategy stolen from the airline industry satisfies your line of business executives who want the latest, greatest Web service right now and satisfies the CEO who would really like to know that amidst the services chaos, he or she can has one executive who is charting a secure, private, compliant path to company growth. The budget dollars go away, but your influence increases. I credit CIO Michael Skaff for prompting me to think that CIO as hub makes a lot more sense than CIO as technology hoarder.
2. Lead The Business.
The genteel tradition around the CIO had business execs handing off a business strategy and the tech side of the house conjuring an infrastructure to support the strategy. This handoff made far more sense in theory than reality. Budgets and strategies tend to happen in a frenzied burst as the fiscal year closes. Business strategies tend to be either vague (Please the customer!) or bean-counter specific (increase sales by 10.23%). Scrambling to match infrastructure to business gets lost in translation. Understanding how Amazon uses technology to run thin margins and attack high-margin competitors, how airlines (sometimes) turn customer complaints into customer champions through social media listening, and the big box stores are planning to use supply chain technology to create same-day delivery will get you ahead of the business curve and earn you a place at the start of the year's strategic planning cycle.
3. Rethink Innovation.
And then there is innovation. All in favor of innovation say, "Aye." Opposed say, "No." The ayes have it unanimously. Although all are in favor of innovation, how to define and implement innovative projects is up for debate.CIO consultant Martha Heller pointed me to a recent Info-Tech report on the innovation chasm that separates IT from business.This relates to leading the business suggestion but also acknowledges that while you want to lead the business you still have to accomplish the tasks of being a firefighter and a trusted operator. IT as a firefighter puts out those digital fires including "I lost my password" and "Someone (not me of course) downloaded a bunch of music files from some sketchy site and now my laptop is frozen." IT as a trusted operator keeps the system running 24x7. I've argued that the first step in innovation is to figure out how to put out the IT fires before they start and figure out how to pull down the maintenance costs associated with being a trusted operator to free up funds to do the cool new things.
4. Get Off Of Your Cloud.
Cloud computing currently is being peddled in three flavors: private cloud, hybrid cloud and public cloud. Here's my first suggestion: If a vendor is promising to get you into cloud computing by selling you more hardware -- look elsewhere. Here's my second suggestion. Instead of thinking of what you now have and trying to figure out how to make your infrastructure more cloud-like, reverse the course. Take a look at Amazon, Rackspace and Google and cloud offerings by traditional vendors IBM, Microsoft and try out their services. You will learn a new language built around federation, dynamic load balancing and subscription services. Amazon held its first Amazon Web services conference recently and provided a good road map to rethinking IT infrastructure in the cloud era.
5.The Act Of Marching Forward.
Your tech staff doesn't have the new skills you require. Your CEO can't get past talking about BYOD as the new paradigm in technology. Your CMO is using the words "Big Data" on every Powerpoint. Your corporate counsel is worried about customer data entering the wild. The CFO wants to know why you even need an IT staff. There are lots of reasons to stand by the sidelines and watch the digital parade pass by. But you got into the tech side of the business because you were convinced that digital technology would continue to upend the business world and someday digital first would be the way companies would compete and win. That time is now. Yes, your employees can go out and acquire hardware, software and services that make your company's toolset look more paleo digital than modern digital. Time for your company to catch up and you are the one to do it.